Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Burns Misses The Point

Nearly 40 years ago we were waiting for a table in a diner in the Black Hills of South Dakota when a busload of firefighters pulled into the parking lot. A forest fire to the west had broken out two days before and was threatening a creosote factory outside of the town we were in.

The waitresses went from table to table asking people who had not been served to stand up and those who were eating to hurry through their meal so the smoke-eaters could have their seats. Meals already on the grill were shoved aside and replaced with steaks and potatoes for the crew.

Dad thanked the firefighters, many of them on loan from states in the east as they came in and we went to look for another place to get some supper.

Last weekend Montana Senator Conrad Burns, made famous by his ties to Jack Abramhoff, ran into a group of smoke-eaters from Virginia in the Billings airport after a dedication ceremony at Pompey's Pillar. The firefighters were waiting for a flight home after fighting the 92,000 acre Bundy Railroad fire outside of Worden, MT.

How did Burns thank these men and women? From the Billings Gazette;
Burns approached the firefighters and told them they had "done a poor job" and
"should have listened to the ranchers," according to a report prepared by Paula
Rosenthal, a state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation employee who was sent to the airport to speak with the senator.

According to the Montana Missoulian in a scathing editorial this morning:
After his unprovoked attack on the firefighters, Burns reiterated his criticism
to a representative of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and
Conservation. “See that guy over there?” Burns said. “He hasn't done a
God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in
northwestern Montana some years ago. It's wasteful. You probably paid that guy
$10,000 to sit around. It's gotta change.”

Just to set the record straight, firefighter contracted by the Forest Service are paid $8 to $12 per hour to risk their lives in 12 and 14 hour days.

Burns has been criticized for representing big business at the expense of his constituents, of marching in lockstep to the administration at the behest of Tom Delay and his K Street Project. This time he showed that he was angry that people working to preserve those big-money interests might be making a little taste of what he had voted to give his benefactors.

Facing the toughest political fight of his career, Conrad Burns may have seen his career-dissipation light kick into high gear at the Billings airport.

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