I don't like posting flyby-night rumor diaries, but this is too juicy to pass up. The Montana political rumor mill is saying that Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) will announce in the next ten days that he will retire from his senate seat and not run for re-election in November. What makes this rumor so juicy are some signs that it may be true. More after the fold.
I've gotten this rumor from two good sources (which may come from the same place) and the scenario goes like this. Senator Conrad Burns will announce his retirement from the U.S. Senate before Tuesday, March 28th, the Montana filing deadline for state offices. Congressman Dennis Rehberg (R, Billings- MT) will then announce his filing for Burns' senate seat. Following Rehberg's announcement, former Speaker of the Montana House, John Mercer (R,Polson, MT) will file for Rehberg's congressional seat.
Mercer is certainly the smarter of the three, and was known for his relentless slicing of the state's budget and educational system while Speaker of the State House. Mercer in a surprise move today, resigned his position as Chair of the Montana Universities Board of Regents, a position he had viciously fought for:
In 2003, a Mercer proposal led to a coup, with the ouster of Richard Roehm as board chairman and Morrison-Hamilton as vice chairman.
Bob Ream, a former legislator and Montana Democratic Party leader, has said that as House speaker Mercer presided over some of the university system's most drastic cuts in funding and most dramatic increases in college tuition.
When regents met in Dillon this month, Mercer said of his time in the Legislature: "My objective was to give the university system as little as possible so there would be more money for other things. The value of the system just wasn't sold to me." He said he viewed the system as chronically overspending, but added "I am past that now." The system is "a lean, mean fighting machine," he said.
To have someone like John mercer to apologize for something he fought so hard for is incredible, unless he's found the true Jesus, or is laying the groundwork for a run at statewide office.
As Kos and myself have pointed out, the Montana press has been relentless pounding Conrad's involvement with confessed felon Jack Abramoff, and his constant stream of racial insults over the years he's been in office.
Montana's chief political reporter, Chuck Johnson, had this to say in a surprising wide ranging opinion column today
Move to the front, Sen. Conrad Burns. You've got a lot of confessing to do. You owe us a big one for your wheeling and dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, taking his clients' money and doing their bidding.
How about an apology for the times you've embarrassed Montanans with your insults about people different than you -- African-Americans, Native Americans, Arabs and working women.
Wowsa. This almost makes me wish I wasn't going on vacation for the next week! If true, my intial reaction would be that Rehberg would be easier for Testor or Morrison to beat than Burns, and demo congressional candidate Monica Lindeen would have a good shot at John Mercer for our lone state rep.
As Governor Brian Schweitzer said last night at the demos annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner, "Get rid of the Con; elect a Jo(h) n!" At times like these Montana politics is fun again!
Update, Monday Morning - One of my sources is saying that John Mercer resigned as Chair of th Board of Regents not to run for office, but because he was about to be forced out by "allies of Governor Schweitzer". This is certainly less juicy than Burns retirng. But it goes to show that these rightwingnuts can dish it out, but they can't take it. This is hardball politics John, and Marc Racicot isn't around to cover for you guys anymore.