Posted: February 26, 2015 at 7:20 pm by Cowgirl

American Lands Council, GOP Senator Silent in the Face of Questions Over Staffing Arrangement

The Bozeman Chronicle is reporting today that a Republican senator’s aide was asked to step down after it was revealed that the aide was a paid staffer of and lobbyist for the American Lands Council, a Utah group that is pushing for the takeover of Montana public lands.  Sen. Jennifer Fielder has so far refused to comment on the matter, but it doesn’t look good that an out-of-state group was paying the salary of an individual serving as Fielder’s staffer, who was simultaneously a registered lobbyist for that organization to boot.

Typically, the only lawmakers that have staffers, are the leadership (majority and minority) of the House and Senate, and these shared staffers are paid for out of the legislature’s budget  A personal staffer paid for by a lobbying group is something I certainly haven’t seen before.  The Cowgirl Blog first reported the issue yesterday morning after tipsters discovered what was happening.

Fielder has introduced multiple land takeover bills on behalf of the Utah group this session, and has been helping the out-of-staters push the scheme for the past year and a half. But most people thought the land takeover plot was just too extreme–not to mention unconstitutional and somewhat ridiculous.  Every bill Fielder introduced on this issue has died, even though Montana’s legislature has wide Republican majorities in both houses.

It’s concerning therefore that Montana’s Senate President, Debby Barrett has said she tapped Fielder as vice-Chair of the Republican party because of her stance on these very issues.  As Lee newspapers reported recently, Fielder who is currently the vice-chair of the Montana Republican Party, was “nominated by Sen. Debby Barrett of Dillon, who is now president of the Montana Senate.”

Barrett says she was impressed by the job Fielder did as a freshman senator, working on the lands issue and representing her district.

“There’s not economic benefit from the forest up there anymore,” Barrett says. “It’s a problem and she’s searching for how to address that. … She has educated herself and she’s educating other people on the issue of getting the stewardship of our lands taken care of, because they’re just going to waste.”

The Lee Newspapers also discussed Fielder’s role in a group called the Sanders County Resource Council.   But what they didn’t report is that Fielder and John Trochman, founder of the Militia of Montana, are co-leaders of that group.  Fielder is on the group’s board of directors, according to her website. Here’s the screenshot in case this gets taken down.

Trochmann founded the Militia of Montana in the 1990s after the wife and son of white supremacist Randy Weaver were killed in a standoff with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. He’s a big figure in the national militia movement.  And the Sanders County Resource Council was formed by Trochmann specifically to serve as a front group for militia activity.  We know this because Trochmann admitted it, in a radio interview, in which he explains that for legal reasons, he now conducts much of his militia-oriented activity under the guise of several new groups, SNRC among them.

So heads up, folks. If the American Lands Council starts agitating in your state next, this is the kind of thing you’d be wise to keep an eye out for.

Posted: February 25, 2015 at 7:50 am by Cowgirl

The Puppet Show

Yesterday on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives, TEA Party Republican Randy Pinnocci gave a speech in favor of his bill to prohibit the United Nations from the “use of technology for controlling human activity…and the indoctrination of children for global citizenship.” (Which 41 Republicans voted for.)  Pinnoci said the goal of his bill was: “to prevent us from being told what to do by an outside entity.” “What I believe is that if we have a good idea in Montana we should implement it on our own,” he continued.

But two new and separate pieces of investigative journalism in the Bozeman Chronicle and the Flathead Beacon, and documents obtained by Cowgirl tipsters, show that outside entities are indeed telling the Montana legislature what to do, even writing boilerplate bills introduced in Montana and providing direct instruction to legislative bill drafters.

A Florida right-wing group called the Foundation for Government Accountability is instructing Montana legislators and legislative staffers on how to write our laws, and TEA Party lawmakers are attempting to pass boilerplate legislation provided by the same organization. But that’s not the only disturbing evidence of the extent outside forces are pulling the strings at the Montana Legislature.

