Posted: April 23, 2015 at 7:14 am by Cowgirl

GOP Flummoxed

The Unemployment rate for Montana was announced today to be 4.1%. That’s the lowest in eight years, and substantially lower than when Steve Bullock was sworn in.

This is good news for everyone except a small few. The uber-wealthy Greg Gianforte, considering a run for Governor, is essentially in a waiting mode, sitting tight to see if something in the economic picture changes in the next four or five months. If it doesn’t, he probably will walk away. You can’t beat a governor whose state has moved into a position of having one of the lowest unemployment rates in America (11th). Although that will leave the GOP in a tough spot since Gianforte is now clearing out the field.

If you want to see an example of how flummoxed the Republicans are by this economic news, of how frozen in their tracks they are in terms of not being able to get any traction, see the tweet of the party’s top operative, Chris Shipp, yesterday. In reaction to the news of the unemployment number, Shipp tweeted his outrage that….(wait for it)….Steve Bullock is running in the Boston Marathon.

My bet is that when it’s all said and done, Gianforte takes a pass. But if he doesn’t, if he jumps in and runs against Bullock, he can feel secure in the persuasive value of the rhetoric and messaging coming from the GOP.

Posted: April 22, 2015 at 5:20 am by Cowgirl

Wednesday Quick Takes

Montana’s Attorney General Tim Fox says marriage equality will “irretrievably” destroy his right to self-government  

Joe.My. God reports this week that fifteen attorneys general, including MT AG Tim Fox, have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in which they try to claim that a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage will “irretrievably” destroy their right to self-government. From the brief:

The Constitution takes no sides on same-sex marriage, and therefore leaves the issue up to the free deliberations of state citizens. The fact that Americans have reached different conclusions about this novel question is not a sign of a constitutional crisis that requires correction by this Court. It is rather a sign that our Constitution is working as it should. In our federal system, this issue must be resolved by the “formation of consensus” at the state level. To resolve it instead through federal judicial decree would demean the democratic process, marginalize the views of millions of Americans, and do incalculable damage to our civic life in this country.

Fox and friends acknowledges that there are “constitutional guarantees” on the equal application of marriage laws, but that somehow those guarantees do not apply to LGBT Americans.

#MTLeg Week in Review

Here’s the latest weekly Youtube updates from Montana Democratic legislators.  This week’s update is from Rep. Margie MacDonald and Sen. Brad Hamlett:


Representing the People Means Different things to Some Lawmakers


While many legislators were representing their constituents by paying close attention to issues being debated in on the House Floor yesterday, Rep. Mark Noland (R-Bigfork) was perusing his TEA Party “Honor or Dishonor” score on the Lewistown TEA Party webpage. 

Posted: April 21, 2015 at 5:13 am by Cowgirl

Motl Gets Hearing

A hearing was held yesterday on whether to confirm Jon Motl as commissioner of political practices.  Motl was appointed in 2013 by Governor Steve Bullock.

It was a hilarious spectacle.  A huge cross-section of the community of Helena showed up to testify in his favor and give him glowing praise, including many lawyers who singled out his excellent legal skills and sense of civics.  There was positive testimony even from the hard-bitten folks who are the permanent staff of the office of political practices, and who have a history of undermining commissioners.  They’ve served under Motl and many other commissioners, and can tell good from bad.

Then the opponents testified.  Who were they?  Everyone who is being prosecuted by Motl, or their lawyers or their political advocates.  It was “everyone who has a bone to pick with the office because they have an open case,” as committee member Sen. Robyn Driscoll described it.  This gang included Art Wittich, Terry Bannon, Ronald Murray, Chris Shipp, Chris Gallus, and the rest of the usual shady Republican Party suspects.

Their laughable line of argument, if I understood it correctly, was that it’s a terrible problem that Motl is prosecuting so many Republican lawmakers and candidates who break the law.  Occasionally a democratic committee member would ask a question of one of these testifiers, like “weren’t you implicated in scandal in which campaign documents were found at a meth house?” or things along that line.

