How Those Who Are Supposed To Change DC Get Changed By DC
I want to tell you a story about my experience covering an election as a young reporter in Southwest Montana. You might see this as something you would care little about. However, the moral to this story is something that impacts everyone in this nation.
Let’s go back to 2006. I was an anchor/reporter/News Director with a small split-market CBS affiliate in Butte and Bozeman, Montana. I was young and green. I also must confess that I was spending too much time at the local bars trying to get to know my female audience a little better. But when it came time for business, I was serious about what I did. In that region, I was gifted with an important Senate race to cover in the ’06 cycle. It was between incumbent Senator Conrad Burns and a powerful state legislator named Jon Tester. Burns was receiving a great deal of bad publicity for a number of reasons. First off, he had stuck his foot in his mouth several times over. He made racially insensitive remarks consistently. He didn’t seem to be able to control himself. He was also dealing with the bad press he received over his relationship with a filthy lobbyist named Jack Abramoff.
Tester used the Abramoff relationship as a weapon against Burns. He routinely brought it up with the local radio, TV and print media. Meanwhile, he portrayed himself as an innocent farmer from a small town who would never go near a lobbyist. He wore tattered clothes to his photo shoots and joked about his crew cut hairdo. He made us believe he was going to be fiscally conservative and that he was going to change Washington. Tester won the election and the people of Montana sent their guy off to bring a little bit of Big Sky Country to Washington.
Six years later I can report that Tester has made decisions that have all been practically the opposite of what he said he would do! He’s voted for fiscally irresponsible bills regularly. He’s climbed all the way to the top of the lobbyist contributions list. He even supported environmental legislation to kick his own people out of jobs. Life in the rugged world of national politics got to him in a big way! It’s sad to see it happen again, but the guy who was going to change Washington got changed by Washington!
Recently I appeared on a radio show in Montana. The host asked me how the guy who was going to change Washington almost always gets changed by Washington. I didn’t answer right away because I knew this was an important question. I needed to take a deep breath to get my thoughts straight before answering. I quickly put it together in my head and told the host that every candidate needs funding so they have to bow a little to their financial sources. They also need a tour guide of sorts to help them negotiate through DC. Lobbying firms can not only provide money for you, but also help guide you through the tough world of politics. Imagine if you were dropped into the middle of the DC political scene. Chances are, you’d need all the help you could get too. Lobbyists know this and that’s when they enter the picture to guide you in the direction they are paid to guide you.
Jon Tester is an incredibly nice guy. I dealt with him regularly and could see how his vulnerabilities would allow him to fall prey to the lobbyists and other predators of Washington. His story is very familiar. It is, however, the ugly truth about the system in our capital. Perhaps that system will change and our political world will be less impure. Sorry to say it but I wouldn’t count on this happening any time soon.