Thursday, March 20, 2008


Spring is here and so is the filing deadline for Montana's 2008 election. Once again, the final days have brought surprises. Missoula accountant Patty Lovaas filed as a Republican for U.S. Senate, something I had told you two weeks ago.
But no one expected a 34-year-old Billings truck driver and former restaurant worker Shay Joshua Garnett to plunk down the filing fee for the same race. Garnett left only a post office box and an e-mail with the Secretary of State's office. And when I and others sent him a message asking for some basic information, his lengthy response could almost be called a manifesto. Long story short: he's God's chosen one who has been unappreciated, despite his lofty destiny to raise up nations.
Among his personality traits: dedication, aggressiveness, anger and tendencies toward both anti-social behavior and the use of swear words in conversation when he gets worked up. For my money, the Republican Senate primary could be the best--and most unpredictable--show of the primary season.

Garnett has expressed a severe dislike for Max Baucus. Which brings me to John Driscoll, the former Montana Public Service Commissioner who has joined the race for Denny Rehberg's seat in the U.S. House. Driscoll is one of those Democrats who dislikes Baucus intensely. (There are a few of them.)
He ran against him in 1978, giving up the chance for a repeat term as Speaker of the House in the state legislature, then did it again in 1990. Ten years later, he lost to Brian Schweitzer in the race to challenge then-Sen. Conrad Burns and has been on the sidelines since. This year, he's decided to change focus and go for Rehberg's House seat.
Make no mistake--Driscoll is no Bob Kelleher or Curly Thornton. He's not a one-issue guy or a Bible-toting moralist. I've always enjoyed my conversations with him. He's intelligent and articulate; he's just considered something of a flake. However, his name recognition might make his primary race against Jim Hunt a bit more interesting. Plus, if he wins, he could be just annoying enough to Rehberg to make the race worth following.
Speaking of interesting races, the battle for Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court is worth following closely. Attorney General Mike McGrath (who is term limited) had the field to himself for months but now has an opponent in Helena attorney Ron Waterman. McGrath has been a career public sector lawyer, first as Lewis & Clark County Attorney, then as AG.
Waterman has spent his career in the private sector, although he's been involved with enough high-profile litigation that people may recognize the name. It also won't hurt that his wife, Mignon, was a well-known state senator for many years.
In judicial races, candidates generally won't say what they'll do if elected, but McGrath can point to his many years as a law enforcer, his support as AG for gun ownership rights before the U.S. Supreme Court and the successful and historic negotations with ARCO on Clark Fork River Superfund sites. It's also worth noting that it was McGrath who successfully argued to make more of ARCO's settlement money available for river restoration projects last fall.
Waterman, meanwhile, can show a resume that shows a lot of high-profile litigation on all parts of the political spectrum. He's represented a despised mining company and fought the death penalty. He's done work for the ACLU and has been the attorney for the Montana Freedom of Information Hotline. He also has the support of retired Helena district judge Gordon Bennett and former Associated Press bureau chief John Kuglin, two of the state's open government heroes.
Watch this race, especially when questions arise about opening court deliberations to the media and the public.
Finally, the best political image I've seen this year comes from Montana's sister state of Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, where voters will elect a new governor and legislature March 23. It's--get ready for it--election day toilet paper. According to Mako Sakaguchi, Montana's representative in Kumamoto, the prefectural government has been distributing the paper in public places (presumably shopping arcades and other popular spots) to encourage people to vote. Assuming people actually use the paper for its intended purpose, it will be viewed regularly in the days prior to the vote. And after all, advertising depends on multiple impressions to work.
So, here's my message to Secretary of State Brad Johnson: In an election universe where electronics and computers play an ever-larger role, here's how to really make your mark as Montana's chief elections officer--with the ultimate paper ballot.
Just imagine the campaign slogan.
Happy spring.

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