A few other bright GOP stars came forward to oppose Motl.  Scott Staffanson, a Tea Party legislator from Sydney, stood up to testify but lost his train of thought and said he didn’t know whether he was representing himself or his district.  Ed Argenbright also took the podium. A Racicot appointee, Argenbright was commissioner in the 1990s and is roundly held to be one of the most incompetent persons to hold that office since its creation. He got up and rambled incoherently for 10 minutes.  Also testifying was Trevis Butcher, a wing-nut who has often had to answer complaints before the Commissioner.  His beef is that Motl represented, as a lawyer in private practice, political groups who were found guilty of campaign practices.  Um, yes, that was his job as a lawyer.

Butcher, at the conclusion of his testimony, also went an extra step.  He likened Motl to a child molester Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach.  The chairman of the committee, Republican Dee Brown, scolded him and told him to rescind the comment, which he sheepishly did before slithering away from the podium.

Predictably, the Committee voted to table the nomination. We’ll see if the full Senate revives it.

Posted: April 18, 2015 at 9:59 pm by Cowgirl

Trappers try to expand their cruel hobby

Another bill may soon be submitted to the Governor that trappers believe would strengthen their right to torture animals.

The Cowgirl Blog has consistently voiced opposition to the practice of trapping, and I must do so again here.

The practice is barbaric (here is a photo from the Helena IR last week, of a mountain lion who lost a paw that was severed in a trap).  And trappers try, falsely, to persuade the public that trapping and hunting are equatable.  They aren’t.  Hunting is a more humane way to get food than eating a factory chicken or cow.  Trapping is cruel and unnecessary.


Furthermore, most of its practitioners are foul, inhumane, right-wing idiots and democrats should not be making common cause with them. One such person is Republican legislator Sen. Jennifer Fielder, who happens to be the sponsor of the bill which is awaiting action by the Governor.

54efb8e9ee4ae.image_-204x300In 2004, Montana passed a constitutional amendment protecting the right to harvest big game. Fish and game, however, cannot be trapped. So SB 334 attempts to get around this by statutorily redefining fur-bearing animals as game animals.
Fielder is a trapper herself, and her husband Paul Fielder is the Montana Trappers Association district director. In a hearing, the liar Fielder claimed that she had “worked with Fish, Wildlife and Parks on the bill,”  implying that the state agency was on board with the legislation.  This is false. The agency did not support the legislation and did not bring the bill forward.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 9.41.44 PMDemocrats bear blame too.  The bill had first been voted down but was then, for no apparent good reason, resurrected when four democrats–Caferro, McNally, Vuckovich and Windy Boy–switched their votes and brought this garbage back to life.  It is inexplicable that any democrat would support this bill.  Note that Sens. Caferro and Sen. Vukovich also voted against a bill that would have made it illegal to attend a dog fight–where dogs are forced to fight to the death.

The Trappers don’t have the votes to actually change the constitution- that takes a 2/3 vote of the legislature and a vote of the people of MT. Because they know they don’t have that much support, they are doing this instead.


Posted: April 17, 2015 at 6:07 am by Cowgirl

2015 Truman Dinner Set for May 9th

The 29th Annual Truman Dinner will be held in Billings on Saturday, May 9, 2015.  Special thanks to Paul Van Tricht, President of the Yellowstone Democratic Club, for providing the following update.  This is a great event – but tickets sell out quickly so don’t wait to secure your seat. – Cowgirl


Details are available here.


UPDATE: To subscribe to the Yellowstone County Dems email list send and email to : Michael D. Fried


Tickets, which cost $50 each, are going fast.  You can purchase tickets by going to the website or by mailing your payment to Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee, PO Box 21131BillingsMontana59104.

We have to have the checks or website order in hand before Friday, May 1st to allow time to process the orders and turn in meal orders to the Crowne Plaza. Be sure to disclose your name, address, phone number and occupation.  (This is a political contribution.)  Bonnie on the second floor of the BEA Offices 510 North 29th St. Billings, MT 59101 has agreed to accept registrations during the week of Monday, April 27—Friday, May 1st.

