I've met Senator Conrad Burns on two separate occasions: once during a visit to his plush office in Washington DC, and the other at an airport in Montana while he was campaigning for reelection. It wasn't long into our first meeting that I realized the Republican couldn't care less about the state he purportedly represented.
Yeah, I admit it -- I was a bit of neophyte back in the day.
When I visited Sen. Burns in Washington I had a chance to chat a while with a couple of his sprightly young interns. Both had thick southern accents. I remember how overly eager I was to ask them what they thought about some of the pressing issues that were facing my home state at the time. And I was surprised to find out that neither had ever even been to Big Sky Country. When I pointed this out to Burns he just chuckled, patted me on the back, and divulged in his raspy voice, "I don't hire the cute ones for their brains, kid. I hire 'em cuz they are easy on the eyes."
Like so many other sleazy politicians in DC, Burns is sullied by out-of-state (often times out-of-country) interests. He works for the fat cats that thicken his campaign coffers -- not the Montanans who vote for him. And his assistants were a testament to his real motivations. It was just business. The senator's high-ranking seats on the Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee have scored him hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry, while his seat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has landed him boo coo bucks from the telecommunications sector. He pockets thousands from big timber, the NRA, the pro-Israel lobby, and even has connections to Jack Abramoff, the notorious DC lobbyist who has been accused of bilking millions out of his Native American clients.
Burns received over $150,000 from the tribes during the period Abramoff's cartel was representing the tribe's gaming interests. The senator's seat on the Appropriations Committee, which oversees all federal funding to Native American tribes, is the reason why Abramoff's clients handed over so much loot to the senator. The bang for their buck was worth it too, as Burns carried water on an important bill promoting the tribes' gambling interests. He has never rocked the Republican boat during his time in Washington; he's voted the party line consistently for over seventeen years. Yep, Burns is the worst of the worst.
My second encounter with old Conrad was even more telling than the first. We bumped into one another in a small airport bathroom in Billings, Montana in 2000, right at the peak of his campaign swing through the state. He didn't remember me. I was on my way back to Portland and Burns was on his way out to Butte to round up a few votes. His senate race was fast tightening with Brian Schweitzer, the current Democratic governor of Montana, was hot on his trail. Many thought Schweitzer had a solid chance of knocking off the crooked senator. Unfortunately it didn't happen.
The funny thing about running into Burns at the airport was that only days earlier he had promised Montanans that he would be "driving around the state" to campaign, and assured us all that he'd wouldn't be flying in no aero-plane. He wanted to prove he was one of us -- a regular guy who only hopped on a jet when he had to. He wanted to show Montana he was more mud-covered cowboy than filthy politico.
I told Burns we'd met before in Washington. He seemed to vaguely remember. Suddenly I became an insider. Burns shot it to me straight how he had chartered a private plane, in fact, he'd done it all through his campaign. "That's politics, boy," he huffed, shaking his last drips into the urinal, "you've got to tell voters what they wanna hear. That's how ya win." Burns didn't drive the four hours from Billings to Butte that day -- he flew.
I jotted down the carrier, leaked it to the press to no avail. Lies are nothing when up against popularity.
Dishonesty isn't new for the senator, anyway. Lying is the Burns trademark. Back in the late-1980s when he was first running for the US Senate he told Montanans that he would only serve two terms in Washington. Now he's seeking his fourth.
I suppose fabricating the truth isn't quite as bad as poisoning someone, though. Just this past week it has been exposed that Senator Burns supports testing pesticides on human beings. The EPA is currently reviewing some its own egregious and deadly "experiments," as a congressional report released on June 16, noted:
In one experiment under EPA review, human subjects were exposed to MITC, a dangerous pesticide closely related to the chemical that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, in 1984. In another, human subjects -- mostly college students and minorities paid $15 per hour -- were placed in a chamber with chloropicrin, an active ingredient in tear gas, for up to one hour at a time for four consecutive days ... The report also finds that the adverse health effects of these studies were downplayed. In one study, headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, coughing, and rashes experienced by study participants dosed with azinphos-methyl for nearly a month were dismissed as having been caused by "viral illness," "ward conditions," or diet. Human subjects were often inadequately notified of about the health risks of participating in experiments.
It's hard to believe anyone could support such cruel tests on animals, let alone humans. But Burns apparently does. According to an article published by the Center for Health and Environmental Justice, Senator Burns "will likely oppose a provision in the House version of the agency's appropriations bill that bans the agency's use of data from pesticide testing on humans ... CropLife America, the pesticide industry trade group, issued a statement after the House vote, calling on the Senate to `overturn' the provision.' Since 2000, Burns has accepted $10,000 from political action committees set up by some of the pesticide industries top producers. In total, Burns has accepted $5,000 from DuPont, $3,000 from the American Crop Protection Association, $1,000from Bayer Crop Science and $1,000 from Monsanto."
Indeed, Conrad Burns is as shady as they come. So let us hope that Montana voters serve the ol' stooge his eviction notice in 2006. He deserves it more than most.
Joshua Frank is author of the highly anticipated new book Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, which has just been released by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy or two for a discounted rate at: www.brickburner.org.
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