There is a saying that politics makes strange bedfellows, and that is certainly true in the case of Daniel Zolnikov, the self-described Republican “young-gun” representative from Billings.
Zolnikov is well-known for his anti-establishment ways and for operating outside the norm, but his recent hearing on HB 399 in House Judiciary this week was a real head-turner. The bill itself was problematic, in that it could make it easier for unfit parents to gain custody of their children and alludes to the idea that some mothers are awarded custody simply because they are female. But it wasn’t the statements that Zolnikov made about this bill that struck our fancy, but instead the company that he chose to keep.
In his opening, Zolnikov mentioned that he was bringing the bill at the request of a constituent. That constituent, going by the name “Steve Cape” then testified in support of the bill, IDing himself as a lobbyist with the Montana Coalition on Safety and Justice.
We looked up Steve Cape and found some interesting backstory. Cape is currently on probation for aggravated felony assault committed in 1998. We also found a story on the graphic and disturbing nature of the man’s crime in the Bozeman Chronicle. And, as Zolnikov said, Cape thinks that HB 399 is an important bill for the Legislature to consider based on his experience.
We may never know if Zolnikov knew who he was working with to get this piece of legislation passed. But it raises doubts about his ability to vet his friends before bringing potentially life-altering pieces of legislation forward. And it raises even more serious doubts about the real-life implications of this bill, something that Zolnikov is tasked with paying special attention to as an elected official.
Watch the video on the bill’s hearing here.