The meal is Saltimbocca Breast of chicken hand dipped in seasoned Panko topped with Prosciutto and Asiago served with creamy parmesan orzo and fresh seasonal vegetables.  If you want to order the vegetarian meal, Basil Polenta Ratatouille Herb Roasted Vegetable, Olives and Tomatoes Served with a Creamy Basil Polenta topped with a hearty Marinara Sauce, please send an email to INFO@TRUMANDINNER.COM

Each dinner is served with City Brew Coffee, Tazo Hot Tea or Iced Tea, House salad, dinner rolls, butter and chef’s choice of dessert.  We have taste tested the food and it is excellent.


The Dinner will be held on Saturday, May 9th starting with a reception at 5:30 pm.  Come early so you can have time to talk to all our honored quests, to meet statewide candidates for 2016, and to take part in our wonderful raffles and auctions.


The Crowne Plaza 27 North 27th Street in downtown Billings.  The Crowne Plaza will validate your parking garage ticket.


The ticket for the dinner costs $50.00 each.  There are no discounts.  The costs of Sponsorships are:

Silver Sponsor                $125.00 includes two tickets.

Gold Sponsor                 $500.00 includes a table and 8 tickets

Platinum Sponsor           $1,000.00 includes a table, 8 tickets and 2 bottles of wine from Bill & Mary Kennedy


Special guests include U.S. Senator John Tester; Governor Steve Bullock; Lt. Governor Angela McLean; Monica Lindeen, State Auditor and 2016 candidate for Secretary of State; Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Public Instruction; Jesse Laslovich,  2016 candidate for State Auditor;  and  Melissa Romano, 2016 candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction.   We also expect Nancy Keenan the new Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party and a representative of the Hillary Clinton campaign to attend.   Finally, all our local Democratic State Legislators will be there. Lots and lots of people who you will want to talk to so come early.


We are planning to raffle off two very special items:   you will have a choice of a 7 day stay at a condo at Big Sky donated by John Bohlinger or a float trip for two guided by Mike Penfold.    The raffle tickets cost $10.00.  If you want to get tickets in advance or if you will not be at the dinner and want to enter the raffle simply reply to this email and I will see that you get as many raffle ticket as you want.

You cannot buy raffle tickets with a credit card or on the internet.   A raffle is considered gambling by the State of Montana.  Bring cash or your check book.


We have a great list of other items which will be put up for auction or included in a second raffle. Including:

Live Auction: (Credit Cards Allowed)

1)  Two hours of Tree Trimming with a Bucket By Patrick Riedl (I have watched Pat work; he is excellent.)

2)  Montague’s Montana Pendant (This is a very beautiful pendant- ideal for a Mother’s day gift on Sunday, May 10th—white gold with Yogo Sapphire)

3)   Dan Vermillion Float/ Fishing Trip (Dan has donated a trip every year and every year the winner has been very happy)

4)   3 days and 2 nights in the Cabin of Cheryl and Vern Bass (Lovely cabin near Red Lodge).

Silent Auction-with buy it now provision (Credit Cards are allowed)

1)  A very large set of Classical CDs in the unopened original case;

2)  An antique Spinning Wheel;

3)   A Recumbent Bicycle;

4)    A Hand Painted Map of Montana – simply a beautiful piece of Montana art;

5)    Turquoise Jewelry – again an excellent Mother’s day gift;

Second Raffle ($5 raffle tickets – no credit cards allowed)

1)   Political buttons from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

2)   8 decorative plates

3)    A number of gift baskets of food and wine

5)   Blue stone in a gold ring – another beautiful item

6)   Book-“Tears in the Darkness” signed by authors and Ben Steele

7)   Books by Billings Authors

8)   Wool Stocking Caps handed knitted by Claire Coleman

10)   Ducks Unlimited Print

11)   Monet Poster

12)    CJ Schultz Photo

13)  Two tickets to the Magic City Blues concert

14)  Book “The Home Place” signed by author

15)  Hand Painted Vase

More raffle and auction items are coming in.  There will be something there that you will have to have.

If you want to have that special glass of wine with your dinner you can select that wine at Mary & Bill Kennedy’s Wine Market and Deli at 1942 Grand Ave.  They will deliver the wine to the Crowne Plaza and you pay for the wine at the Crowne Plaza.

