Winter is Coming: Cold Lessons for the GOP

There’s a chill in the air these days that has nothing to do with the changing of the seasons. Nope, the chill is emanating from Republicans nationwide as their election day of reckoning draws nigh. Their fear is palpable, evident in the infighting and increasingly frantic efforts to find any accomplishments worth touting to convince a disenchanted populace to re-elect them. Much to the detriment of our democracy, Montana, like the rest of the nation, has escaped neither the fear nor the frantic efforts.

This week’s Republican crisis is the failing effort to ram Brett M. Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, through the Senate Judiciary Committee before the November election. But what was once considered a nearly unstoppable train has gone off the tracks due to allegations that he sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when both were in their teens. That Republicans, including Trump, have openly cast doubt on the allegations has set off a firestorm of anger — and rising disapproval rates — for Republicans as thousands of women now openly stand with Ford’s accusations rather than Kavanaugh’s denials.

In the meantime, the position of Montana’s Republican congressional delegation on the issue has been predictable — blame Democrats for not bringing Ford’s accusations earlier and get on with the vote quickly.

Rushing things is also the theme from both U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines as they try to stuff through a bill to open Montana’s Wilderness Study Areas to commercial exploitation while sidestepping the time-consuming but essential step of garnering the opinions of the Montanans they’re supposed to represent.

Those with good memories will recall that it wasn’t always like this when it came to major decisions on public lands. Decades before Gianforte moved to Montana and while Daines was still in school, the issue of wilderness recommendations for Montana ran through numerous public hearings starting with RARE 1& 2 — the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation process conducted during the 70s.

In 1983, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Reserved Waters, of which Montana’s then-Senator John Melcher was a member, held public hearings in Missoula, Anaconda and Great Falls. And how much testimony did they gather? Enough to fill a 1,200-page publication titled “Montana Wilderness,” which they made freely available to any member of the public requesting a copy.

Contrast that level of public interaction with the paltry statement issued by Gianforte’s office last week that he held a hearing in Lewistown and has been discussing the issue with others throughout the state. Daines’ office, meanwhile, “couldn’t be reached for comment.”

Is that because our Wilderness Study Areas aren’t important enough to hold congressional committee hearings and publishing the input? Nope. It’s because the clock is ticking and Gianforte may not be going back to Washington come November — so there’s no time to spend on discerning whether Montanans actually support removing the existing protections for those Wilderness Study Areas.

Given the level of controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination, one might think Daines, who must vote to confirm or deny Kavanaugh, would hold public forums to find out what his constituents want. But Daines, like Gianforte, knows the clock is ticking and his time in the majority may be ending soon, so full speed ahead!

Of course this approach is antithetical to the principle that our democracy is a government “of, by, and for the people.” Daines and Gianforte don’t seem to realize that the more they abandon the public, the more the public will abandon them. But winter is coming — and their lesson will be cold indeed.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.