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Senate candidate Steve Daines told The Billings Gazette Editorial Board when he was running for office that he didn't think transferring federal lands was "feasible."

That was then. This is now.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines was one of the senators who voted to put in place the mechanism that would allow federal lands to be sold.

After the vote, which nearly instantly earned him a backlash of rebuke from sportsmen and conservation groups — two formidable Montana camps — his staff was being put to their verbal best trying to explain the vote.

Yet the clearest and most precise answer is that Daines flip-flopped on a vote that means so much to Montanans.

The Senate amendment, which passed 51 to 49 was brought by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a fellow Republican from Alaska. She proposed creating a fund relating to any legislative action that results in the "transfers, sales or exchanges of federal lands with states or local governments."

Suddenly, the transfer of land didn't just become feasible (to use his word), he helped provide the mechanism for it. 

In other words, Daines voted with Murkowski to create the very process that would allow the federal government to sell off its lands to states.

We've reported previously that any sell-off of federal lands would likely require large management costs for the state of Montana, which in turn would either have to increase taxes or sell the land to the highest bidder. If the latter option happened, public lands in Montana would become private, robbing future generations of Americans (not just Montanans) of what should be a birthright.

Succumbed to D.C. politics

In The Gazette's endorsement of Daines' candidacy, we supported him in part because of his ability to break with his own party on this very important issue to Montana. But, the pull of Washington, D.C., politics must be too much for his political constitution to withstand.

Daines' staff tried to soft-sell the issue as being a local Alaska issue — a hinterland dispute that didn't really matter to Montana. But nothing about the language of the amendment suggests this fund would only be used in Alaska. 

Daines' staff also pointed out that this legislation would only create a fund for transfers, not transfer any land.

But, this should be seen as a prelude. Why would Congress create a fund for something that won't happen? That seems like a waste of time. 

Daines' vote reflects any number of possibilities: Either he's admitting he's passing legislation that is meaningless; he's flip-flopping; or, he's betting that readers will believe this land spat is only between Alaska and the feds.

Disappointing Senate debut

John Sullivan, the co-chair of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers' Montana said it best: "Actions speak louder than words, and the senator's action last night has sent shockwaves through the state."

To be sure, it's been a disappointing start for Daines who made the serious misstep of signing the threatening Cotton letter to Iran. Now, after making the world a little less safe abroad, Daines has decided to make Montana's proud outdoor tradition a little less safe as well. 

The good news for Daines — if there is any — is that hopefully his track record can only improve.

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