There will be no dinner of the Yellowstone Democratic Club in April so as not to interfere with the Truman Dinner which will be held on Saturday, May 9th.  The next dinner of the Yellowstone Democratic Club will be held on Tuesday, May 19th.   A program featuring our Democratic Legislators is planned.


Posted: April 16, 2015 at 7:36 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: The Perils of Privatization

by Sen. Mary Sheehy Moe, D-Great Falls

Mary Sheehy MoeIn a scene I love from To Kill a Mockingbird, a mob gathers outside the local jail, intent on grabbing the black man inside and stringing him up. Only one man, Atticus Finch, stands between them and the evil deed.

They approach Atticus en masse. The flash point rises. But then Atticus’s children emerge from the darkness.  One of them, Scout, doesn’t understand what’s about to occur, but she does recognize one of the men in the mob. It’s the father of her classmate, Walter Cunningham. At the beginning of the school year, Scout made fun of Walter because he had cooties. That led to fisticuffs on the playground, which led to interventions by her father and others to help Scout understand that Walter’s circumstances were a little different from hers, but he was still deserving of decent treatment, still worthy of respect.  Now she and Walter were friends.

“Hey, Mr. Cunningham,” Scout says to the man in the mob.  That angry man gapes at this little girl, prattling away, and sees the classmate of his son.  He realizes that Atticus Finch may have the temerity to defend a Negro accused of raping a white woman, but Atticus is also the father of a young child, just as he himself is, and that child would be lost without Atticus, just as his Walter would be lost without him. He wouldn’t want to tell Walter what he was about to do to his friend’s father — or what he was about to do to that Negro.  So Mr. Cunningham convinces his buddies to back off and go home.

We talk a lot these days about the curriculum and performance of our public schools, as we should. We don’t talk much, though, about one particular byproduct of these 13 years our children spend together. It’s the only time in their lives they’ll forced to interact in depth and at length with individuals whose backgrounds, beliefs, lifestyles and druthers are different from their own. Those interactions teach them more about appreciating diversity and building community than any formal curriculum ever could. As Neal Postman observed, the understandings and relationships forged in our public schools don’t just educate a public.  They create one.

That’s the main reason I’m disconcerted by all the bills this session providing incentives for parents to pull their kids out of our public schools – or rewarding those who have already done so. Certainly, parents can and should make choices for their kids’ education.  But those private choices should not be publicly funded. It’s not in the public interest.

Our public schools generally do a good job, “school choice” proponents concede, but some kids “fall through the cracks” and need a different environment. History teaches us that sometimes the cracks kids fall through have more to do with society than with the school.  But, yes, occasionally a particular school has a climate of intolerance or indifference that hurts kids.  Whether societal or school-specific, when there are cracks kids are falling through, the public interest is served by calling them out and insisting they be fixed.

These proponents also remind us that “one size doesn’t fit all,” and parents need the freedom to search for the school that “fits” their child. If any institution on earth knows that children’s needs and interests and ablities are infinite in variety, it’s our public schools.  The differentiation in instruction, setting, and programming and the variety of opportunities parents will find there are far greater than what they’ll find in any private school. But these parents don’t really want variety. They want a gated school community, often a faith-based one, where every child is comfortably similar in some fundamental way to their own. That’s a private choice they’re entitled to make. It should be privately funded.

The choicers say our public schools are too rigid in their curricula and our teachers don’t have the freedom to innovate. To the extent that’s true, it’s the result of expectations foisted on these schools by the public. Nothing has done more to drive the joy out of teaching than the national public school “reform” known as No Child Left Behind, with its relentless testing of discrete and dull skills unconnected to anything meaningful to the child.  NCLB was brought to us by public officials at the national level in a publicly deliberated process.

Accreditation requirements and teacher licensing requirements are also publicly crafted products. Local curriculum, programs and policies as well are put in place by publicly elected school boards. Do I like all of these practices? No. But when I lose a particular argument in the public arena, I don’t take my ball and go home.  We shouldn’t encourage anyone to.   Decisions about public education, like decisions about all public enterprises, should be made in public with the active participation of as much of the public as possible.

