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The 2020 elections are almost a year and half away, yet Montana’s politicians elected to statewide positions are now concentrating not on the jobs they were elected and paid well to do, but on campaigning for their next job. Montanans are fully justified in asking why, since they all stressed how much they wanted to do these jobs in “service” to the state, but are basically putting those jobs on hold – or delegating the work – so they can travel around the state and nation trolling for future votes. If they tried to pull this stunt in a normal job, where you’re expected to show up and put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, they’d all be fired.

Leading the pack in absentee officeholders is none other than Governor Steve Bullock, who has been distracted by his presidential ambitions well before this year’s legislative session started and continues to think his job is to go to Iowa and New Hampshire to beat his chest about being the only Democratic presidential wannabe who “won a Trump state.”

Why anyone would think a middle of the road coal and fossil fuel advocate is what Democrats need right now to energize voters is a mystery to many — so many that Bullock continues to hang near the bottom of the two dozen Demo presidential hopefuls. That he may well be excluded from the first Demo primary debates because his support is so low elicited a high-pitched whine from his campaign late last week.

The truth, besides his non-existent chance to win the Democratic nomination, is that national Democrats want Bullock to run against Republican Senator Steve Daines where, if Bullock is so confident of his ability to win in a “Trump state,” he is the natural choice to pick up a seat in the narrowly-divided U.S. Senate. But Bullock says he wants to be “in the executive,” not the legislative, and thus he’s now spending his time in states other than the one he was elected to govern.

Bullock is not alone in being mightily distracted by chasing the job he wants instead of the job he has. Montana’s lone congressman, Republican Greg Gianforte, has announced he’s running for governor. So have a pile of other Republicans including Attorney General Tim Fox, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, and State Auditor Matt Rosendale. While Bullock and Fox are both term limited, none of the other top officeholders are — they just want to follow their political ambitions despite telling Montanans how critical it was that we put them in their current positions.

Abandoning his office to campaign is nothing new for Rosendale, who ran for Senate and lost against Jon Tester last year. As for Stapleton, he angered election officials statewide by falsely accusing them of allowing voter fraud. Then, being so laser-focused on his job, he cost Montana taxpayers $250,000 to reprint voter information pamphlets because he didn’t have time to proofread them. Why we’d want him in the governor’s office to make even more costly blunders is a dang good question.

Political campaigns are grueling affairs. They consume vast amounts of money, time, and physical and mental energy — the same time and energy that should be used to do the jobs these politicians now hold. While there’s no law to prevent officeholders from being distracted by campaigning for higher office, voters should weigh their promises to do their jobs in the future against their willingness to do the jobs they’re already paid to do.

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George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. He can be reached by email at oped@missoulian.com.

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