The media spotlight shines on ... Montana?

The Baltimore Sun

HUSON, Mont. - When my husband and I retired and moved from Southern California to the Missoula, Mont., area, we imagined a quiet existence in a corner of the country that doesn't make national news. The local paper covers stories about whether to allow Hooters to build on a busy street corner, the reconstruction of a dam that threatens trout fishing season, and who can shoot wild turkeys on whose property. Ahh, the simple life, out of the media glare!

But suddenly Missoula is a regular in the national headlines. For example, current-event aficionados are savvy about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. (This is good news to ranchers who have been without recourse when their livestock was wolf-bait, but bad news for wildlife supporters who see the wolf population dissipating again and are bringing the issue back to court later this month.)

But that's nothing compared with the attention last-primary-in-the-nation Montana is getting from the Democrats running for president. Yes, my friends, presidential candidates have visited Missoula; both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama traveled to our town. In lieu of hokey stories about 101-year-old local citizens and weekend weather, we got the journalistic hubbub about Mrs. Clinton's pricey fundraiser and Mr. Obama's free, open-arena event.

What happened to the saga of the lost pet I'd been reading about yesterday? Had that black bear in the Rattlesnake Canyon been spotted again, dangling from a tree branch to get to the Wilsons' bird feeder? Who knows.

The next media uproar resulted from an appearance at the University of Montana by Elton John that bristled with controversies of its own. Such as: Should the profits from his performance be donated to Missoula's local AIDS programs instead of to the Elton John AIDS Foundation? Frankly, I'd bought my ticket for the music - not the politics. Who cares which good cause the money supports in the face of seeing my former teenage idol? When I arrived at the Adams Center doors for the show, I discovered Hillary Clinton paraphernalia on sale by sidewalk vendors: Seems the Rocket Man had publicly endorsed Mrs. Clinton right before he took the stage. Two causes for one concert propelled Montana into the national news once again.

What's next? Well, although it seems increasingly unlikely to happen, people here are still buzzing about the possibility of an unmoderated Lincoln-Douglas-style debate right here in Missoula. (A river of rhetoric runs through it?) Mrs. Clinton renewed the challenge a few days ago - a sign of desperation, perhaps, as the drumbeat for her to quit the race grows louder and Mr. Obama continues to act more like the nominee.

Not that it would bother me if they left poor Montana alone. When I evacuated California - which, sick of being late to the primary game, had moved its contest up to February - I never thought I'd be assaulted in a Missoula farmer's market with headlines heralding that it could all come down to June 3 in Montana.

I may have to move again. I didn't come here looking for a fight.

Kathleen Clary Miller is a columnist for Western Montana's daily newspaper, The Missoulian, and her monthly column "Peaks and Valleys" appears in Montana Woman Magazine. Her e-mail is

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