With these empty platitudes as their rationales, the choicers propose legislation designed to chink away at Montana’s high-quality public school system.  Some bills promote tuition tax credits for parents who choose a private school for their child. Some bills shamelessly exploit children with a special pull on our heartstrings to justify publicly funding private school choices. The most egregious this session is HB 322, providing public funding for private, even parochial, schooling of children with developmental disabilities, children with chronic illnesses, children of soldiers in active duty, and children who have suffered abuse or neglect … as well as any siblings these children may have, not only while they themselves are in a private school, but long after they’ve left it.

And then there’s HB 596, promoting “public charter schools” – a parallel system of public schools that don’t serve all the public, don’t have to meet accreditation requirements, don’t have to hire licensed teachers, and above all, don’t fall under the general supervision of the Board of Public Education.

The bill is so riddled with violations of Montana’s constitution that it’s hard to believe its sponsor and its primary author are both lawyers. Even harder to believe are the sponsor’s responses to questions about the bill’s constitutionality.  Article X, Section 9 of Montana’s constitution authorizes the Board of Public Education to exercise “general supervision over the public school system and such other public educational institutions as may be assigned by law. ” The sponsor claims that the parallel system he proposes is one such “institution.” When asked what the constitutional framers intended by using that term, his reply was, “I wasn’t around at the time.”

When asked how, grammatically, this language could mean anything but that the board has general supervision over the system we know now as well as any other institution the legislature might create, his answer was, “I don’t see it that way.”

At some point during that long, long hearing, I began to think about what my husband was doing at that very moment. Once a week, he and his old high school buddies gather at a local watering hole.  Among them are a lawyer, a retailer, two insurance agents, a financier, an artist, two teachers, and whoever else happens to show up. Over a beer or two, they tell the same old stories they’ve told for years and know so well now that they laugh in anticipation of the punch lines. They all have separate lives now, but that bond they formed in high school still enriches their lives – and their communities.

I don’t oppose “school choice” bills because they’re unconstitutional, although they are. I don’t oppose them because they will inevitably weaken the funding and consequently the quality of our public schools, although they will.  I oppose them because, in an increasingly polarized society, so much depends on the bonds of good will and understanding our public schools create. Our public’s schools are diminished by every Walter Cunningham or Scout Finch who doesn’t attend one.  And so are our communities.


Sen. Moe represents Great Falls Senate District 12.  

Posted: April 15, 2015 at 7:33 am by Cowgirl

Gianforte Caught Telling People He Believes Discrimination Attracts Businesses to the State

The National Journal reported yesterday that Bozeman Billionaire and creationist museum builder Greg Gianforte said in a 2014 email to Bozeman’s mayor and city commissioners, that he believes policies legalizing discrimination are good for business.

“Homosexual advocates try to argue that businesses are leery of locating in towns that aren’t friendly to homosexuals,” Gianforte said in a 2014 email to Bozeman’s mayor and city commissioners. “I believe the opposite is truer.”

This bigoted belief has been very obviously and very publicly proven untrue.  Indiana’s discrimination law has been nothing but bad for that state’s business climate.  (The law Indiana passed was similar to HB 615, which Gianforte’s group the Montana Family Foundation tried to push in MT.  That bill failed – no doubt in part because people saw what was happening in Indiana.)

Gianforte had been pushing Bozeman to adopt discriminatory policies and even went so far as to propose the language he personally preferred.  Mrs. Gianforte has stated in a public hearing that she would gladly go to prison for breaking a non-discrimination ordinance and that she would “regretfully watch others shut down the organizations and businesses that people in other state[sic] are currently doing,” whatever that is supposed to mean.

Gianforte is a major funder of creationist museums around America, including one in eastern Montana where the main focus is on showing that “there is no scientific evidence that evolution ever took place on earth,” as the museum’s director explained.

Such beliefs present serious problems for anyone seeking to become a statewide officeholder in Montana, regardless of how much money such a candidate might be prepared to spend promoting himself as someone looking to create a tech sector in the state, an obvious political ploy.