Inside Job

First,  we turn to the office of TEA Party Senator Jennifer Fielder.  Fielder alone has requested dozens of different bills to address the same scheme – which republicans call TPL for “takeover of public lands.”  The Utah-based American Lands Council has been pushing the idea at at  ALEC conferences.  It is an ALEC boilerplate bill, and it would increase our taxes by hundreds of millions, and inflict a major blow to Montana’s tourism economy.

It has now come to light that the individual that has been serving as Jennifer Fielder’s staffer and legislative aide (granting him full floor privileges amongst other things) was at the same time being employed by the American Lands Council as their registered lobbyist.  Montanans deserve to know what the deal is here including the serious ethical questions raised regarding her own staffer being paid by the American Lands Council.

You can see here screen shots from the commissioner of political practices website showing he is the registered lobbyist of the Utah land-secession group.

And here is a shot of this guy’s Facebook page where the lobbyist publicly posts his position as a Senate Aide.

And finally here you can view a picture with him wearing his official Montana state legislature name badge which grants him unrestricted access to the Senate Floor and GOP leadership.

 Boilerplate and Behind the Scenes Instruction

Yesterday,  the Bozeman Chronicle reported that as many as 1/3 of the bills written by legislative staff come at the request of or under the instruction of outside groups rather than from Montana elected officials.

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The group behind this is the Florida-Based “Foundation for Government Accountability” or the FGA.  The group is active in several states – usually working to kill Medicaid expansion as they did in Wyoming and Tennessee.  They also worked to kill Medicaid expansion in Maine, where they conducted a biased “poll”.  A similar push-poll was also in conducted recently in Montana and is expected to be released soon.

Below is a screenshot of that FGA-AFP Facebook AD.

FGA-AFP Facebook AD

You can see the Florida group’s  Montana attack site here: http://dontexpandmt.com/ Here is their Facebook timeline: https://www.facebook.com/TheFGA?fref=nf   Like AFP, the group is spending big bucks to kill Medicaid expansion in Montana with ads and talking points being parroted by right-wing, “legislators” (or should we just call them puppets). The FGA is saying that if we expand medicaid we will lose school funding, highway funding, prison funding, funding for first responders etc., which is obviously a complete lie.

But it doesn’t stop there.

 

The FGA is also behind Fred Thomas’s Senate Bill 206 - one of the worst bills of the 2015 session which would take assistance buying food from thousands of hungry seniors, people with disabilities, and kids. As the Bozeman Chronicle reported:

State Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, a longtime legislator, introduced a bill last month to create limits on food stamp assistance in Montana.

Thomas told the Associated Press that he drafted the bill after hearing from store cashiers that food stamps are being used to buy energy drinks, frozen pizza and other items.

According to emails obtained by the Chronicle, the bill was written in large part by the Foundation for Government Accountability in Florida. A copy of the group’s boilerplate bills was provided to drafters.

It’s not just Thomas who is pimping Foundation for Government Accountability boilerplate bad ideas- check out Sen. Cary Smith (TEA -Billings) who is carrying SB 148, an ALEC boilerplate bill also procured from him by the same Foundation for Government Accountability, as you can see here.  That bill aims to strip tens of thousands of the poorest Montanans from Medicaid or food stamps – even though they are still eligible.  As the Flathead Beacon reported:

 portions of a bill introduced in the Montana Legislature, SB 148, which aims to prevent welfare fraud, are taken nearly verbatim from a piece of model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council,

This is likely the tip of the iceberg and I expect more such evidence of who’s really calling the shots at the Montana Legislature to come to light.  The Great Falls Tribune and the Flathead Beacon have already reported on the series of fake “town hall meetings” that backfired on Americans for Prosperity recently.

With this latest revelation, Montanans will respond to the bills these right-wing legislators and out-of-state groups are attempting to foist on us with even greater skepticism.  Because while Fred Thomas embarrassingly tries to spin this insider influence for out-of-state special interests as a good thing, I doubt most Montanans would agree. 

