Last Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was one of four Democrats to vote against the Manchin–Toomey amendment to extend background checks to private gun sales. His vote helped kill the bill. On Tuesday, Baucus announced he would be retiring from the Senate at the end of next year.
Baucus’ vote made some sense at the time, considering that Montana has more gun businesses per capita than any other state (it’s not even close). But now that he’s officially a lame-duck, the decision is a bit more curious. It’s possible that Baucus really does think extending background checks are a stupid idea and stood on principle. It’s also possible that Baucus was simply being loyal to his allies in the firearms industry (He has a lifetime A+ rating from the National Rifle Association). But given the intense lobbying effort from President Obama—and the fact that the senator’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, Jim Messina, was leading the effort by Organizing for Action, the president’s re-purposed campaign organization, to build support for the background check measure—you can understand why the most common reaction on the left to Baucus’ retirement was “good riddance.”
The background checks vote is just one of many reasons why liberals won’t miss Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman whose office came to embody the term “revolving door.” Twenty-eight (28!) former Baucus staffers are currently employed as tax lobbyists. The senior counsel who drafted the health care legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act came back to Baucus’ offices after several years at the health care giant Wellpoint. (The Onion perhaps best summarized the liberal Baucus-hate here.)
That said, Baucus did have some redeeming qualities. Here are three interesting things I discovered while reporting on former-Rep. Denny Rehberg, the man he beat in his 1996 re-election fight:
- A River Runs Throught It was filmed on Baucus’ ranch.
- Twice—in 1978 and in 1996—Baucus walked the length of the state (820 miles) from East to West.
- When Rehberg decided to run for Congress in 1999, Baucus’ brother, John, signed a contract to care for Rehberg’s 600 cashmere goats.
Baucus’ most talked-about potential replacement is former two-term Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who had hinted at a run earlier this year. Here’s a video of Schweitzer vetoing a piece of legislation with a cattle brand: