March 28, 2006 Tuesday
BYLINE: Mary Ann Akers, ROLL CALL STAFF
SECTION: HEARD ON THE HILL
Another Rehberg Moment.
A constituent of Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) who happens to be seven months pregnant wants the Congressman to apologize for, as she puts it, giving her the “junior-high equivalent of flipping someone the middle finger.”
The constituent, a photographer named Lynn Donaldson who lives in Livingston, Mont., was on a freelance assignment for The New York Times, shooting pictures of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) at a Lincoln-Reagan dinner in nearby Great Falls earlier this month.
There she was, snapping pictures of Burns going through the buffet line with other state GOP luminaries when the alleged incident occurred. Unable to operate incognito at seven months pregnant, the busy shutterbug conspicuously buzzed around the buffet table.
At one point, according to Donaldson, Rehberg made a joke about the photographer breaking in line in front of Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice, who, like most everyone else who attended the dinner, is a Republican. Rice said something to the effect of “not to worry, Denny, this woman works for The New York Times.”
“The New York Times?” Donaldson recalled Rehberg asking. “Yes,” she said. “Oh yeah?” he replied. And with that, she said, the Congressman – who was not holding his plate yet – gave her the universal symbol for “up yours,” “stick it where the sun don’t shine,” “shove it,” or what have you.
It wasn’t the middle finger, or the hand under the chin, it was the double-armed “up yours”: the left hand pressed into the bend of the right elbow, raising the right forearm and a balled fist with gusto.
As Donaldson wrote in a letter to Rehberg, “When Justice Rice told you he did not mind and that I was shooting for the New York Times, you made a menacing gesture that, when I grew up in Denton, was considered to be the junior-high equivalent of flipping someone the middle finger.”
Justice Rice, Donaldson told HOH, was shocked and explained, “Denny, she’s not from New York, she LIVES in Montana.” Rice did not return several phone calls to confirm the incident.
In her letter to Rehberg seeking an apology, Donaldson wrote to her Congressman, “Your adolescent actions really upset me. In my 13 years of working as a photo-journalist, I have never had anyone treat me this way. I always work very hard to insure that I do not interfere with the events I cover, and, based upon the fact that other people apologized for your behavior, I am confident that I did not interfere with the Lincoln Reagan dinner.
“I am visibly pregnant, and your odd and unsettling behavior made my job more stressful than it needed to be,” she added.
Rehberg’s office did not deny that the Congressman made the gesture to Donaldson. But his aides suggested the charges were politically motivated.
After Donaldson e-mailed her letter twice to the Congressman’s address listed on his official Web site (e-mails that were later forwarded to HOH), Rehberg’s office said they had not received the letter either time. Rehberg’s re-election campaign manager, Dustin Frost, meanwhile, sent HOH an e-mail accusing Donaldson of being “a politically motivated, partisan Democrat.”
He pointed out that Donaldson’s husband, Dan Vermillion, has contributed regularly to Democratic candidates in Montana, including $200 to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and $500 to Democrat Brian Schweitzer for governor.
Donaldson acknowledged that her husband is partisan but said she, as a journalist, is not. “If a Democratic member of the US Congress had done this to me – a constituent! – I would have handled it the EXACT same way,” she wrote in an e-mail to HOH. “I didn’t go about ‘calling him out’ on this incident in an aggressive manner – like blabbing to the Billings Gazette or Great Falls Tribune – because I wanted to give him MORE THAN ENOUGH TIME for a fair shot to apologize directly to me, and now he seems to be blaming me for the entire episode.”
Rehberg’s office insists it never received the e-mail Donaldson said she sent twice with her letter attached, though HOH received it both times. “Any claims made by Ms. Donaldson must be viewed for what they are – negative, partisan, election-year attacks,” Frost said.
Matt McKenna, a spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party, insisted the party had no involvement in the incident and that Rehberg’s campaign was employing some fancy finger pointing.
“That’s not the way we treat people in Montana,” McKenna said. “He knows better.”