 

Posted: February 24, 2015 at 8:21 pm by Cowgirl

Nutjob Bills in the Montana Legislature

Yes America, here are some of the major pieces of legislation that have been put forward in 2015 by the Tea Party Republicans who are now in control of the Montana legislature.

This is not a joke. These are real bills, and they are currently taking priority in the Montana legislature over anything legitimate that would improve jobs, Montana’s economy, or the health and well-being of our citizens.

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1. Exempt political ads by churches from campaign finance laws by classifying them as news reports. LC 1942 by David Howard (R-TEA Park City)

2. Require federalism training for state employees. LC 1760 by Jennifer Fielder (TEA-Noxon)

3. Create a state militia and outfit them with uniforms. SB 130 by Roger Webb (R-TEA Billings)

4. Ban Sharia law from Montana courts. SB 199 by Janna Taylor (R-TEA Datyon)

5. Force the secession of all federal public lands within MT borders from the United States government. SB 274 by Jennifer Fielder (TEA-Noxon)

6. Prohibit the state Board of Education from establishing math and reading standards. HB 376 by Debra Lamm (TEA-Livingston) and rescind any math and reading standards the state may already have established. HB 377 by same.

7. Prohibiting the use of technology for controlling human activity and outlaw the indoctrination of children for global citizenship. HB 583 by Randall Pinocci (TEA-Sun River)

8. Eliminate the ability of law enforcement to use animal shelter staff to assist in the rescue and sheltering of animals in cases of alleged animal cruelty and abuse, because animal shelter staff are probably terrorists.  HB 179  by Theresa Manzella (TEA-Ravalli County)

9. Allow hunting with silencers. HB 250 by Kirk Wagoner (R-TEA Jackson Creek)

10. Allow hunting of mountain lions and wolves with silencers. HB 450 by Kirk Wagoner (R-TEA Jackson Creek)

11. Legalize even more hunting with silencers SB 295. by Mark Blasdel (R-TEA Kalispell)

12. Legalize guns and rifles in school parking lots. HB 320 by Carl Glimm (R-TEA Ashley Lake)

13. Legalize guns and rifles in office parking lots. HB 505 the official title of which is “establish employee safe travel to work laws”, by Matthew Monforton (TEA-Bozeman)

14. Lift the prohibition on carrying concealed weapons in bars, parks, and schools. HB 371 by Rep. Kerry White (TEA-Bozeman)

15. Legalize guns on college campuses. by Rep. Cary Smith SB 143 (R-TEA Billings)

16. Allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon. HB 298   Bill Harris (R-Winnett)

17. Nullify all federal gun laws. HB 203 by Rep. Art Wittich (R-TEA Bozeman)

18. Encourage the manufacturing of ammunition to prevent a national shortage. HB 122 by Matthew Rosedale (R-TEA Glendive)

19. Allow anyone to refuse to vaccinate their children for any reason.  Amendment to HB 158 by Rep. Greg Hertz (R-TEA Polson)

20. Make it illegal to don a costume that would make it appear you might be naked or which includes a prosthetic anus. HB 365 by David “Doc” Moore (R-Missoula)

21. Prohibit the use of drones to spy on hunters or interfere with “post-hunting activities.” HB 278 by Jeff Essmann (R-TEA Billings)

 

 

Posted: February 24, 2015 at 7:52 pm by Cowgirl

Posted: February 24, 2015 at 6:29 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Bookends

by Sen. Mary Sheehy Moe (D-Great Falls)  

Mary Sheehy MoeThe bookends on the 7th week of the 64th session of the Montana legislature reveal what discriminating taste we Montanans have.

