The Billings Outpost

Editors Note Book - David Crisp

Should voters take a gamble on Amanda Curtis?

Regular readers of this irregularly filled space know that I am no fan of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Daines. I have written columns:

• Criticizing his foolish and un-American bill that would tie congressional pay to balancing the budget. Why un-American? Because the bill would allow millionaires like Rep. Daines to hold hostage for partisan ends the paychecks of middle-class representatives like his Democratic opponent, Amanda Curtis. It’s a dumb idea, and the fact that a Democrat, John Lewis, argues that members of Congress shouldn’t get paid unless they pass a budget doesn’t make it any smarter.

• Arguing that Rep. Daines is, despite his claims, not really a conservative. Placing ideology above actual facts, I argued, is neither conservative nor good business.

• Suggesting that one of Rep. Daines’ primary campaign ads distorted facts about Obamacare. Neither Rep. Daines nor any member of his campaign has ever responded to those allegations, probably because the distortions were deliberate.

On the other hand, in the one column I have written about Rep. Daines’ Democratic opposition, the Outpost became, I believe, the first newspaper in Montana to call for U.S. Senate incumbent John Walsh to resign over plagiarism allegations. That would seem to balance things out.

Yet Rep. Daines’ distortions continue. He has been running ads claiming that he was rated the most effective freshman representative in the U.S. House. The source for the claim is govtrack.us, a website that keeps track of congressional statistics.

Did govtrack.us assert that Rep. Daines was the most effective freshmen in the House? Not exactly. Rep. Daines did surface at the top of the list of House freshmen who managed to get bills out of committee. He cleared that low bar with three committee-approved bills. None of those bills has become law, and govtrack.us gives none of them better than a 30 percent chance of ever becoming law.

By other measures, Rep. Daines fared less well. He ranked in the bottom 10 percent among House freshmen in joining bipartisan bills, which typically have a better chance of becoming law. Of the 123 bills that Rep. Daines cosponsored, 96 percent were introduced by Republicans.

Rep. Daines also ranked in the bottom 20 percent of House Republicans in attracting cosponsors for his bills, and he ranked in the bottom 30 percent among all representatives in the number of bills he cosponsored.

As govtrack.us points out, “cosponsorship shows a willingness to work with others to advance policy goals.” So has Rep. Daines really been effective? Not so much.

But this election really isn’t about Rep. Daines. For better or worse, he is a known quantity. The unknown quantity is his Democratic opponent, Amanda Curtis, an appealing person with very little record to recommend her.

She has served just one term in the Montana Legislature, where she was best known for candid and occasionally cringe-inducing videos she posted on YouTube. Her late entry into the U.S. Senate race to replace Sen. Walsh means that her campaign is under-funded and lacks a solid bank of coherent policy positions.

The Montana Republican Party is piling on. A recent news release was titled “Amanda Curtis is still lying to Montanans … and she’s getting caught red-handed.”

The release argues that Ms. Curtis has “communist connections” with the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor organization that in 2008 reprinted two articles Ms. Curtis said she wrote for Butte newspapers. Neither article contained much political content.

Republicans also note that Ms. Curtis’ husband is listed as an IWW organizer. But for those who conflate the positions of political figures with those of their spouses, I offer a five-word rebuttal: James Carville and Mary Matalin.

Republicans also batter Ms. Curtis because she has received an F rating from the National Rifle Association. But the NRA, which once supported reasonable gun control laws, has transformed itself so thoroughly that Congress stands by idly as public schools turn into free-fire zones. Earning the wrath of the NRA may be the only rational stance left.

Still, we don’t really know how far to the left Ms. Curtis would lean. We don’t really know how competent she is. We can’t be sure that she would not be an utter disaster as a U.S. senator.

But how much worse can it get? Congress now ranks in popularity only slightly ahead of Ebola. Pollsters and pundits give Democrats almost no chance of taking over the House, and give Republicans anywhere from a 60 percent to 90 percent chance of taking the Senate.

Nobody gives either party much chance of winning a filibuster-proof Senate majority. Without that, we appear to be doomed to two more years of congressional gridlock.

It’s a solid bet that Steve Daines won’t fix that. It’s a long shot that Amanda Curtis will. I’m betting on the long shot.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:54

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