The Western Word has a must-read piece up on this- go read it here .


Posted: April 15, 2015 at 6:55 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Everyone needs a say in school district expansion

by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell (D-Helena and East Helena)


Mary Ann Dunwell

Mary Ann Dunwell

Day 75 of the Montana Legislature brought SB 107 to the House floor. I was torn while deciding how to vote on this bill that allows for a public vote to expand K-8 school districts to K-12. Reluctantly, I voted no. Here’s why. I represent both cities of Helena and East Helena, and feel that everyone affected by a vote to expand East Helena’s K-8 district deserves a right to participate in the election. That includes taxpayers in Helena K-12 as well as East Helena K-8. The bill shuts down the Helena voice and that’s not okay. People on fixed incomes struggle to pay their property taxes as it is. Asking them to pay more taxes to sustain a district transfer without giving them a vote seems like taxation without representation. It may even violate the right to participation clause in Montana’s Constitution. Allowing everyone a voice is our democratic process of majority rule and fair representation. Public education is a shared benefit that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not about East Helena or Helena or Lolo or Missoula or Lockwood or Billings. It’s a collective benefit for public good. So collectively, everyone shares a say. I have spoken at length with folks in both Helena and East Helena, and gotten mixed opinions about expanding East Helena K-8 to K-12. Some parents and teachers in Helena support a K-12 district for East Helena. Some parents and teachers in East Helena oppose one. My personal opinion is that East Helena could well meet the challenge of a K-12. It’s a spunky, tenacious and resilient community. A bright new high school of promise could soar above the ugly black slag pile and forgotten footprint of the Asarco federal superfund site. A new high school could advance public education’s goal to improve learning environments for kids. But SB 107 was not about that. SB 107 denies full participation. Public education is a shared benefit. I had to vote no.

___ ___ ___

Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell is the state representative for Helena and East Helena,  Montana House District 84.  She can be reached at


Posted: April 14, 2015 at 6:57 am by Cowgirl

Why Keenan’s Selection Matters

Nancy Keenan,  head of the Montana Democratic Party

Nancy Keenan, head of the Montana Democratic Party

The Montana Democratic Party has picked Nancy Keenan to be its new executive director.  Keenan is an old-time Montana politico and also a national figure.   She comes from Anaconda, ran for Congress in 2000 and then became the president of NARAL Pro Choice America and held that post until 2012.

Nobody of Keenan’s caliber has occupied the top post at the Party, and so she is a welcome presence and is arriving not a minute too soon.  Steve Bullock could end up facing a Billionaire self-funder in the next election and if that happens, the Party will have to come up big for Bullock.  Keenan also will excite the grassroots folk.  She is a Montana politician in her own right, not just party staff, and thus can serve as the main attraction when a Bullock or a Tester is unavailable.  This gives the party strength.  And with a Bullock victory, Keenan can build upon a monstrous record for Democrats: in the last decade, Democrats have won 13 of 15 elections for state office (Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, Schools Superintendent).

There were a few tweets in response to the news today with terms like “baby killers” and the like.  I suppose that’s a step up from 2000, when as a congressional candidate Keenan was the victim of a whisper campaign by Denny Rehberg’s camp which criticized her for a being single woman without children, surely one of the ugliest political attacks in Montana history.  (Rehberg now runs a Burger King).

Times have changed and such foul machinations no longer work the way they used to.  And if it’s any indication of how scared Republicans are of women’s reproductive issues,  note that the GOP had almost no response at all prepared for Keenan’s hiring, even though her selection by Dems has been an open secret for many weeks.  Those who are in charge of the state GOP would no doubt love to fly off the handle and label Keenan’s selection with terms like “abortionist” and “abortion on demand” and all of the other silly expressions the GOP coins.   But they can’t.  Opposition to reproductive freedom has become an albatross around the neck of Republicans throughout America, and even in red states, particularly those with vibrant progressive movements. The Montana GOP doesn’t want to catch that plague. Or at least, they don’t want to catch more of it.  They already have a dose, with their public opposition to birth control and their absolutist positions against choice.  This is a party, after all, whose top figure, US Senator Steve Daines, believes a rape victim should be required to give birth to the rapist’s child.

