Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer has touched off a political fight by politicizing the call for the return of the Montana National Guard.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer has touched off a political fight with Montana Republicans after calling for the return of National Guard troops serving in Iraq to help out in what many fear will be a record-setting wildfire season.
Mr. Schweitzer, a newly elected Democrat, infuriated Republican lawmakers who see his request as a way to criticize the Bush administration over Iraq.
“He’s figured out how to use the wildfire season to protest the Iraq war,” said Bob Keenan, the state Senate Republican leader. “It’s an antiwar statement and condemnation of Bush’s actions.”
The governor and his supporters deny those accusations in a growing political battle that comes as weather experts say a seven-year drought and a severely reduced snowpack could lead to a devastating summer of wildfires.
They also worry that limited resources stretched thinner by the National Guards service overseas could make it hard to combat the kind of huge blazes that engulfed the state in 2000, when some 2,400 wildfires burned nearly 950,000 acres of mostly public land.
“Everything right now is pointing to the possibility of a large and damaging fire season,” said Bruce Thoricht, meteorologist with the federal Northern Rockies Coordination Center in Missoula.
Governor Schweitzer said Montana would disproportionately suffer the pain of proposed cuts in the federal budget, with money allocated for firefighting cut in half.
As fire season approaches, about 1,500 of Montana’s 3,500 National Guard troops have been deployed on federal active duty, said a Montana Guard spokesman, Maj. Scott Smith.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Milord, said in an e-mail message that deals with neighboring states would provide for more troops during emergencies this summer.
The bulk of the Guard’s helicopters – critical in shuttling fire crews and equipment to blazes – are unavailable, either because they are in Iraq or their aviation officers are absent.
This seems now to be a common anti-war protest with States that either have Blue Governors or are heavily Blue in the State Legislatures. Recently Vermont made efforts to “take steps to withdraw American troops from Iraq and calling on their state legislature to investigate the use and abuse of the Vermont National Guard in the conflict. ” Somehow a State’s opinion & view is supposed to circumvent those of the President of The United States and Commander in Chief.
As Outside the Beltway has pointed out, “Schweitzer apparently doesn’t realize that the National Guard is paid for by the Defense Department and is part of the total force that gets deployed during wartime. ”
It would also appear that many in Vermont has failed to notice the same. The National Guard has two distinct roles that can be seen here. These two circumstances point out the lack of understanding that although the National Guard has both State & Federal functions, they are funded by the Federal Government. The idea that any State would act selfishly or partisan with their Guard members is more a function of creating a back door anti-war protest against the President’s war in Iraq and an attempt to undermine George W. Bush’s foreign policy.
The political leanings from Vermont are one thing; however, Montana is something very different. In a “RED” State like Montana that voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush in 2004 it is curious that these same voters would elect a Democratic Governor. Red States cannot continue to allow this to occur as their local Blue official may have a greater allegiance to the larger Blue Party direction. The results are what you are witnessing in Montana.