Friday, November 4

Busy Few Days in the Race for Mayor

This morning, our very unbiased paper of record, the Tribune, ran a front-page, above the fold, big wood campaign ad for our mayor, Randy Gray.

The article in question, "Gray says casinos want him out", strongly intimates that Dona Stebbins' is the favored candidate of the casino owners in Great Falls.

To my knowledge, this issue first came out in a comment on David's Greaterfalls blog on October 26. The commenter, Loran Keller, at that time intimated that Stebbins' was in the pocket of the city's gambling interests. Stebbins' response to Keller can be found immediately below Keller's comment.

To be frank, I think that Stebbins has to answer this charge. In particular, I found a few paragraphs of the article troubling:

Stebbins said she does not favor doubling gaming taxes to create treatment programs for problem gamblers, saying people also can be addicted to drinking, smoking and other things. She questioned whether gaming taxes should pay to treat gambling addicts.

"If people have no self-control, is that a problem of the state, or the city?" she asked.

I think that legal businesses have every right to go to market in any way they see fit. I don't think that the city, county or state should take away or water down the value of the liquor licenses that are the most significant assets of most taverns. However, I do not think that gaming interests pay a fair share of the costs that society has to bear as a result of the industry.

The state, city and county have to pay for increased police protection and suffer more unemployment and crime due to the existence of our gaming industry. It is only fair that the tax burden borne by casinos pay for that burden.

However, to get back to the issue at hand, I question the motives of the Tribune here. As I posted above (before the tangent), this issue came out before the mayoral forum on Wednesday. The Tribune hosted that forum, and I am fairly sure that they were aware of the issue. Why wasn't the question asked on Wednesday so that Stebbins could publicly answer the charge?

In fact, during the forum a question was asked of both candidates about how they would react to conflicts of interest that arise during their mayoral tenure. While the question was being asked, I was fairly sure that the Tribune was going to ask about Stebbins' ties, if any, to gaming interests. However, Gray was asked about his land deal for MacKenzie River Pizza's parking lot and Stebbins was asked about her husband's job with the city.

This feels like an eve of the election stunt by the Tribune. While the issue is legitimate, the Tribune's timing seems to be solely aimed at ensuring re-election for their favored candidate.

"Don't ever get in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel."


dona stebbins said...

Aaron, for the record, I am not in anyone's pocket - except my own, to the tune of $5,000 as a personal loan to my campaign. At least I put MY money where my mouth is:)
The tavern owners who contributed to my campaign are former clients whose advertising I handled (and believe me, they have to trust your integrity to trust you with their advertising dollars!)
I notice they didn't call the head of the State Bar Association to ask if they were in bed with Randy...
Taxing of casinos - that's another issue. Randy said that they are not paying their way, and cited higher taxes in other states that permit gambling. Well, 2 of those states are Washington and Nevada, and both have no personal income tax. Funny that he didn't mention that. Did he mention the machine taxes that each tavern has to pay? I didn't think so...
When you look around the city, look at employers who furnish many people with better than minimum wage jobs, and you will see how many tavern jobs support families.
Brad and Barb Watson at the City Bar happen to be friends of mine. Their tavern is a third generation business and feeds at least 15 families and employs more help during the holidays due to their wonderful Tom n Jerry mix.
I can't believe that an entire industry has been both marginalized and demonized by a few zealots. These tavern owners support kid's sports teams, and when there is a benefit to help a needy community member, you'll find it in a tavern.
I make NO APOLOGIES for those who have chosen to help fund my campaign. They are good people who are trying to earn a living and keep their employees working at a liveable wage.
You are right about the Tribune choosing to paint me as a "purchased" candidate. They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and are as much a member of the "good old boys" network as the people who have endorsed Gray. They had every chance to ask that question during the Forum, and chose not to since I would have had an audience to respond to their biased garbage.
If I am elected, I will belong to no one but the people of Great Falls. And I will serve them - ALL of them to the best of my ability.
And did you also notice that one of my supporters is Owen Robinson, President of the Great Falls Development Authority Board of Directors? The Tribune apparently didn't notice, either. Probably a little too positive for me and a little too negative for Randy...

Treasure State Jew said...


Thank you very much for your response. Part of what I hope I can do here is to provide a forum for a truly frank and open exchange of ideas.

I don't think that the Tribune played fair this morning, and I think that they should be called on it. This is the business that had the chutzpah to refer the LEADERless to the political practices office for an illegal campaign contribution????? Someone should report them for the same offense.

When I criticize the gaming industry in our town, I am not calling for the casinos to be closed. However, I have quite a bit of heartburn with the loopholes that allow a small group of individuals to own (behind the scenes) the majority of taverns in our city. The City Bar (which also has the best lunch sandwiches in town) is not one of those establishments.


GeeGuy said...

Aaron, help me out here. How is abiding by Montana state law a "loophole?" Don't tell me that if one guy owns a license and his wife owns another you think that's wrong. And nothing is "behind the scenes." It's all public record who owns what.

dona stebbins said...

Aaron, my campaign accepted contributions from personal friends - not a PAC. Had I received money froma Political Action Group, it would have been returned.
I don't understand what you mean by 'Loopholes' and a small group of individuals. Tp whom are you referring? The folks who own Town Pump?
Let's get specific.

Treasure State Jew said...


I don't think that I ever said you did. And I am not talking about the Town Pump.

I think that most people in town know about what I am talking about. I am not discussing the multiple taverns that are owned by one family, with each family member holding one license. I am talking about the small group of people that have a significant minority share in a large number of taverns. It is a practice that is legal, and perhaps it is not a 'loophole'.

However, it is my impression that it is done to cloud the true ownership behind a significant share of the gaming interests in town. The truth behind the ownership of taverns makes the rule a joke. I would rather have transparency.


GeeGuy said...

Aaron, as an individual whose firm has handled, perhaps, as many casino and bar transactions as any firm in the state, I have to question what you are saying? While there might be some truth to your theory of a 'cabal,' if it is true, it is handled illegally. No one can own an interest in more than one all-beverage license. Beer license ownership is unlimited. What are you thinking of?

And by the way, I didn't mean to 'take you to task!'


david said...

And slightly off-topic, Aaron, but I liked your "big wood" comment...heh.

dona stebbins said...

Aaron, as a direct result of the blogs, I received a call today from Elaine Kulhanek, Executive Editor of the Tribune. She stressed that the Tribune under her leadership strives to be impartial in political matters and just report the facts. I gave her additional input on the tavern issue for the Sunday edition. It will be interesting to see what they do with it.
The good news is that they are reading the blogs - and know that we don't accept everything that is printed in the Tribune as unbiased fact.
The bad news is that they have a great understanding of semantics - and can "shade" articles that otherwise appear to be factual by the simple tactic of using words that trigger specific responses from their readers.
Of course, the Sunday paper is the big one before the election. After that, the die will be cast, for good or ill.
In spite of a nice chat with Elaine, I continue to have reservations about the Tribune. That being said, we shall see what we shall see.