Deliberations on the Senate floor last Monday began with a noble but doomed attempt by the inimitable Senator Christine Kaufmann to “blast” her bill, SB 179, out of committee and onto the Senate floor for a vote.  SB 179 would prevent discrimination against Montanans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Several Montana communities have adopted non-discrimination ordinances (NDOs). Most have not.  In any event, an issue that goes to the heart of our Constitution shouldn’t be relegated to an unpredictable, haphazard patchwork of equality from town to town.  The State of Montana should proudly declare that we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The hearing on SB 179, conducted on January 30, was predictably painful. The usual armchair lawyers and theologians shared their sophistry. There were those who worried they’d be forced to provide the services of their business to couples engaging in rituals to which they have a religious objection. And there was a lot of concern about restrooms. Perverts might fake they are transgender just to gain access to the ladies’ room to do God-knows-what. Then, too, what do I say to my child when we see this “other person” at the urinal?

But for me the painful part was hearing proponent after proponent telling the stories of their exclusion and their fear and pleading for a freedom the rest of us take for granted: the freedom to be candid about who we are and whom we love without risking our jobs or our homes.  “It’s legal for me to be married in Montana,” one proponent said, “But if I put my wedding picture on my desk at work, I can be fired.” 

When the hearing ended, the Committee killed the bill on a party-line vote. But Kaufmann, who has carried the banner of LGBT equality throughout her long legislative career, a career that ends this session, had one last hope: the blast motion.

The Senate gallery was filled last Monday with many of the same proponents whose pleas we had heard 18 days earlier. There they sat, their hearts on their sleeves, as Sen. Kaufmann rose to address the body. She was the essence of dignity, as usual. She offered to delete the language on public restrooms, if necessary, but urged the body to be on the right side of history on the civil rights issue of our time.  Fiddle-dee-dee. Same parties. Same line. The blast fizzled.

As we turned to other bills, the galleries quietly emptied, like fog evaporating under a harsh sun.

The week closed with another non-discrimination request, SB 239.  SB 239 would prohibit counties and municipalities from doing anything that would discriminate against a specific breed of dog. In the week preceding the debate, we had heard a lot from animal-lovers about the bad rap pit bulls get and how it’s really lousy owners, not lousy dogs, who are to blame for vicious dog attacks.

I have no opinion on the subject of pit bulls. Pretty much all breeds of dogs seem to like the taste of my flesh.  But as Sen. Dick Barrett pointed out in the floor debate, the real issue isn’t whether pit bulls are by nature vicious. It isn’t even whether bans on particular breeds are workable.  The problem with SB 239 is the breadth of its language.  It doesn’t allow any ordinance, any resolution, or even any policy that singles out a particular breed of dog.  County commissioners couldn’t even declare a Collie Appreciation Day on Lassie’s birthday. Arguably, Fort Benton would have to take down its statue of Shep – or at least show an appreciation of diversity by erecting statues of The Auditor and Seaman. 

Sen. Barrett also pointed out how inconsistent the Senate is from one day to the next. The ink is hardly dry on the Senate’s passage of a bill authorizing county commissioners to ban bison from their counties. And now we’re telling them they can’t have a policy on bringing your break stick with your pit bull to the dog park? 

It took us only slightly longer on Saturday to debate and kill the dog NDO than it did to accomplish the same result for the LGBT community. As we turned to other affairs, I looked up at the gallery that had teemed with hopeful hearts on Monday and breathed a sigh of relief that they weren’t here today.

Since Saturday’s floor session ended, I’ve been inundated with emails from dog-lovers urging me to change my vote on SB 239. “In America,” the most recent one said, “responsible dog owners should be allowed to love and care for whatever breed or mixed breed dog they choose.”

I haven’t received a single email from the hapless proponents of SB 179, though. Faceless and voiceless once again, they’re left to cower in the shadows of their communities till the arc of history finally touches justice.  Grrrr.

*****

Sen. Moe can be reached at moe.mt.senate@gmail.com.  If you email her, thank her for her good work.  You can read more about her priorities and values on the Great Falls Tribune here. 

