Yesterday, apparently outside of the scrutiny of the Montana press, TEA Partiers in the Montana House passed a series of rules consolidating power with hard right leaders and stamping out any dying embers of even the pretense of cooperation with moderate or the minority.
First, apparently miffed by their inability to hold secret caucus meetings in hotel basements without public scrutiny, the GOP leadership sought to create what TEA Party Rep. Art Wittich called a “refuge” to talk with other legislators without the public present. (Wittich faces removal from office for his role in the meth house scandal.)
They passed a rule actually rule banning the public from the house floor 24 hours a day – 7 says a week. In the past the public was not allowed on the house floor two hours before and after a floor session, but at all other hours were able to come to speak with legislators.
TEA Party house Majority Leader Keith Regier (R-Kalispell) led the fight against democratic Rep Tom Woods’ (D-Bozeman) attempt to amend the GOP rule to restrict lobbyists but retain access for citizens.
The house rules committee also demoted all minority vice chairs in the house to “ranking members” – eliminating even a presence of bipartisan cooperation. The move ads to a recent outbreak of TEA Party chest thumping to say “WE are in charge.”
Essmann said the demotions were justified because this is how the historically inept and most unpopular institution in America, the US Congress does it.
But the worst rule change of the day came from TEA Party Majority Whip Rep. Greg Hertz (R-Polson) who introduced a rule change to further consolidate more power in one man, TEA Party of the speaker of the House, Rep Austin Knudson (R-Culbertson).
The new rule makes it virtually impossible for the legislature as a whole to vote to override the decision of the speaker’s to send bills to appropriations to be killed. In th east, a majority vote (51 legislators) could overturn the speaker’s decision to send bills to appropriations. The GOPers on the committee voted to change the threshold to 3/5 The GOP frequently uses the appropriation committee as a way to put bills through further hurdles and kill the bill.
The rules changes were resisted at every opportunity by House Minority Leader Rep. Chuck Hunter (D-Helena), Rep. Kim Dudik (D-Missoula), Rep. Kathleen Williams (D-Bozeman) and Rep. Tom Woods (D-Bozeman). The new public access restrictions and power consolidation rules will next move to the full house of representatives who are expected to adopt them on the first day of the 2015 legislature.