Eugene Graf IV, less humorous candidates vie for Zinke’s seat

Congressional candidate and caricature of a rich grandson Eugene Graf IV

Since Donald Trump announced his plan to appoint as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Montana’s sole representative in the US House, no fewer than six Republicans have threatened to campaign for his seat. Six! One of them is Eugene Graf IV, the scion of a Bozeman real estate fortune pictured above. Graf: He doesn’t remember shoving you into anything. As much as I would like to see Montana politics return to old-school corporatocracy, Graf is a long shot. He has not previously run for elected office, and his work experience is limited to working for his family business and, as past president of the Montana Homebuilders Association, lobbying for his family business. Yet he is sure to meet one qualification for office: the $1,740 fee the Montana Republican Party is charging each candidate to run.

That fee—set by state law at 1% of the salary of the office sought—is designed to defray the cost of organizing statewide primaries. It seems a little odd to charge it for candidates in this special election, where a nominee will be chosen not by primaries but by members of the state Republican committee. The food at that meeting is going to be great, I guess. Assuming he ponies up, the most likely nominee seems to be Ed Buttrey, a moderate Republican credited with orchestrating the compromise that allowed Montana to accept federal Medicaid funds last session. Among conservatives, of course, that’s a debit. But they have yet to put up a candidate of their own who can plausibly threaten him. This makes Buttrey’s run a barometer in the ongoing conflict between moderates and the right wing in Montana’s GOP. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

Why read about the recent past, though, when you can focus on the future? This week marks the Indy’s annual Bold Predictions issue, in which various people including me speculate on what 2017 will bring in Missoula, Montana, and the world. My first two bold predictions, made in 2013 and 2014, crushed it: Missoula really did set out to buy the water works in 2014, and conservatives in the legislature really did overplay their hand in 2015. Last year’s prediction—that Uber would put at least one of Missoula’s two taxi companies out of business—has yet to come true. But there’s still time! Keep watching this space or even some more reliable news outlet for updates on my prediction for 2017, which is that Republicans will become staunch defenders of Medicaid until they can blame someone else for taking it away. I also predict we’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

After bruising news cycle, Trump says he “may go a different route”

Donald Trump at Marla Maples at the US Open in 1991—photo: Timothy Clary

Donald Trump and Marla Maples at the US Open in 1991—photo: Timothy Clary

According to its FEC filing, the Trump campaign raised $3.1 million dollars in May, compared to $27 million donors gave to Hillary Clinton. That’s a startling gap, especially considering Trump clinched the nomination on May 3. Possibly in response to this dismal performance or maybe because of everything else he ever did, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski got fired yesterday. It’s fun when Trump does that on television, but political people tend to interpret it as a sign of weakness. It was such a tough day that the pathologically sanguine candidate struck a glum note. This morning, he called in to Fox and Friends and complained that he wasn’t getting enough support from Republicans. “It would be nice to have full support from people that are in office, full verbal support,” he said. “With all of that being said, I may go a different route if things don’t happen.”

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Meanwhile, in Cascade County, MT

Rep. Randy Pinocci (R–Sun River) on Facebook

Rep. Randy Pinocci (R–Sun River) on Facebook

One thing I learned from Randy Pinocci’s Facebook timeline is that his wife is about take away his phone.  The rest we must gather from the news. The man from Sun River made headlines last week, when someone gave the Fairfield Sun-Times a copy of an email in which he proposed “a law that says impersonating a reporter is against the law maybe after we put a few of these idiots in jail we can get better reporting.” Bro, you must use punctuation when calling people idiots. It seems like Pinocci was pretty worked up when he wrote that, and he subsequently told the Sun-Times he had no intention to propose such a law. He was just sayin’ stuff.

One of Pinocci’s fellow Republicans from Cascade County, JC Kantorowicz, has been engaging in a little stuff-just-saying of his own. At a meeting of the county Republican Central Committee regarding delegates to the state convention, he became frustrated by the schedule and seemed to threaten a rival’s life. A transcript:

JC Kantorowicz, primary candidate in SD 10: “So does this mean I have to come back on the 21st to keep [former Rep.] Roger Hagan and [rival SD 10 candidate] Steve Fitzpatrick from going?

Chairman George Paul: Well, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to come back.

Sec. Judy Tankink: Unless you have a proxy. Would a proxy work in a situation like that?

Kantorowicz: A bullet would.

That’s not cool, but Kantorowicz has assured the Great Falls Tribune that he intended no threat, “implied or implicit,” to harm anyone. “If I make a remark because I’m tired as hell, I’m hungry, I want to go home and I sure as hell don’t want to come to the next meeting, it’s a flippant remark,” he said.

When I get tired, I talk about shooting people on-record at political party functions, too. Kantorowicz and Pinocci are on one side of a rift in the Cascade County Republicans that mirrors the larger split in the Montana GOP. Hagan and Fitzpatrick are moderates. Pinocci and Kantorowicz are hard-right conservatives. Their faction has largely been kept from the levers of power, partly because the schism has weakened the Republican majority in the legislature and partly because moderates have shut the right-wingers out. That’s probably a good thing, but it has accustomed them to operating in the realm of pure rhetoric.

Loose talk has become the modus operandi of Montana’s conservatives. They stand so little chance of making laws that their careers have become performances. Their speech, like their politics, is mostly theoretical. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Will Trump hurt Gianforte and Zinke come November?

Ryan Zinke and Teen Wolf at a 2014 Republican debate in Great Falls

Ryan Zinke and Teen Wolf at a 2014 Republican debate in Great Falls

If you write about politics, don’t try to predict the future. Every right prediction seems obvious in retrospect, and every wrong one will haunt your career, unless your dad was the editor of Commentary. The wise commentator will limit himself to expressing opinions on things that have already happened, so that when people point out his obvious stupidity, he can distract them with the claim that reasonable people can disagree about matters of opinion. I know from experience. This week, though, I have broken my own rule and prognosticated on the fortunes of Rep. Ryan Zinke and gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte if they appear on the same ballot as Donald Trump—or on one from which Trump is conspicuously absent.

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McConnell to block Supreme Court appointments until Trump is president

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Normally Combat! blog does not stoop to publishing on federal holidays, and today our great nation honors its longest-armed and woodiest-toothed presidents. But this weekend was so exciting that one must remark. On Saturday, the Republican candidates tore into one another like a sack of weasels, raising the question of which one of these men, exactly, could lead his party through its most fractious historical moment since the Grant administration. Will Trump unite monied interests, neoconservative hawks and alienated tea party voters with his platform of turning red and calling people losers? Maybe the GOP will rally behind Ted Cruz, the most hated man in the Senate. Your fallback option to heal the party is Marco Rubio, who would like to dispense once and for all with this idea that Obama SYNTAX ERR 403 REBOOT? Y/N. Meanwhile, Jeb is betting on the overwhelming popularity of his brother. The question of who might win this contest of undesirables seemed academic until Saturday, when Antonin Scalia was found dead at a west Texas resort.

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