Posted: February 20, 2015 at 11:35 pm by Cowgirl

Koch Brothers Shamed for Profiting from Government Subsidies

This week, Montana’s former governor Brian Schweitzer penned an op-ed in the state’s major dailies pointing out that the Koch brothers– who are bankrolling an effort to block health care for Montana’s poorest citizens–rake in millions in government subsidies for their Beaverhead Ranch in Dillon and make a big profit from it.  If you haven’t yet read it, you can do so here. 

Then a funny thing happened.  A person identifying herself as a worker from the ranch began blogging in the comments of Schweitzer’s piece.  The screenshots are below.

She says two things that raise a flag.  First, she says that the ranch doesn’t pay taxes on its cows.  That’s against the law and I’m surprised she’d make such an admission.  In fact, one actually does need to pay taxes on the cows one owns. Each cow is property and the more you own the more you are supposed to pay.

The second is that she says that the ranch has been subletting the land it leases from government.

This would be illegal too, if in fact it is what she is describing.  The LA Times has reported how such arrangements work:  a big money rancher gets exclusive government permits to graze those lands.  He pays the Bureau of Land Management $1.86 a month for each cow allowed to graze the vast expanse of BLM-managed public land. Then he charges others $8 to $12 per month per cow, pocketing the difference.

Anyway, read the whole exchange yourself and see what you make of it:

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Posted: February 17, 2015 at 6:49 pm by Cowgirl

Posted: February 17, 2015 at 6:46 am by Cowgirl

TEA Party Lawmaker Says Animal Shelter Workers are Terrorist Threat

A Montana TEA Party legislator yesterday said during a speech on the floor of the House of Theresa ManzellaRepresentatives yesterday that animal shelter workers were a terrorist threat.

TEA Party Rep. Theresa Manzella (R-Ravalli) is sponsoring a bill would eliminate the ability of law enforcement to use animal shelter staff to assist in the rescue and sheltering of animals in cases of alleged animal cruelty and abuse.  (HB 179) Apparently she believes one reason the bill is needed is that animal shelter workers are likely terrorists.

“During the past several years special interest extremism as characterized Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front has emerged as a serious terrorist threat.

The FBI estimates that these organizations have committed at least 600 criminal acts in the United states since 1996.  resulting in damages in excess of $42 million.  Today, those people who have been convicted of their crimes, of the damages in estimation of
$42 million, they work for the Humane Society of the United States.

One in particular, his goal is the total abolition of animal agriculture. I ‘d like you to keep that in mind.”

You can hear her speech, delivered on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives on February 16, 2015, on Youtube here:

This ludicrous conspiracy mongering is a disservice to Montanans.  It is beneath us, and does not belong in Montana’s lawmaking process.

Meanwhile Republicans in the Montana state senators managed to vote down a good bill by Sen. Tom Facey (D-Missoula) last week that would have required animal abusers to pay a bond for the animals’ care  after they have been removed by law enforcement.  They managed to kill the common sense measure without calling anyone terrorists.   That bill was SB 115.

 

Posted: February 16, 2015 at 9:55 pm by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Gather on Montana Horizon

By Anonymous

Like most Montanans, I looked at the looming legislative session with a certain sense of gloom…Little did I know.

 

4horseman

HELENA, MONT.- Religious leaders in Montana today praised the first sign of the Second Coming, more commonly known as the Apocalypse.

“We knew our public servants in Christ would be part of the event, but never did we ever  imagine they’d lead it,” said booster club president Jeff Laszloffy at a Monday rally. Laszloffy and supporters had gathered to cheer the horsemen with signs emblazoned with:

“My vote punished man (and more importantly women and children)!”

and

“Honk if you’re ready to RAPTURE!”

Then, Representatives Art Wittich (Death*), Greg Hertz (Pestilence**) and Senators Fred Thomas (Hunger***), and Cary Smith (War****) emerged from a slightly sagging balloon arch to the ululation of the faithful as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Hertz and Thomas, the Horsemen of Pestilence and Hunger respectively, pledged this week that the will of the Lord would fall on Montanans first–and fall hard. Brandishing a 6-shot Colt pistol, the Horseman of War, Sen. Smith, punctuated his shouts of “Don’t restrict, RELOAD” with shots fired into the air.

