Havre Daily News
The Republican members of Montana's congressional delegation Sunday accused the Democratic Party of negative campaigning and touted conservative initiatives they say will bring agriculture into the energy business. U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Denny Rehberg told Hill County Republicans at their annual Lincoln Day Dinner that Democrats offer only criticism. Both are running for re-election in November.
“It is us that's got the vision, the hope,” Burns said.
“I wish they would come up with an idea, even a bad one,” he said of Democrats. “What is their vision for this state?”
Burns has been embroiled in a national scandal over money he accepted from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to felony fraud charges. Both Burns and the Democrats have run television and radio ads in Montana addressing the senator's ties to Abramoff, his clients and associates, who gave Burns $150,000. Burns, who has denied doing anything wrong, is giving up the money and donating it to various groups.
Rehberg said Republicans cannot allow the Democrats to “impinge upon (Burns') integrity.”
“We cannot let them get away with negative campaigning,” Rehberg said. “The Republican Party has a vision for America's future.”
Montana Democratic Party executive director Jim Farrell today responded to those assertions, saying that “the truth hurts” for Burns and Rehberg.
“Montanans have a right to know of the corruption of elected officials in Washington,” Farrell said. “We will continue to talk about the corruption of Burns and Rehberg because it is relevant. When you cannot trust elected leaders, ... then it's time for a change.”
Democrats have asked Rehberg to return about $20,000 he received from former House Republican leader Tom DeLay, and he has refused, Farrell said. DeLay has been charged with conspiracy in Texas.
Farrell said Democrats demonstrate the “real” family values of Montana: A growing economy, better education and better retirement security.
“When we say ‘family values,' it's more than just an empty slogan,” he said.
State Auditor John Morrison and state Senate President Jon Tester of Big Sandy are the two Democratic front-runners for Burns' seat. State Rep. Monica Lindeen, D-Huntley, is challenging Rehberg in the November election.
Rehberg spokesman Erik Iverson today said the congressman did receive about $20,000 in campaign contributions from one of DeLay's political action committees, but that they were legal contributions and fully reported.
“I'm a little confused as to what their rationale is,” he said about the Democrats, adding that the Texas case relates to a “completely separate political action committee.”
Iverson also spoke of Rehberg's history of breaking with Republican leadership on issues he feels are important to Montana.
“Time and again, Denny breaks with his party leadership” on issues such as Amtrak funding, country-of-origin labeling, the sale of U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates and other issues, Iverson added.
At the Republican dinner, Burns, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said increased ethanol production is one way the United States can reduce its dependence on foreign oil, recalling President Bush's State of the Union promise to reduce U.S. oil dependency by 75 percent.
“The next big oil find is going to be in the Golden Triangle,” Burns said. “It's going to put agriculture into the energy business.”
Burns said he wants to see increased ethanol production, and he wants to see automakers produce engines that utilize fuels with a higher ethanol content.
Rehberg said Democrats have obstructed “reasonable” reform of the Endangered Species Act and said the federal government needs to work harder to secure its borders and control illegal immigration.
“We want legal immigration,” he said. “We need more workers in America” in the construction and agricultural trades.
He also said health care reform is achievable, along with cures for cancer and leukemia within the next decade.
Burns also spoke of the importance of border and port security and the dangers of terrorism.
“(The terrorist) observes no flag and honors no boundary,” Burns said. “Fear, fear will erode more of our freedoms ... and we cannot run. These young folks (serving in the military) ... they know what's at stake. They want hope.”
He called President Bush stubborn, saying the president's skull is “solid granite.”
In an interview today, Burns spokesman Matt Mackowiak clarified the statement, saying Burns believes the White House should have been more forthcoming with the details of a deal to allow a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates to assume control of operations at six major U.S. seaports.
“He gets along very well with the president,” Mackowiak said. “He believes the White House did not satisfactorily brief Congress on (the deal). Senator Burns believes that in some cases, the White House doesn't involve Congress until after the decision is made, and ... Congress has to be a full partner.
“Senator Burns thinks the president has done an excellent job on national security,” he added.
Mackowiak said the comment about granite was not meant as an insult.
“He says the same thing about his son,” Mackowiak said. “It's a little joke he likes to use.”
At an earlier meeting with community members working to build a special events center at the Hill County Fairgrounds, Burns said he would work to secure federal funding for the initiative, part of a larger plan to improve the fairgrounds, but he could offer no guarantees.
“Count us in,” Burns said. “We'll give it the best shot we've got.”
The Hill County Commission, acting on behalf of the group, has submitted a $5 million funding request to Montana's congressional delegation to help pay for the project.
The ad-hoc committee heading the effort to bring the 6,000-seat arena to Havre was scheduled to meet today with Great Falls architect Marty Byrnes, who is designing a master plan for the fairgrounds, which includes the events center, a new cultural/visitor center, new grandstands and other improvements.
Also at Sunday's meeting, Burns asked Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller about the impact of the Montana Meth Project, a series of radio and television ads that encourage youths to shy away from methamphetamine. Burns said he considers the drug a serious issue and said he has received a lot of feedback about the ads.
In an off-the-cuff remark, he said there needs to be stricter penalties for those who manufacture and distribute the drug.
“We need to go back to old vigilante law, public hangings,” Burns said.
“He was kidding about vigilante justice,” Mackowiak said today, “but it shows a frustration he has with this drug.”
Burns is a proponent of stricter penalties for meth producers, Mackowiak said, and is a supporter of tough provisions included in a measure to extend the Patriot Act, which is set for a vote on Tuesday. The senator also believes prevention is key in winning the battle against meth use, Mackowiak said.
Burns introduced legislation that provides $25 million in federal funding for local and state governments that want to create advertising initiatives similar to the Montana Meth Project, Mackowiak said. The program would require a dollar-for-dollar match from grant applicants, though it does include a provision that allows Indian reservations and low-income communities to match half of the federal money, he said.
Farrell said Republicans like Burns and Rehberg have been in power too long.
“Twenty years of failure and neglect of the concerns of ordinary working families in this state has left a lot of work for Democrats,” he said today.
On Sunday night, Rehberg called on party members to keep the faith.
“We're the party that wants to renew America's confidence in its elected officials,” he said.