Racicot rides again 

Pay no attention to the man in the lobby

Well buckaroos, our old pal and former governor Marc Racicot is taking a break from making millions as a D.C. lobbyist to climb back into the saddle and peddle his own special brand of bull pucky on the airwaves once again. This time around, he’s telling Montanans how much we need to return Conrad Burns to the pool of corruption known as the U.S. Senate. Given the horrific condition in which Racicot left Montana six years ago when he traipsed off to Washington as a top-level Republican political operative, the real question we should be asking is: Why would anyone here ever listen to his advice again?

For those of you who may be new to the state, a little trip in the Wayback Machine for a peek at Racicot’s checkered history in public service may be helpful. In 1988, Racicot was elected the state’s attorney general after spending a decade as an assistant attorney general and special prosecutor. What’s important about this is not so much what he did as AG as what he didn’t do.

Racicot was born and raised in Libby, home of the nation’s worst asbestos contamination site, WHICH has killed hundreds of innocent Montanans, sickened hundreds more, and will eventually contribute to even more deaths in the future. During the early ’80s, while Racicot was prosecuting away for the AG’s office, the initial investigations of asbestos hazards in Libby were conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As historical documents show, W.R. Grace, the company that owned the asbestos mine, knew the asbestos was killing people in Libby and elsewhere—but they lied to the EPA about it. The very year Racicot became Montana’s Attorney General, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the company for lying about the hazardous materials at their plant in Woburn, Mass., to which the company pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000, the maximum allowed. More than 250,000 lawsuits have been filed against W.R. Grace for asbestos-related deaths and injuries—including at least 187 from Libby’s miners and their families.

Now some would have thought that such news may have sent up a signal for Racicot that there was serious trouble in his hometown, and maybe, since he was Montana’s top prosecutor, he ought to have done something about it. But he didn’t. As the record shows, the reason he didn’t is because he has consistently come down—and continues to come down—not on the side of the citizens, but on the side of one of corporate America’s top killers.

After his stint as attorney general with his Libby-specific blinders on, Racicot ascended to the governor’s office, where he reigned for eight long years. Because he is so personable and appears so reasonable, Montanans often gave him the benefit of the doubt—the results of which will plague us, like the pollution he allowed—in perpetuity. But while racking up sky-high popularity numbers, Racicot was conducting his same brand of business in the back rooms of the capitol.

Under his governorship, the Major Facility Siting Act was gutted, the Montana Environmental Policy Act was neutered, Montana’s water quality laws, which were once the envy of the nation with their call for non-degradation of all state waters, were slashed, game farms were embraced, a cyanide mining ban was opposed, and reclamation laws were destroyed. Corporate lobbyists (Racicot himself would soon become one) were put in charge of state agencies and his pals from Burlington-Northern (more on this later) were allowed to slide on the cleanups of their toxic groundwater pollution sites all across Montana while, according to the General Accounting Office, the railroad “routinely gouged” Montana’s ag sector with sky-high shipping rates.

As his crowning gift to Montana, Racicot pushed through the disastrous utility deregulation bill in 1997 which resulted in the sale of Montana Power Company’s hydroelectric dams and coal-fired power plants, facilities that were paid for through citizen utility bills, to out-of-state energy corporations. Instead of getting our utilities at cost of production plus a guaranteed profit for MPC, we have now gone from the sixth-cheapest power in the nation to the highest in the northwest region as we are soaked for “market rates” on our electricity and natural gas.

But Racicot’s perfidy didn’t end there. While trashing the state’s environmental laws, the guy who wants to give Montanans advice on whom to vote for also did some work on taxation. While slashing education funding, Racicot and the Republican-controlled legislatures of the ’90s did an enormous amount of tax shifting. Racicot and his pals bragged about reducing taxes on large corporations, but what actually happened was that the tax burden was loaded onto homeowners and small businesses.

As soon as he left office, Racicot zipped off to D.C. to become the head of the Republican National Committee while simultaneously lobbying for such corporate luminaries as Enron. In the meantime, and not to make any direct connection mind you, he stepped into the position that was waiting for him on Burlington-Northern’s Board of Directors. In 2004, he chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Burns’ record shows he is controlled by corporate lobbyists such as Jack Abramoff and Marc Racicot. As for Racicot’s hometown of Libby, Burns co-sponsored legislation of which High Country News said: “This industry-friendly bill would have created legal roadblocks for Libby residents trying to collect compensation for asbestos-related illnesses, and absolved W.R. Grace from paying punitive damages for pain and suffering or loss of life.” Burns’ attempts to gut compensation for Libby’s asbestos victims was supported by, you guessed it, a coalition of insurance companies—and Racicot is now head of the American Insurance Association.

As the Great Falls Tribune editorialized on Burns’ asbestos bill: “If a fox endorses a farmer’s method of guarding the henhouse, we’d suggest the farmer has reason to doubt the method’s efficacy.” That was good advice then, and when it comes to Marc Racicot’s latest endorsements of Conrad Burns, it’s equally good advice now.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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