- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Beset by plagiarism allegations and ranking last in Senate seniority, U.S. Sen. John Walsh said Wednesday he retains hope of advancing legislation through Congress before his brief tenure in Washington ends.

The Democrat said bills that he’s backed addressing veteran suicide and land conservation and management in Montana have the best chance to pass.

Walsh, a former National Guard commander and veteran of Iraq, last week abruptly dropped his senate campaign against U.S. Rep. Steve Daines. The senator cited the “distraction” over reports he plagiarized much of a research paper on the Middle East that he submitted in 2007 to the Army War College.

“People didn’t want to give me, when I was on the campaign trail, a win, because that might help me in the race. Now, not having to worry about that, we can focus on the issues important to Montanans,” he said. “I don’t want to let them down.”

The college’s formal investigation opens Friday. Walsh says he’s undecided on whether he’ll appear in person but plans to submit information to the faculty board that will consider his case. He declined to offer further details and insisted the controversy isn’t taking a toll on his duties as a lawmaker.

Walsh outlined his legislative goals for the coming months while speaking to reporters following a field hearing on Alzheimer’s disease that he chaired Wednesday in Billings. He said his goal for the hearing was to help raise awareness about 18,000 Montanans afflicted with the disease.

His top priority back in Washington, he said, is a veteran suicide prevention bill that’s languished in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since it was introduced in March. The measure is co-sponsored by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Walsh said he’s confident another prominent Republican, fellow veteran Arizona Sen. John McCain, will join their efforts.

On the land bills, Walsh said he’s been talking with fellow lawmakers from Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico about consolidating similar bills from their respective states into a single measure to increase their chances.

Walsh mentioned four bills involving land in Montana: the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act and the East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Since his February appointment by Gov. Steve Bullock to fill the remaining tenure of former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, Walsh has sponsored and backed legislation on a host of topics - from the Keystone XL pipeline to country-of-origin food labeling.

Congress has yet to pass any of the 23 bills Walsh has introduced.

In his most high-profile set-back, Republicans last month blocked on a 54-42 vote Walsh’s Bring Jobs Home Act, which would close tax loopholes for businesses that send jobs overseas.

He’s now got less than five months to go before his term ends in January. And when Congress re-convenes next month with midterm elections looming, neither party will be eager to act on legislation that could benefit the opposition.

Still, Walsh indicated that the end of his campaign offers an opportunity for him to break loose of the partisan wrangling that he’s blamed for sinking previous legislation.

“It gives me more of a laser focus on those issues,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about raising money.”

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