Tonight, Steve Bullock gave us another installment in what has become a biennial tradition in Montana spanning almost ten years: the State of the State Address, the night when a Democratic Governor gets to tell the public that the state’s economy is strong and getting stronger, that the government in great fiscal shape, and that democratic executive leadership is working quite well. The tradition includes a scene in which Democratic legislators cheer and Republican legislators stare at their shoes, their faces resembling the way a baby looks when he has gas, each one cringing from from the sound of applause and the unbearable good news about our state.
Steve Bullock delivered the news in a big, upbeat and wide-ranging speech, which combined boosterism, a big vision for road ahead, and a deserved bit of gloating. The news is this: the state of the state is strong and getting stronger. Montana has some of the lowest unemployment in the nation, record amounts of cash in the bank, record high graduation, record low dropout rates, and some of the highest achieving students in America in middle and high school. Add to it one of the best tax and regulatory climates in the country and a bulletproof credit rating from Wall Street. In other words, irrefutable news that the state is strong on all fronts. Bullock struck on the theme that he has employed common sense management policies to get the job done. And all of the canards that the GOP try to peddle about the state’s problems, such as “too much regulation” and other such rot, were roundly refuted.
I can understand how GOP legislators have come to rue this event. I don’t envy them, politically speaking. But the GOP deserves it all. For one of the reasons we have had an air-tight ten-year monopoly on the Governor’s office is that Montanans have no use for the GOP when it comes to choosing a statewide leader. Voters see the Republican party, especially its Tea Party segment, for what it is: an immature bunch of know-nothing reactionaries, who purvey their manchild antics and think that they can do so without cost. But the cost is very clear: a man like Steve Bullock will always be chosen over a Republican alternative, including in 2016 in all likelihood. As he has hit his stride, so has the GOP been dragged further down by lunatic extremists. The day of his speech, for example, the big news from the GOP was that they are trying introduce legislation to allow the teaching of creationism in public schools, which the bill euphemistically refers to as “critical thinking in the classroom.”
The ultra-religious might do better to consider Bullock’s focus, outlined in his speech, about how we should fulfill our deep moral obligations to give healthcare to the working poor, to care for the mentally ill, to treat our troops right, and to invest big in a statewide preschool program so that we can prepare our next generation. In other words, rather than the small, selfish parochialism that is generally what we get from Republicans, let’s be bigger. That included a plea from Bullock to support him in fixing our campaign finance system, to makes sure that expenditures are made public, a plan that Republican Duane Ankney is co-authoring with the Governor.
The highlight was when Bullock offered to give GOP legislators the cellphones of the directors of rural hospitals, to see what those hospital directors think of whether we should accept federal funds being offered for health coverage for the working poor, funds which would go toward these rural centers as well as many other facilities in the state. Republicans are currently trying to oppose taking this money.
Most of the time, not a single Republican politician in the chamber could be seen applauding. This included when Bullock said that on his watch, there will be no selling off of public lands.
As democrats rose to their feet and cheered and whooped, Republicans (with the exception of one or two moderates) just sat there staring into space, probably thinking about what for them is a most dismal prospect–that Bullock will very likely be delivering two more of these speeches, through 2019. I hope the GOP enjoys them.