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7 November 2011

Diane Smith: Ringer? Recovering Republican? Rich opportunist?

Diane Smith The Lord may love a sinner come to Jesus, but the Democratic faithful are considerably less fond of a self-professed convert who shamelessly sinned a mere two months before proclaiming herself a Democrat and announcing she’s a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives. That sinner, of course, is Diane Smith, and her claim that she’s a bona fide Democrat has not played well in the comments section over at Montana Cowgirl, or with me.

Still, there is no litmus test for a bona fide Democrat. The Democratic Party’s canopy shelters many factions and philosophies, some ill at ease with each other. We must look at the totality of a candidate’s political philosophy and behavior before rendering a judgment on that candidate’s bona fides.

We know little about Smith’s political philosophy. Her announcement of candidacy promised to get the government off the backs of businesses. That’s consistent with a true blue Republican or a Blue Dog Democrat, but not with a New Deal Democrat. Although her interest in running dates back several months, her website contains no platform, no section on issues.

But we do know something about her history of political contributions. It sends a mixed message at best, and some of her contributions are deeply troubling for Democrats.

Diane Smith Timeline

Date Activity Source
3 November 2011 Announces candidacy for Democratic nomination DS press release
16 September 2011 Gives $160 to known Whitefish Republican Doug Wise MTCPP
5 September 2011 Gives $160 to known Whitefish Republican Turner Askew MTCPP
26 August 2011 Registers campaign domain name GoDaddy whois
19 August 2011 Gives $160 to known Whitefish Republican Mary Vail MTCPP
30 June 2010 Give $1,000 to Democrat Jon Tester FEC
4 September 2009 Gives $200 to Republican Denny Rehberg FEC
20 August 2009 Gives $400 to Denny Rehberg FEC
22 August 2006 Gives $300 to Republican Conrad Burns FEC
31 December 2005 Husband David Pickeral gives $1,000 to Democrat John Morrison FEC
   MTCPP=Montana Commissioner of Political Practices
   FEC=Federal Election Commission
      PDF of Smith’s Montana FEC History

In compiling the list above, I did not examine all campaign finance reports (form C5) for Montana candidates during Smith’s nine-year tenure in Montana. I did not try to unearth her political contributions in Virginia (you can bet that some of her Democratic opponents will do that digging). I have no idea whether she contributes to causes or organizations that lean left or right. No do I know whether conviction or convenience (facilitating access to members of Congress) drove her contributions

But her contributions to Askew, Vail, and Wise — all candidates in the 2011 municipal elections in Whitefish — are especially troubling. The election is officially nonpartisan, but those are not the candidates local Democrats are supporting.

Equally important, she’s much more pro-business than her campaign leads you to believe. On her campaign website she says:

Diane Smith is a Montana-based entrepreneur and businesswoman, who is active in Montana’s business community.

Smith co-founded a hi-tech digital video company called Avail-TVN in Kalispell, Montana. The company has grown to more than $150 million in annual sales, with its technology jobs based in Montana. Smith, having worked in emerging technologies and consulted with numerous start-ups in Montana, knows what it takes to start a business from scratch, and provide good jobs and a future for Montana. Smith moved to Montana in 2002, after working in fast-growth telecommunications companies that deployed new technologies such as long distance and wireless.

But on her North Fork Strategies website she says (in part):

Diane was a senior executive with Alltel Corporation from 1988-2002, where she managed teams of public policy specialists to maximize the company’s opportunity for success in the rapidly changing local exchange and wireless industries.

In 1994, Diane co-founded the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, which successfully advocated for independent telephone company interests in the years leading up to the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Her telecom career began with Sprint, where for five years she represented the start-up long distance company before state and federal agencies and legislatures in the first years of emerging competition in the long distance market.

She chairs the Board of the Capitol Connection, a media subsidiary of George Mason University in Virginia, serves on the Advisory Board of the Mobile Future Coalition based in Washington, DC, and is a member of the Montana Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs. She often advises start-up businesses on their political and business strategies.

In other words, she was a corporate lobbyist. And for all practical purposes, she still is.

And that’s not all. A number of bloggers think she consorts with the wrong people.

Smith is listed as the the executive director of Montana Residents for Fair Property Taxation. The legal advisor is Duncan Scott, an association that gives some heartburn. A former aide to Rep. Ron Marlenee, Scott served a term in New Mexico’s legislature as a Republican senator before moving to Kalispell. Scott is no progressive, but I’m inclined to cut Smith some slack on MRFTP. In the Flathead, where inflated property taxes are a terrible burden on everyone, saving one’s home from the taxman makes for strange bedfellows.

So why is she running as a Democrat? One possibility: social issues. If she’s pro-choice, there’s no place for her in the Republican Party. Another possibility: the Democratic primary is a cheap date compared to waltzing with rich Steve Daines in the Republican primary. Perhaps both.

My best guess: she’s a social progressive and an economic conservative, much like the Wall Street boys who dominated economic policy in the Clinton administration, weakening FDR’s regulatory reforms that while preserved and enforced prevented a second Great Depression. On abortion they were pro-choice; on race relations, pro-affirmative action; on education, pro-federal aid; but on economic policy, they were deficit hawks, believed in the self-regulating market, and were blind to the terrible risks taken by the shadow banking system.

But although that’s an educated guess, it’s still a guess. Smith seeks support from Democratic voters, who already have three moderately liberal candidates (Strohmaier, Stutz, and Wilmer) and Kim Gillan vying for their votes. Where does Smith stand on energy, health care, financial regulation, foreign policy, civil rights, civil liberties, environmental protection, education, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and other issues? Smith has had time to think about these issues, so she shouldn’t have any trouble sitting down with a bluebook in the presence of a proctor and quickly writing a thousand coherent words on all of the subjects above.

We should have heard from her on those subjects yesterday.We’re in major trouble in this country — in trouble on health care, energy, financial structures and practices, foreign misadventures, and our ability to make decisions. We need broad reforms: a single-payer health care system, not Obamacare; an energy policy predicated on a recognition that Peak Oil is a reality; a break-up of the big banks and an end to credit default swaps and other financial nitroglycerin; immediate and full withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan; a U.S. Senate that operates by majority rule unless otherwise required by the Constitution — and we need politicians who understand this, and have the courage and wisdom to say so.

Tell us in detail, Ms. Smith: why should Montana’s Democrats nominate you to run for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives? Tell us now.