The most enjoyable part of Keenan’s selection is to know that while the GOP is coming apart at the seams with infighting and Tea Party lunacy, Keenan’s counterpart at the GOP is a right-wing zealot who just graduated from college recently and spends 24 hours a day trolling twitter.  So I like our chances.


Posted: April 14, 2015 at 5:54 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: When Democracy Blocks the Will of Oligarchs

by Secret Squirrel

The dynamics of rules committee decisions, motions on the floor, and other assorted parliamentary maneuverings (and tantrums) this past week have roots in last year’s elections. They also suggest what will happen and be at stake in the 2016 cycle. The common denominator in both the future and past is the money that flows into the GOP primaries and generals.

A good portion of funding in 2014 from everyone’s favorite Montana oligarch, Greg Gianforte, who has every reason to see this session accomplish nothing as he plans his 2016 gubernatorial run. Lending their own bottomless wallets to numerous candidates were Ray Thompson,  computer millionaire from Kalispell, and Texas fracking billionaires from the Wilks family. And adding a little extra darkness to the wheelbarrows of money that went to Montana GOP legislators last election cycle was what we do not know came from groups like American (Western) Tradition Partnership (ATP), Americans for Prosperity, and assorted other gun and rightwing groups who financed many legislators from the shadows.

This money started flowing a year ago in the GOP primaries of 2014 where those assorted oligarchs and groups attempted to unseat many of the moderates who formed today’s working majority. In retrospect, the oligarchs’ and party’s understanding of the dynamics of the races and potential for the 2015 session was right on target. However, despite deep contributions to candidates running against the likes of Rep. Christy Clark, Dan Salomon, Frank Garner, and the other assorted 10 “Responsibles” these moneyed interests achieved nothing. The “Responsibles” ran with local money and ran clean campaigns. May that be the message from here on out. The races were not even close and one has to wonder if those to their right had just left these Republicans alone that the tide may not have gone as far out this session. You can always count on them overplay their hand.

One so-called moderate, Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, played the GOP’s game in 2014 and received $340 from Mr. and Mrs. Gianforte. He also doled out donations to other connected Republicans and appeared to be a team player. Then during the 2015 session, he stood up against party votes like “Agenda 21” and brought a bill forward to keep open primaries. Then after getting slammed on the floor and at home, he seemed to come back to the fold and went against the Ankney bill. But then, oddly, he seems to have returned to helping the working majority by voting for Medicaid and made the motion to put the CSKT compact on the floor. Is he back? The jury is out until the end of the session but he could be a powerful figure in a future moderate-led legislator.

But back to the 2014 primaries. Rep. Art Wittich and Randy Brodehl helped to finance many of these insurgents against the moderate Republicans. Now, Wittich has been the leading voice on the floor against the working majority Republicans bucking the party line to get things done, in many cases for the interest of their rural hospitals and constituents. During his spasm over the rules of the “silver bullets” Wittich said he wanted them to realize he did not want “Republican fingerprints” on Medicaid expansion. That comment was out of order but revealing for reasons that will play out below.

The money continued to flow into the general elections of fall 2014 and most of them meant nothing despite the cash that kept flowing as if they would be close elections. Money to Wittich, Jeff Essmann, Matt Monforton, and others who won their elections by three to four times their opponents. But a quick $340 here or $680 there sends a message to the party and the candidates about where their support comes from and what expectations there will be.

After the general elections, the session leadership took shape and, again, it is in the money that you can see how it formed. Some of the House floor leaders did not receive much from the oligarchs but most received a good portion from assorted PACs, like Thompson’s Excellence in Voting PAC. Many from PACs outside the state like OneOK or Denbury Resources. financed others and they are oil and gas interests who gave equally to House leadership and members, including some moderates but mostly it went to legislators who would pull the strings.

