The Montana birthers

Out in Montana there have been some interesting goings on while the media focus has been on foreign policy. After Max Baucus was approved as the next Ambassador to China and resigned, Harry Reid managed to browbeat Democrat Montana Governor Steve Bullock into appointing his Lt. Governor, John Walsh, to fill the seat for the rest of the year. This was supposed to give the Democrats a leg up in the race to replace Baucus, annointing Walsh with the aura of incumbency.

The Republicans aren’t interested in giving up the seat though, and Montana’s Congressman, Steve Daines, has been performing well in the polls against Walsh. This means that the Democrats need to find something to attack Daines on, so guess what they came up with. They want to see his birth certificate. (Found in Jim Geraghty;s Morning Jolt)

Remember when this sort of thing was ipso facto evidence that someone was a lunatic, a conspiracy theorist, a hate-monger, and unfit for public discourse?

The Montana Democratic Party today called on Congressman Steve Daines, who claims in his latest TV ad to be a “fifth-generation Montanan,” to clear up confusion about his roots by releasing his birth certificate.

Daines’ latest ad asserts he “grew up in Bozeman, a fifth-generation Montanan,” which directly contradicts earlier versions of his biography when he claimed: “I’m a third-generation Montanan, kind of that classic Montana kid.”

So the dispute is really whether Daines’s great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were Montanans, huh? Really? Does Daines need to dig up their birth certificates, too? Do we need to dig deep into his profile to get to the bottom of this?

It turns out that this isn’t some sort of question over whether or not Daines is legally qualified for the office… he is. But is he a true Montanan? The Democrats clearly feel they’ve found the smoking gun here, since Daines was born in California and lived there until – gasp – the age of two! Clearly, by the age of two, Daines was probably already surfing, huffing marijuana and learning to call his father “Dude” rather than “Da da.”

All of this is turning the candidacy of the current squatter, John Walsh, into a bit of a comedy routine. Perhaps former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President Bob Brown was on to something when he proposed that it was time for Montana to embrace special elections to fill vacant seats, rather than allowing governors to appoint interim senators. Providing ammunition for the argument, Brown turns to Montana’s somewhat colorful history in terms of such appointments.

Though the details are different, the success rate of senatorial appointees being retained by Montana voters isn’t good. In fact, it’s zero for two. The first appointee was defeated back in 1934. The most recent was Montana Supreme Court Justice Paul Hatfield, appointed senator by Governor Tom Judge to fill the vacancy created by the 1978 death of Senator Lee Metcalf. Judge was defeated in the next election, as was Hatfield by then young Rep. Max Baucus.

Montanans appear to not like having their senators appointed for them. If he wins the Democratic primary, Walsh appears to have an uphill battle on his hands against young Republican Rep. Steve Daines.

Prior to the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were appointed by state legislatures. “Copper King” W.A. Clark flagrantly bribed Montana legislators into electing him to the Senate in 1899. Incredibly, when an investigation forced Clark’s resignation, he finagled a gubernatorial appointment to the Senate to fill the vacancy created by his own resignation!

The Clark outrage in Montana was probably the most often nationally used example dramatizing the need for the 17th Amendment giving the people the power to directly elect their own senators.

Perhaps not terribly relevant to the current race, but it’s one of those nuggets of American political history that’s enjoyable to read. In the meantime, the irony of the Democrats’ sudden, fervent embrace of birtherism shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Everything old is new again in American elections.

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