2015 Legislative Caucuses Meet Today

How this work – and what it means

Today, Montana’s new and returning legislators will convene for the first time to get some training, meet as R and D caucuses, and vote for leadership.

In the 2015 session there are a number of candidates vying for these offices.  Usually those who are seeking to become the leaders of a chamber reach out to members of their caucus to run for the office.  You’ll also often see those seeking leadership positions attempting to position themselves in the press or social media as leaders – or as attack dogs on the Governor or opposing party.

Today, the Rs will meet on the third floor to “caucus,” while D’s meet on the first.  Then the leadership selection process will begin. Until leaders are chosen,  the person of each caucus with the most seniority traditionally leads the caucus meeting and leadership selection to make it fair if leadership positions are contested.

Then those running for leadership need to be nominated and seconded for Speaker of the House or Senate president.  The nominators and seconders both must give a speech telling their fellow lawmakers why those they are supporting should be their leaders.   After that the candidates for Senate President and Speaker of the House give their own speeches.

Interestingly, members of the caucuses still vote by secret ballot and often the ballot count is never revealed and only known by counters, who must ensure the leader gets at least 50% of the vote or set up a run off.  I’m wondering whether this secrecy is actually allowed given MT open record laws and that caucuses are public meetings in Montana.  Legislators’ other votes are public too.

Leadership positions are very important because leadership of each body not only sets the tone of the session but, in the House, the leader is solely responsible for choosing committee chairs and committee members.  Also, it is the Senate President and the House Speaker who in the final days of the session will negotiate a budget with Governor Bullock.  Don’t let anyone tell you that someone wacky is the best fit for these jobs.  The budget and the committee makeup is too important. It needs to be someone who can work with both sides or nothing will be accomplished.  If the house alienates itself too much from the senate and the executive branch – either through leadership choices or committees or both — then it’s members may find themselves outside the loop and not involved when it comes to key negotiations, decisions, and bill passage.

Senate President

Senate President: In the Senate, the to position is the Senate President and she or he will effectively be chosen today by the Republicans as the majority party in that body, although there is an official confirmation vote on the first day of the session to elect this person.

Senate Committees

In the Senate, unlike in the House, a “Committee on Committees” will be elected today to choose who will serve on each senate committee.  This means senate Committee Chairs and membership will not be announced prior to the session beginning in January. The Committee on Committees will likely have Rs and Ds both.

Speaker of the House

Speaker of the House is the leader of the House, and is chosen like the Senate President, with an official vote of the full House on day one of the 2015 session. Because the four positions I just mentioned get voted on by the full membership of each body, depending on how this plays out and who is running, dems could play a role in the selection of the top two leadership positions of each body.

House Committees

In the House, the Speaker of the House personally chooses the committee leadership for every house committee.  For this reason, it is not likely that the committee chairs and membership will be announced today either.

Senate Pro-Tem and House Pro-Tem

Each body will also elect a Pro-Tem – basically a number two to the Senate President and Speaker.  The duties of this position are pretty much whatever they President and Senate want them to be – these two jobs get an official vote of the full house and senate on the first day of the session too.

Majority and Minority Leaders and Whips

Both the senate and the house each get a majority leader and a minority leader whose jobs it will be to serve as spokespeople for their parties during floor sessions (making objections, asking questions, etc).  Each caucus will also have whip positions who are supposed to “whip” their caucuses into voting together. Only the caucuses vote for these positions, not the full house and senate.

The house and the senate operate independently even if they are controlled by the same party – and the chambers do not always agree.  Typically near the end of the session it is the President and Speaker that complete the final budget negotiations with the Governor, this is why these roles are so important and why it is important that rational individuals and moderate Republicans are in these posts.

Each chamber functions under its own rules that are adopted by the bodies on the first day of session.  While many of the rules are the same in each body there are some significant differences.  There are also partisan differences in each body.  Not only has the house traditionally been more partisan and fractious than the senate, but word on the street is that the Senate’s moderating power will be greater this time because some of the most right-wing senators have moved over to the house.

These changes, plus the natural differences and division between the two bodies traditionally, provide use some clues about how the fault lines of the 2015 session will reveal themselves.

Additionally, it is important to remember that the GOP does not have a veto-proof majority and so will need to work with Governor Bullock in order to accomplish anything.

Committee Membership Selection

In the House, the Speaker appoints all committee’s membership and determines who is to chair each.  This gives the Speaker of the House a lot of power – power which has often been used to appoint imbeciles as chairs of key house committees.

There are several rumors circulating about who will run for leadership in the House.  For the R’s, Austin Knudson,  Steve Fitzpatrick and Ron Ehli are both said to be running for something. For the D’s Chuck Hunter, Pat Noonan, Bryce Bennett, Ellie Hill.

In the senate, those rumored to be running include Debby Barrett, Scott Sales, Mark Blasdel, Fred Thomas (architect of two of the worst MT laws –  deregulation and term limits),  and Jennifer Fielder (who has militia ties) are both said to be seeking some position.  This is frightening.  The GOP lacks women in both houses, and we will likely see some tokenism in play here to make it seem otherwise.  For the dems Jon Sesso is among the names being discussed for Minority Leader.


