Republican Marc Racicot enjoyed immense popularity as governor of Montana, and if he hadn’t been term limited would have been easily re-elected a third time. (Racicot also would have been Max Baucus’s biggest nightmare if he had chosen to contest the Democrat’s Senate seat in this year’s race.) He took his slings and arrows from the liberal state media over his environmental stances among other issues, but being an ex-lawyer and state attorney general, was immune to the gaffes that occasionally plague his less politically smooth ex-lieutenant governor and successor, Judy Martz.
When there was political blood in the water, Marc Racicot unflappably handled the circling media sharks. Martz has outraged those toothy guys with such refreshing gems as when at a campaign stop she said that in the interests of working Montanans she would gladly be “a lapdog to industry”; and in another speech was this candid broadside: “We’ve been sitting on the natural resources. With the obstructionists in our way on a daily basis, we just haven’t been able to get to them.” This has made her enemies, and it has become pathologically fashionable in the Montana media to blame the state’s myriad fiscal ills on Governor Martz, almost always with the implication that she isn’t intellectually equipped to fix the mess. The problem is a $57 million ballooning state budget deficit (quite sizable for a state with only 900,000 people) requiring two recent special legislative sessions and severe belt tightening in the realm of school funding, environmental concerns, and so on that has special interest groups and the media up in arms. The conventional wisdom is that Judy Martz isn’t up to governing the Treasure State. After all, she — gasp! — never went to college.
Montana in the last fifty plus years has gone from #10 nationwide in per capita income (1950) to #34 (1970), to #46 (1999) to #47 (2002). The “extractive industries” (logging, mining, and the agricultural sector) were once the backbone of the state’s economy. Now they are marginal at best, and thousands of high paying jobs have disappeared. For instance, in the forested western third of the state, scores of lumber mills closed between 1970 and 2000, as environmental groups successfully contested timber sales on federal lands in the courts. Hardrock mining is so politically incorrect that projects are routinely shot down in their infancy, even if appropriate. Loggers, millworkers and miners have either left the state or are working low paying jobs in the expanding service economy. Average yearly wages have dropped almost $9,000 ($30,000 to $21,400) in the last twenty years. In the highest such percentage in the country, 10.2% of employed Montanans now work multiple jobs. Some have jobs working for the new dotcommer or movie celebrity landowning elite. That’s because real ranchers are selling out or subdividing thanks to burgeoning property and estate taxes, and the restrictive costs of doing business in a world of smothering enviro-regulations such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
According to Ray Ring — Bozeman-based Northern Rockies editor of High Country News (HCN) — in a December 2001 cover story, Montana in 1971 boasted just two environmental organizations: the Montana Wildlife Federation (with one paid staffer) and the Montana Wilderness Association (all volunteer). Today thirty-five regional and national environmental groups have offices in the Treasure State, and employ hundreds of full-time staffers, including attorneys conducting ongoing Green litigation. The Sierra Club considers the Northern Rockies so vital that it has a cadre of ten staffers statewide, quite a presence for low population Montana, and one wonders if any American city of 900,000 rates as many. Most donations to Montana environmental groups come from out-of-state folks who don’t participate in the local political process. These people — many of them second homeowners in garden spots like Bozeman, Livingston and Missoula — are determined to save Montana from Montanans. Likewise the Green media intelligentsia, most of whom who have also come from somewhere else.
The endlessly preening verbiage that Governor Martz endures in the Montana press is primarily the result of her inexperience (serving one term as lieutenant governor, before that jobs in the private sector) and lack of education, the latter a cardinal sin in the New Montana. Rarely does an editorial or op-ed appear that doesn’t mention either of these perceived faults. In an August 5 HCN-“Writers on the Range” piece, Ring laments impending state budget cuts detrimental to Montana schools by reminding us that Judy Martz “never earned a college degree, and she often acts as though education isn’t worth much in her eyes.” Ring was reacting to news that Martz had been selected to head the Western Governors Association. Todd Wilkinson, a western correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and frequent contributor to the regional press, in a September 9 “Headwaters” news service column resorts to cliché to inform us that though “Montana rates near the bottom of the barrel nationally for spending on teacher salaries and in providing amenities to students, Martz, who has no college degree, praised home school parents who educate their kids on $300 a year.” In the aftermath of the 2000 Montana gubernatorial campaign, the Missoulian, the Treasure State’s most prominent monument to liberal journalistic smugness, editorialized: “Anyone who followed Martz’s campaign for office knows she courts disaster whenever she strays from a prepared text. She has a way with words, but it’s not a good one.”
In Montana, an overeducated environmental elite and its media lackeys can’t get over the fact that in order to become governor, Judy Martz beat Democratic millionaire businessman Mark O’Keefe, who held a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Montana. O’Keefe — using $2 million of his own assets and out-of-state contributions from national environmental groups — outspent Martz 3 to 1 and still lost. Granted, it was a close race, with Martz winning 51% of the vote to O’Keefe’s 47%. More interesting, of the state’s 56 counties she carried 45, home to real folks as opposed to the urban academic intellectualoids that you find in Bozeman, Missoula and Helena.
Which probably goes a long way to make the case that the enviro-driven Montana urban elite can shoulder most of the blame for driving a stake into the heart of the state’s economy over the last three decades. Those Greens file a lot of lawsuits and pump a lot of money into Democratic political campaigns. I myself while attending writers seminars in Montana have tasted that rarefied atmosphere of the Ph.D. pseudo-literati swapping fly-fishing stories over hors d’oeuvres and a good Merlot. These are folks who firmly believe that the American West would be better off if it was governed exclusively by people who went to graduate school. They admire the utopian fantasies and motives of landgrabbing plutocrats like Ted Turner. In their eyes, the crude conservative populism of a Judy Martz is definitely gauche. In the West, the environmental meritocracy is the only demographic entity afflicted with snobbery. Author David Brooks even included them in his book: Bobos in Paradise. The Montana Bobo seeks to fully experience “the Soulrush” of his surroundings, and looks down on others who view it another way.
The Missoulian, Wilkinson, Ring, et al. are truly embarrassed by the presence of Judy Martz in the governor’s office. She’s there because a slim majority of Montanans are tired of living in an economically depressed state that increasingly demands that in order to make a living they work low wage jobs or leave. Montanans who are tired of stocking shelves at Wal-Mart or flipping hamburgers for tourists, carpetbagging dotcommers and pretentious Green-sensitive movie stars. So in the end, Montana’s condescending and fearlessly liberal media toadies deserve Judy Martz. She’ll give them something to write about for a couple of more years, if not longer.
Montana deserves Judy Martz. And in an ironic way so do her detractors.