January 25, 1935 – April 28, 2016
The first time I met U.S. Senator Conrad Burns was back in the summer of 94. I was volunteering on his campaign for some college credits. The campaign was hosting a picnic at the Great Falls KOA, and I stood in line to shake his hand.
I was nervous – this was a United States Senator – there are only 100 U.S. Senators!
A lady in front of me told the senator that she was late getting to the picnic because she was watching to see how many black helicopters or United Nations tanks were on a train coming through Montana. Conrad looked at her and said, “Lady, you’re crazy as hell.”
I knew right then I would like working for him. I worked on his 1994 campaign and was fortunate enough to be hired for his official U.S. Senate staff in 1995 as his Field Representative for North Central Montana. In 1999, I was promoted to Deputy State Director and performed that job until he left office in January 2007.
I never knew Conrad before I met him in Great Falls that day, but we grew up in the same area in Missouri. Ironically, on our many trips around the state, we found out that we knew some of the same people. We talked about fishing in the local rivers around Gallatin and Trenton, Missouri. We talked a lot about the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas City Chiefs football teams. Before they died, my parents met with Conrad when he was speaking in Gallatin, Missouri. He said some nice things about their boy and they loved him forever. When I first met him after he talked to my parents, he said. “I told them a few whoppers about you, Michael.”
Since we were both veterans, we talked a lot about military and veterans issues. He loved Malmstrom AFB and the Montana’s National Guard. He loved the Marines! Since I was stationed at Malmstrom, I saw first-hand that he did a lot for the base. I think the base is still active today because of Conrad Burns.
One morning I was the staffer who was supposed to pick him up at the airport in Great Falls. He was flying in from Washington, D.C. The Great Falls Tribune editorial board ran a scathing editorial about him, and I was the first one to see him that morning to let him read it before he met with the press and constituents. He read it and asked me, “Michael, what do you think about what they said.” I said, “Frankly sir, it pisses me off.” Conrad replied, “You can’t fight the people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Conrad loved to joke. Sometimes his jokes got him in trouble. Sometimes his comments were misconstrued. Sometimes he was not treated fairly by the press, but one thing for sure is that he loved Montana. He loved veterans. He loved military personnel. He loved farmers and ranchers.
During his final campaign, he never let up although the Abramoff issue was in the news and then the firefighter issue made the news. His opponent, Jon Tester, capitalized on it and won the race by just 3,562 votes.
Conrad Burns represented Montana well for 18 years. I was fortunate enough to be along for the ride for 12 of those years. I will always be grateful for the time I spent as his staffer.
Rest in Peace, Senator, rest in peace.
My condolences go to Phyllis and to the entire Burns family.
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