Fallout from Baucus’ poor judgment

Billings [MT] Gazette
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What was Max Baucus thinking?

That his personal relationship with his state director, Melodee Hanes, wouldn’t matter when he forwarded her name for consideration as Montana’s U.S. attorney? If so, he should have told the Montana attorney he asked to review the six applications for the political appointment. He should have told Sen. Jon Tester before the two senators interviewed Hanes, Mike Wheat and Michael Cotter as the top three candidates.

Apparently, political reality dawned on Montana’s senior senator several weeks after Hanes put her name in contention for the attorney job. She withdrew by mid-March, according to a Billings Gazette report at the time, leaving only Wheat and Cotter to be considered by President Barack Obama, who subsequently nominated Cotter. He awaits Senate confirmation.

Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf told Mainjustice.org: “While her personal relationship with Senator Baucus should in no way be either a qualifier or a disqualifier for the position, during the nomination process and after much reflection, both Senator Baucus and Ms. Hanes agreed that she should withdraw her name from consideration because they wanted to live together in Washington, D.C.”

Whatever hope of privacy Baucus and Hanes may have had vanished when he recommended her for an important appointed office. Baucus and others who have said Hanes is well-qualified to be U.S. attorney are correct. However, the conflict of interest or at least the appearance of conflict is inescapable. All of Hanes’ legal and organizational credentials have been obscured by the label “senator’s girlfriend.”
Thus, for this lapse in good judgment, Montana lost an otherwise qualified U.S. attorney candidate and Baucus gained a scandalous distraction while he is working to shepherd major health care policy legislation through the Senate.

We’ve said it before, but we’ve got to say it again to public officials: If you don’t want to see it in a Gazette front-page headline, don’t do it. Don’t disappoint your constituents by mixing personal and public business.

Posted in Gazette-opinion on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

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