Gazette opinion: Bullock's closed-door politics

2014-02-11T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Bullock's closed-door politics The Billings Gazette
February 11, 2014 12:00 am

It’s always a little galling when folks accuse politicians of playing politics.

As if they’re supposed to be playing pinochle. Or supposed to make decisions void of controversy.

So with that said, you’ll excuse us for accusing Montana Gov. Steve Bullock of playing politics.

You see, there are politics and then there are the closed-door power politics that give even politicians a bad name.

The appointment of now-former-Lt. Gov. John Walsh to fill the remainder of ambassador Max Baucus’ term in the U.S. Senate was shrouded in secrecy. The governor remained tight-lipped, and the process was known to him alone.

Some might argue that’s not an entirely bad thing — it prevents a lot of overt campaigning for the appointment by Senate hopefuls.

But in this case, Bullock’s secrecy on the process might be politics of the worst kind.

Bullock has the indisputable right — in fact, he has the responsibility — to appoint a person to fill Baucus’ term. He needed to be ready quickly so that person can tackle the important work of representing Montana and helping to run the country.

However, Bullock did what the people of Montana normally do every six years — choose who represents us in Congress. Because of that, transparency in the process is key. While it may have been Bullock’s decision to make, his choice is something every Montanan will have to live with. His less-than-transparent process doesn’t exactly instill confidence.

As late as Wednesday, one of Bullock’s spokesmen told the Helena Independent Record that the governor would release the information after an appointment was made.

That’s great, but it will be of little consequence. It’s a lot like reading an investigatory report on the Titanic after the iceberg — interesting, but not no chance of changing the outcome.

Even now — immediately following the appointment of Walsh — it’s not clear how Bullock made his choice. Right now, it appears as if he simply selected his political buddy.

The situation might even be different if this wasn’t such an important decision. Walsh won’t only be Montana’s junior senator. He would seem to have an incumbent’s advantage in the upcoming Senate race this fall. It could be a huge advantage. Better transparency would have helped citizens trust that Bullock made the best choice for Montana, not just the best choice for the Democrats.

And as much as this appointment will have huge ramifications for the residents of Montana, Bullock’s appointment could also have effects beyond the Treasure State’s border. Many pundits predict that Senate races later this year could be very close, and congressional control could be decided by a few key races. That means whoever Bullock appoints could help tip the congressional balance of power to the Republicans or keep it in Democrats’ hands. Either way, the stakes are high and the ramifications huge.

Too much depends on this appointment not to have a better understanding of how Bullock selected the next Montana senator. This also points to how the governor operates, apparently comfortable in secrecy and less concerned about transparency.

What we’re left to believe is that on the really important issues, Bullock has a closed-door policy.

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