In all, the Wilks spent more than $16,000 on primaries and general elections and the Gianfortes around $12,000. These are numbers from the candidates C5 filings on the Commissioner of Political Practices raw data filings so those numbers are compiled from numerous forms and could still be amended. But at this point, even if I did miss some donations here or there, it is probably pretty close to what went out. None of this counts what was probably a good deal of mailers and calls to constituents in those districts from dark money fringe groups. My guess is a lot of time and money went into that.

In return for the effort, House committees are stacked with legislators who received oligarch money. For that relative small amount of money, they bought control these committees intended to crush major bills this session. In some ways, you could call it a coup.

Just take a look at the heavy-hitting committees and consider, pre-session, what bills they would come to host: (the list is by number of GOP representatives in the committee and how many took Gianforte or Wilks money)

Appropriations (financing and backstop): 12 GOP, 9 financed and led by Ballance

Education (school “choice,” Common Core): 9 GOP, 7 financed and led by Laszloffy

Human Services (Medicaid expansion): 10 GOP, 5 financed and led by Wittich

Judiciary (referendums, compact): 12 GOP, 9 financed but chair Bennett not funded

Rules (emergency backstop): 10 GOP, 8 financed and led by Essmann

State Administration (campaign finance): 11 GOP, 8 financed and led by Essmann

Then take a look at what would have been relatively unimportant committees:

Business and Labor: 11 GOP, 2 financed (one is Fitzpatrick)

Fish, Wildlife, and Parks: 12 GOP, 5 financed

As the session started,  the system worked and not much made it into, or out of, those committees. The oligarch-funded legislators and their rightwing friends held strong. Then, with the moderates in the wings, the Democrats started to maneuver at some bills like SB 289 (Sen. Duane Ankney’s shot at ATP and other dark money groups) and move them into different committees to get around the blockade. Republicans took note and did what they could to avoid the motions.

Which brings us to what happened with SB 405, the HELP Act, over the past several days. Wittich held the hearing on it before the session returned, on a day and time he had never held a meeting of his committee before, and voted on it immediately. None of this was surprising.

It turned into a rules fight when it came back to the floor despite his smug obstinacy and was salvaged by “silver bullets.” It is Wittich and others in leadership who are reneging on this deal because they did not think the Democrats could use the rules to their advantage and violate what was supposed to be pre-determined one party rule of the session.

But beyond that, it is leading to more than a fissure between moderates and the 40 or so other Republicans. Remember how they always overplay their hand? The fight over the rules is now causing some differences between oligarch-funded representatives. You can see the ire in Essmann’s eye when Wittch and Mike Miller spout off about the votes that have transpired. Knudsen seems worried that he might lose control of floor but seems content with Wittich’s plays. He did a valiant thing by allowing the ACT to pass on April 11 by moving the vote up in the day’s order. Still, these are just the beginnings of the cracks among those who were financed by the same people and have the same interests. It would follow the likes of Wittich, Miller, even the recently-quiet Monforton would attempt numerous future schemes on the floor to gum up the works and ensure their backers get what they need.

But what is the mutual concern between those bending the rules and their backers? Why so much discontent about Medicaid and tribal compacts? Why would they be willing to go back on their own leadership’s agreements regarding “silver bullets” and “blasting” bills?

For Wittich and Miller, neck deep in the American Tradition Partnership fiasco and funded by Gianforte along with other rightwing donors and groups (to include ATP’s Doug Lair, who personally contributed to their campaigns in 2014), this is about 2016. It’s about ensuring Governor Bullock has no successes to run on. It’s about party purity and enjoying that high of having unadulterated power. What’s most important in that equation is their interests are in no way aligned with the interests of most Montanans, those #MillionsofMontanans. Their interest is in remaining in power and defeating the other side at any cost. In the zero sum game, even their own are fair targets.

In January 2015, the House GOP set up the perfect machine to make sure nothing happened. That machine had a few cogs bust loose as of late and it is venting steam. Important bills are passing this session and it looks good for the governor’s 2016 chances in a turnout-friendly presidential election cycle. For all money and obstacles the oligarchs and their minions threw at the process this year, they accomplished little. There is still much to do and they will do what they can to stop it, but what has passed already is a good on its own. One can hope the message of the 2015 legislative session to be carried into the 2016 elections is that in Montana big money has no power.

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