Remember that awful 1969 movie, “The Magic Christian”? Peter Sellers played an eccentric billionaire, Sir Guy Grande, who orchestrated elaborate practical jokes on people in order to demonstrate his credo that everyone has their price as long as you’re willing to put up the money to find that price. The movie culminates with Sir Guy tossing larger and larger amounts of money into a giant vat of excrement until he succeeds in getting lords and ladies dressed to the nines to jump head first into the vat where they fight for as much of Sir Guy’s money as they can get. For themselves. At all costs.
There are several local and statewide developments that indicate we are seeing a similar display of dirty infighting over money going on within Montana’s Republican Party this political cycle. The appointment of hard-right ideologue Boulanger by our hard right commissioners is the tip of the iceberg here in Ravalli County (1). Most of us don’t see the whole iceberg, because we’re either not Republicans or we're Republicans who don’t attend Republican Central Committee meetings. But there’s an increasingly-visible fracture occurring in that iceberg, at the local and state level, a fracture that by definition is anti-democratic in nature and bodes ill to anybody’s reasonable definition of good-government. And as always, money, money, money is at the bottom of the huge vat of climate-changing feces upon which that iceberg floats (Wow! Did I really say that?). We all should be paying close attention, I think. It bodes ill, but it also bodes good theatre.
Everyone should remember Fred Thomas, the godfather of Montana’s deregulation debacle. If you don’t, just look at your power bill, subtract from it the amount you formerly used on groceries, entertainment and Christmas but are now using to pay off Northwest Energy or PPL, and that amount is Fred Thomas’ legacy to you and yours. His deregulation stunt should have been his swan song as an elected official in the state of Montana. He hit people where they hurt, hard. But…here he is!! Back again in your legislature, a Senator this time, ready to add more of his legacy on to your already overburdened basic expenses. This time he’ll be aiming at your insurance premiums (my guess, but you just watch). Not to lower them (god forbid!) but to raise them, by attempting to disable the tepid improvements offered us within the Affordable Care Act among many other privatization tricks in his draft-bill bag http://www.leg.mt.gov/css/Sessions/63rd/leg_info.asp?HouseID=0&SessionID=107&LAWSID=14716
How did this happen??!! Well, the same way Nancy Ballance (R-HD 89) and a lot of other bought-and-paid for races in Montana happened. You see, Fred sells insurance here in the Bitterroot. In fact, he was recently awarded at least one sweet taxpayer-funded contract by our rogue commissioners, who seem to rule by the same tenets of cronyism that your average banana republic does, complete with guns, or at least the threat of them (2). And what a coincidence!!! Nancy Ballance is not only in the insurance business herself, she’s a retired vice-president of Farmer’s Insurance, a wholly-owned subsidy of out-of-country behemoth Zurich Financial (3) that in turn cashed in big-time on government bail-out money when it bought AIG’s tax-supported assets. Remember all this? Ballance, by the way, hit the ground running when she and her husband moved to Hamilton recently, becoming leaders in Ravalli County Tea Party Patriots (4).
Neither of these hired guns wants to help their constituents by working to see that insurance premiums are kept down, which would fit their job description if they actually believed their tea faction’s own blatherings about the constitution and founding fathers (ad naseum). Quite the opposite, since both have demonstrable, vested interests in seeing insurance premiums go up (5). It bears repeating: how did this happen?
In Thomas and Ballance’s case, it was the result of tens of thousands of dollars pumped into the Republican primary race by American Tradition Partnership (ATP), most visibly in the form of slick, costly—and multiple—attack mailings. And which naughty Republicans did ATP attack with such massive money dumps into our local elections we’ve never seen a shadow of the likes of before? In Fred Thomas’ case, ATP attacked Gary MacClaren, A.L.E.C.’s former Montana representative according to A.L.E.C.’s own website. I’ll leave the implications of this fratricide to you, dear reader, to cogitate on
Let’s now look at Sandy Welch’s aborted attempt to challenge her defeat by Denise Juneau for Superintendent of Public Schools. How visibly-weird that she would threaten every election official in the state with a $200,000 recount she claimed she could pay for, and then back out at the last minute because she suddenly doesn’t have the money. Was it because the state Republican machine that originally promised Welch ATP money to whittle away voters’ rights by embarrassing those same election officials had to suddenly pull the rug out from under one of their shill’s feet because ATP got caught with their fingers in their other shills’ pies?