13 Comments on "2015 Legislative Caucuses Meet Today"

  1. You left out the essential element that makes the system function as it does: campaign cash, or private bribery.

  2. Old Line Democrat | November 12, 2014 8:15 AM at 8:15 AM |

    While you give an interesting overview Cowgirl, the critical positions are in the House where the budgeting process resides. There is no question in my mind that this was the reason that Art Wittich ran for an open House seat versus staying in the Senate. I have no doubt that one of his cronies (like Essman) will run for a leadership position with Wittich rallying the wingnut troops and get Wittich appointed to chair the Budget Committee. Watch the sparks fly when they have control of the budget. The ultimate leverage. It will not be pretty.

  3. Good point – absolutely these are critical positions and your theory on Wittich and Essmann makes sense to me. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Excuse me, it is spelled Assmann, just like the individual acts. He is my legislator and one of the biggest crybabies in the legislature.

  5. Good write-up. I’d add that many in the GOP aren’t worried about not having a veto-proof majority as they just want to thwart Bullock and other Democrats, giving neither anything to run on in 2016. It’s a good strategy, and could backfire magnificently.

    • Prayers for Judy Martz as a cancer victim, but what about the thousands who have NO healthcare, who is praying for those who didn’t get MEDICAID expansion because of GOP ego and hate?

  6. You’re such a piece of shiat. You really truly are. Way to go after Judy Martz on twitter. Judy is one of the most decent and caring people on this planet. And she is fighting pancreatic cancer.

    And you are just a bitter, fake waste of humanity.

    • Judy Martz was an awful governor and put back the role of women in politics for years.

      • Since Fatso went off without any verification of his outragasm at all, this whole thing is kind of weird. I would like to point out, though, when Grey Davis got recalled in California his approval rating was 22%. The media promoted that as the “worst in the nation” … except that at that very same time, Judy Martz had an approval rating of 18%. Quality representative, that one (/sarcasm).

  7. When did Mike Dennison first hear of
    the Wittich-Essmann power share option play?

  8. Here is the leadership positions for 2015 –

    Senate Republicans
    President: Sen. Debby Barrett, R-Dillon.
    Majority leader: Sen. Matt Rosendale, R-Glendive.
    President pro tempore: Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City.
    Majority whips: Sen.-elect Cary Smith, R-Billings, and Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls.

    Senate Democrats
    Minority leader: Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte.
    Minority whips: Sens. Robyn Driscoll, D-Billings, and Tom Facey, D-Missoula.

    House Republicans
    Speaker: Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson.
    Majority leader: Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell.
    Speaker pro tempore: Rep. Lee Randall, R-Broadus.
    Majority whips: Reps. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby; Alan Doane, R-Bloomfield; Sarah Laszloffy, R-Laurel; and Greg Hertz, R-Polson.

    House Democrats
    Minority leader: Chuck Hunter, D-Helena.
    Caucus chair: Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez, D-Billings.
    Minority whips: Reps. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings; Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula; and Jenny Eck, D-Helena.

    • Knudsen seems to be a decent chap, and more thoughtful on the negative impacts of energy developmente and plundering of mineral rights as we’ve seen with the oil and gas extraction madness that’s destroying
      the eastern Montana infrastructure and causing SOCIAL upheaval, where seniors and others leaving as
      they can’t AFFORD to live there anymore when rents, costs, etc. TRIPLE just to have more workers, whores,
      drugs, alcohol and other parasites destroying communities that surived for generations.

  9. I feel really guilty for not being here to fight the Martz/Roscoe deregulation debacle and destruction of Montana Power and Columbia Falls smelter. I am left wondering who we can blame for the slashing of our coal tax though, as well as all the “tax holidays” being handed out to those extractors creating all the ruckus in the Oil Pot. I didn’t realize we were having trouble selling our coal but I do know we could sure as heck use the revenue now for things like schools, roads and jails in said oil pot. If we are going to allow a private foreign owned corporation to come in and steal my families land to build their pipeline we should insure it pays for the damage it creates by taxing every barrel of oil crossing our state and using that revenue to develop alternative energy resources in the People’s name. Or maybe require them to build a 10KW windmill for every mile of pipeline built-these wind generators will still produce energy when the pipeline is just a trail of rusty wreckage littering our landscape. And because wind dynamos are so large it requires them to be assembled close to where they will be installed which will create even more long-term, well-paying jobs. It looks to me like we traded tax cuts for Corporations for tax hikes on diesel fuel-it’s the only reason Montanans should pay $.70/gallon more than neighboring states that I can see. In spite of this I’m sure we will see more tax giveaways to fossil fuel corps which means the rest of us will see higher property taxes and “fees” to make up the difference. I really don’t see how the Pubes can’t see this-we aren’t EVER talking about spending less, only arguing about where the money will be spent-benefitting corporations or helping students and working families.

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