Sen. Jason Priest has been arrested and was, as of 10:00 am this morning, in the Yellowstone County detention facility. A reliable source tells me he is there for Partner Family Member Assault and resisting arrest, with other assault charges pending. More to come.
Priest is an important figure because he is the rebel leader in the civil war within the Republican Party and runs a dark money group called Montana Growth Network, which tries to defeat moderates and take over the Montana Supreme Court.
He served as Chair of the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety Committee and as vice-Chair of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services during the 2013 legislature and is said to be seeking a leadership position in the 2015 session. Priest told the Stillwater County News last week he plans to run in Senate District 29.
He also has a history of bigoted comments about LGBT people. Priest is the lawmaker who was forced to apologize for anti-gay remarks he made on his Facebook page, the Billings Gazette reported. Priest used his “hateful, homophobic talk” to argue his dislike for paying taxes.
Then there was the time during his 2010 campaign for the state legislature when Priest spoke to group of Tea Party followers, apparently unaware of a running camera. Priest said,
“I live in Red Lodge where I’m that guy that nobody agrees with, and I don’t mind. I have to talk to them about things that are important to them in ways that aren’t offensive to them. That’s a good lesson to learn. I would rather tell them they’re insane… Is that camera on?”
Priest has also taken heat for using his dark money group to lead the charge against Medicaid coverage for the working poor. Some of his considerable wealth has come from auctioning off the medical debt of people who can’t afford health care.
An interesting letter to the editor was published in the Billings Gazette during the 2011 legislative session which asks about the potential conflict of interest incurred by state Senator Jason Priest. Priest sponsored a bill that could reap financial benefits for the medical debt collection industry he comes from and lead the effort to block tens of thousands of working poor Montanans from getting health coverage through Medicaid–even though the federal government would pick up most of the tab.
For years Sen. Priest was the CEO of a company that specialized in collecting unpaid medical debts owed to hospitals. The LTE reads:
State Sen. Jason Priest is the founder and president of Medipent, a New York company that relies on the huge mountain of personal debt generated by our broken health care system for its existence. Yet, as a representative of the people, he aligns himself in opposition to health care reform — a program that intends to eliminate the debt that sustains him and his company. How is his involvement not a conflict of interest?
Shortly after this post, the Billings Gazette reported they had confirmed that Priest had been booked into the jail in the middle of the night. Sources say that because of the nature of the charges against him, Priest must go before a judge before he can be released on bail. That could happen as early as tomorrow (Monday) morning, Feb. 3, in Billings, MT.