“We did it,” Laszloffy whispered, a tear falling down one cheek.  It just goes to show you what we can expect when the power of true belief inspires public service. Plus now that the End Times are nigh upon us, Art Wittich doesn’t have to worry about going to jail.  Praised be His name.”

_____________

*Wittich is leading the fight against accepting the money to pay for health care for the working poor. According to the Montana Medical Association, 300 lives could be saved in Montana every year, if Medicaid expansion were passed. Wittich is also sponsoring a bill that is so illegal that, if passed, cause Montana to lose all funding Montana’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the program would be eliminated. HB 442

**Rep. Greg Hertz added an amendment making immunization optional to a bill that was intended to update Montana’s immunization requirements to the 20th century, if not the 21st. That bill is HB 158 

***Sen. Thomas is the sponsor of SB 206 which would take help buying food from thousands of needy kids, seniors, and people with disabilities.  The bill had no proponents.

****Sen. Cary Smith is sponsoring SB 143, a bill to allow guns on Montana college campuses.

*****Tom Burnett doesn’t appear to actually do anything except spout the cray-cray.  He gets honorable mention. Burnett has never passed a bill.

 

Posted: February 16, 2015 at 7:21 am by Cowgirl

Big Rally in Helena Today to Derail ALEC Land Grab Nonsense

MTRALLYPOSTERMontanans from across the state are gathering in  Helena to oppose TEA Party Sen. Jennifer Fielder’s plans to takeover our public lands with SB 215 and a “package” of other such bills.

It’s ridiculous that the Lee Newspaper story on the land grab doesn’t even mention where Fielder got the idea, which is copied from a Utah state legislator named Ken Ivory and his “group” the American Lands Council.

Ivory has been touring around pushing the idea that states should condemn and sell of public land.  He says this will help pay off the national debt.   This is an ALEC boilerplate bill, of which there are several this session, and Ken Ivory, basically Utah’s Derek Skees, has been pushing it at  ALEC conferences.  Montanans rejected the idea, which was among the infamous nutjob bills of the 2011 legislature ridiculed across the U.S.  The Utah legislature’s own legal staff has said the idea is unconstitutional.

But that doesn’t stop those looking for ways to become the next Cliven Bundy or Robert. E. Lee–and since Fielder can’t figure out how to secede, she is hoping to spark a new sagebrush rebellion in the Montana legislature.

It’s also troubling that the Lee Newspapers article on this nonsense didn’t mention how the republican party distanced itself from the land grab during the 2014 elections, since the scheme is obviously extremely unpopular with Montanans.

The rally is expected to be one of the largest in recent memory.  Fielder isn’t pushing this because it’s the right thing for Montana.  She’s creating more TEA Party circus theatrics like the Bozeman Chronicle has already pointed out Rep. Art Wittich and Rep. Tom Burnett are guilty of:

Somewhere along the line, our state Legislature — or at least certain members of it — stopped deliberating on what is best for the state and turned the whole process into a stage for politicians to preen and prance in front of their base with absurd proposals that consume valuable time and money…..

We get it, Reps. Wittich and Burnett: Some of your constituents dislike and distrust the federal government. But is it really necessary to turn the Legislature into a circus sideshow to keep them happy? These measures aren’t going to be enacted, and even if they were, they are utterly unenforceable.

Let’s drop the theatrics and get to the state’s real business.

Bullock meme

Another glaringly ludicrous ALEC bill this session is Cary Smith’s SB 148, which is an almost verbatim version of the ALEC bill found here. The Florida ALEC “State Policy Network” affiliate Floridians for Government Accountability is also pushing a slew of boilerplate legislation designed to defeat medicaid expansion and crack down on the poor.