The Billings Outpost

Daines may be wrong choice for Senate seat

Love him or hate him, you’ve got to hand it to Brian Schweitzer: He makes more news by not running for the U.S. Senate than anybody else in Montana could by actually running.

Former Gov. Schweitzer’s announcement that he would not seek the Senate seat that will be vacated by Max Baucus’ retirement stirred widespread comment, including at the national level, where every contested seat could potentially shift the balance of power in Washington.

Chuck Johnson did a good job of laying the various theories about why Mr. Schweitzer isn’t running in a column last month, so there is no need to go through all of that again, except for two points:

1. The theory that Schweitzer pulled out because of anonymous criticism by fellow Democrats in a Politico story seems unlikely. Schweitzer doesn’t intimidate easily.

Probably that story never even would have been printed in the pre-internet age because of an old journalistic standard that said politicians should not be allowed to anonymously criticize other politicians. That sounds hopelessly quaint today, but reporters really used to think like that.

2. The theory that Schweitzer pulled out because of dirt about dark money seems equally unlikely. John Adams did a thorough review of this issue in the Great Falls Tribune and, while the story certainly doesn’t make Mr. Schweitzer look good, it’s still hard to tell exactly what, if anything, he actually did wrong.

At worst, he may come off looking like a hypocrite because he took dark money while criticizing others for doing the same. But if hypocrisy were a bar to public office, the halls of Congress would be empty.

Whatever Mr. Schweitzer’s real reasons for not running, his non-candidacy takes a lot of the steam out of the race. He was the state’s most effective ambassador and sometimes its court jester. He had an unerring instinct for the grand gesture, and a near-perfect knack for cutting across delicate issues without either alienating his base or giving his enemies ammunition. Whoever wins the seat won’t have his gifts.

This leaves us with Republican Steve Daines, who is serving his first term as Montana’s representative in the U.S. House. Rep. Daines hasn’t announced a run for the Senate but appears to be the early favorite.

Even if you like Rep. Daines’ political ideology, you should think twice about whether he is really the guy you want in the Senate. Recent polls show that only 10 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, and 90 percent wonder what’s the matter with that 10 percent.

Ask yourself: What exactly has Rep. Daines done, or is likely to do, to make Congress work better? It may be too early to judge, but here’s one indicator: Rep. Daines said in a November interview that there is “compelling data” arguing both for and against human-caused climate change and that “the jury’s still out.”

Actually, it isn’t. Consider three points:

First, a recent study of papers on climate change found that 97 percent agreed with the basic principle that the greenhouse gases humans are pumping into the atmosphere are changing the climate.

Naturally, the study has drawn critics, but the criticisms are telling. Some say that the study took too simplistic a look, which is inevitable in so broad-based an undertaking. Others said that the study asked too easy a question. Hardly any serious scientists disagree with the basic forces underlying climate change, they pointed out; more complicated questions about how serious the problem is and how we should respond draw less consensus. But that concedes the study’s point.

Second, a study funded by the Koch brothers, apparently in hopes of discrediting climate science, found instead that climate is changing just as scientists have predicted. That study, too, has drawn critics, but even one member of the study team that declined to sign off on its findings didn’t dispute the fundamental validity of the science; her disagreement was largely over the extent to which global warming has occurred.

Finally, as a line attributed to Damon Runyon put it, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how you bet.

Rep. Daines, who made his reputation as a businessman, should look to the far north, where the planet is warming the fastest and where energy and transportation companies are betting on investments to take advantage of arctic ice melting and nations are beefing up their military presence to stake out territorial claims.

With Arctic sea ice down more than 40 percent since the 1970s, more than 200 ships, a record number, have applied for permission to sail north of Russia this year. China, for example, hopes to trim nearly 1,000 miles off its Shanghai-to-Rotterdam route by sending ships on the northern route, which some scientists expect to be ice free by 2020. Chinese leaders may be ideologues, but they aren’t stupid.

Why does any of this matter? Because climate change, more than any other issue before Congress, is easily divisible into two parts: the scientific case, which is pretty much settled, and the policy case, which is complex and contentious.

As a party, Politico recently reported, Republicans have decided to back away from some of their more outrageous claims about climate science, such as that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by grant-hungry scientists or that pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is actually good for us. Instead, Republicans have decided to ignore the science and focus on jobs, Politico reported.

Dutifully, Rep. Daines called President Obama’s recent speech on climate change a job-killing “war on American energy.” He said nothing about science.

As a businessman, Mr. Daines surely knows better than to let ideological preferences outweigh rational judgment. If he isn’t willing to apply the same rigorous standards to his politics as he is to his capital, then he is not the guy to fix what’s wrong in Washington.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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