SUMMARY: Congressional aide deserves credit, but the money came from you.
Missoula County Commissioner Barbara Evans last week proposed naming an overpass of sorts planned for U.S. Highway 93 near Bass Creek after the person who made it possible.
OK. But whose name belongs on the sign?
The sign would adorn a structure that will funnel deer and other wildlife under the soon-to-be-widened Highway 93 at a critical crossing point between Stevensville and Florence. Anyone driving the highway regularly needs no persuading about the need for the wildlife crossing. The roadkill, smashed cars and danger to drivers is great enough with the present two lanes; four lanes through the deer-infested Bitterroot Valley may spell mayhem. The proposed crossing is at a particularly dicey spot, near the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge.
Evans, a Republican, says it should be called "Dawn's Crossing," in honor of Dawn Levy, a former staffer for Montana's Democratic Sen. Max Baucus now working for the Senate Finance Committee. Evans says Levy is the animal-lover she lobbied last year on behalf of local citizens eager to have a crossing included in the highway improvements. Levy played a crucial role in getting a $1.5 million appropriation through Congress, Evans says, and dedicating the crossing to Levy would be a good way to say thanks for a favor. Unintentionally, Evans' proposal also draws attention to how an awful lot of these kinds of things actually get done back in Washington, D.C. Behind every morsel of money or gob of pork tucked into those thick appropriations bills is someone just like Levy. Members of Congress cast the votes and broker deals and grab headlines, but the nitty-gritty details are handled behind the scenes by hundreds of folks whose names you never hear and faces you never see. Some of them wield tremendous power.
Levy tells us she's flattered but also a bit uncomfortable with the idea of having hundreds of tons of steel-reinforced concrete named for her. Toiling in an institution where protocol demands staffers never upstage politicians, Levy diplomatically suggests the crossing would be better named after Baucus. "It's all about Max," she says of her clout and what she does with it. We've only spoken with Levy on the telephone, but you quickly get a sense that she's smart and capable, as well as diplomatic. No wonder she gets things done.
Baucus' press aide, Barrett Kaiser, says the senator doesn't want anything named for him while he's in office - well, except for that building in Helena already emblazoned with "Baucus." There is indeed something unseemly about politicians branding what they build. We're with Max on this one.
Evans surely deserves credit, too. She's an effective arm-twister. But she shouldn't have naming rights for the same reason Baucus shouldn't. Besides, if there ever is a monument named for Evans, it probably ought to be in Missoula County. The Bass Creek critter crossing will be in Ravalli County.
Anyway, at the risk of sounding a bit churlish here, we feel compelled to point out that neither Levy nor Baucus really makes this public works project possible. Neither does Evans. They've helped, sure. So have highway engineers and some concerned citizens. But the people who really make it possible are the people paying for it. That's you. Is it possible to be properly appreciative of work done by our politicians and their staffers without forgetting that it's our money they're doling out, and that these good people are conducting the public's business, not doing "favors"? We'd like to think so.
"Dawn's Crossing" certainly has a nice ring to it. "Monument to Max" doesn't seem appropriate. But a sign reading, "Your Tax Dollars at Work," probably is most fitting.