I don’t know about you, but in the Missoulian, the story about two Republican legislators, Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, and Rep. John Esp, R-Big Timber, filing political practices complaints against ATP for a barrage of attacks similar to what we experienced here in the Bitterroot was in the same day’s edition as Welch’s respect-free capitulation. Esp and Tutvedt are arguing that ATP illegally coordinated efforts with their Republican primary election opponents, odd complaints coming from Republican operatives in their own right, to the state political practices office, often accused of—by Republican operatives—of being too…political!!
I’ll be the first to admit that, at this point, this bizarro Welch/ Esp/Tutvedt/ Thomas/ MacClaren/ Ballance contortion I’ve sketched out above are the political speculations of a biased source (myself). But from the point of view of your average Montana voter who’s trying her best to pay attention to this Machiavellian play brought to us by obscene amounts of foreign money, this stuff should look like political fratricide, smell like political fratricide and talk like political fratricide. Prove us different, please, and in the meantime, I’ll leave the implications of this mysterious, violence-prone critter created in the lightening-lit dungeon of a mad Republican’s trophy-home to you, dear reader, to cogitate on.
If Sir Guy Grande were around today he’d be labeled a high-rolling sociopath (6). I understand that some folks don’t remember the good old days, back in 1969,when being a billionaire actually meant something. There just weren’t as many of them, statistically speaking. Maybe a handful in the whole world. Back then guys like Romney and Rehberg, with their mere millions, were top players. Now there are two handfuls of sociopathic billionaires, and that extra handful really makes a difference. Mere millionaires like Romney and Rehberg are now reduced to running for public offices where they would merely serve as water carriers for the Real Big Boys like the Koch brothers. What a waste of talent, don’t you think?! It isn’t fair! You just can’t have as much fun on a million dollars anymore, can’t hardly live on it, which, when you’re talking about billions of dollars pilfered from societies struggling against malicious austerity, reminds me of a song:
“Did I hear you say that there must be a catch?
Will you walk away from a fool and his money?
If you want it, here it is, come and get it, but you better hurry cuz it’s goin’ fast.”
What an unseemly spectacle we are allowing to be made of our ailing democracy. Let's do something about it. Feel free to post your own solution suggestions, and I'll devote my next writing spree to airing them, as well as to my own ideas for networking, activating, puffing ourselves up as large as possible, etc.
Joking aside, we (the people) who abhore the developments sketched out above, are not in the minority, and we can't allow billionaire bullies and their water-carriers to claim otherwise.
1. See “Privatized venison, anyone?” below for details on Boulanger’s ties to two out-of-state Wise-Use privatization organizations. My point here is that his stance on the privatization of big game herds has angered many Ravalli County hunters who may have shared in the anti-environmental rhetoric of past Wise-Use agendas, but who also understand the critical role the North American Wildlife Model plays in the protection of those herds and the protection of their access(!) to those herds. This, I would posit, is a fracture worth exploiting.
2. Commissioner Foss and her husband, treasurer of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee, both signed Celebrating Conservatism’s bizarre “2nd Amendment Declaration” three years ago, which stated that the signers reserve the “right” to overthrow the government if one more gun law is enacted.
5. Notwithstanding what they say or don’t say about this conundrum they voluntarily enmeshed themselves in, the facts speak English, the official language of the state of Montana by order of the Montana State Legislature (blush, blush!)
6. See the original movie “Frankenstein” for another Hollywood version of the same. Colin Clive, who plays Dr. Frankenstein, bears a remarkable resemblence to either one of the young Koch brothers.