Category Archives: 2014 Elections

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.

GUEST POST: Your Vote Counts

By Mary Ann Dunwell

Mary Ann Dunwell is Representative-elect to Montana House District 84. She was the progressive democratic candidate and will propose progressive democratic policies to help every Montanan enjoy equal opportunity to succeed. She welcomes your questions or comments at 461-5358 ordunwellforhd84@gmail.com


The tight race for Montana House District 84 underscores why it’s so important we exercise our right to vote, our fundamental freedom in a democracy. So many people sacrificed so much for this right, especially veterans who we honor on Veterans Day and every day. By the end of election night, I was up by a mere 20 votes. With provisional ballots counted late this afternoon, we won by 23 votes. I am honored, humbled and don’t take this slim lead for granted. I will represent all Montanans.

This is a win for the young mom I spoke with who was fired from her minimum wage job because she couldn’t get a sitter for her sick child; for the woman with tears in her eyes who asked if I would fight for low income people; for the young couple earning minimum wage struggling to support their family; for the young adults who want to go to college but can’t stomach sky-high loans; for the four-year-old whose young mom can’t qualify for Head Start or afford pre-K; for the woman working a $300-a-week job with no health insurance and living in pain; for the mom whose daughter committed suicide, the sister whose brother took his life, and the mom who struggles to find mental health care for a child. It’s a win for so many others whose voices haven’t been heard.

Thank you to our many supporters who stepped up with me and invested their time, energy and money in our grassroots campaign. You gave up something in exchange for something much greater in which we can all believe – equal opportunity for all Montanans. For those who were not able to vote, I encourage you to please register and vote the next time. Thank you to those who voted this time. Your vote will resonate at the Capitol. Your vote will make sure the people’s voice is heard in the people’s house.

Your vote counts.



Pick Your Heads Up, Democrats

I’ve seen commentary from Democrats on this blog and on Twitter in the days since the election, declaring the Montana election results to be some sort of abject and tragic failure on the part of Democratic candidates, the party, and so on.

That is simply not true.  We did as well as could have been expected.  All of the post mortem commentary leaves one thing out: Democrats in Montana essentially won every race that was winnable. The federal contests never revealed themselves, in pre-election polling dating back 12 months, to be winnable races.  Even though she ran a good race and fought the good fight and generated some buzz, Amanda Curtis never had anything but a highly remote  statistical chance at becoming senator, a miracle required.  It was almost the same for John Lewis.  In a big Democratic year and with a full year or two to campaign, things might have been different. But Amanda was always behind by at least 15 points and Lewis 10, and even if she had lit some type of rare fire and started to tear down Steve Daines, he would have unleashed another three or four million dollars against her, as would the Republican party.  Daines and Zinke were solid Republican candidates in a Republican year in a Republican state. What Lewis and Curtis were each looking for was a monumental upset.  It is not a failure that they did not achieve one.  This was an impossible year for Democrats to send a person to Washington.  It’s just that simple.

The same can be said about our local races–we won what was winnable and we are one of only five states in America where democrats gained legislative seats.  That’s a pretty impressive thing in my view.  And the most important winnable race of all, we won big–the Supreme Court.

So that’s the first point.   The second point is that I would caution people to be careful about simply accepting all of the theories being pushed out there about why Democrats lost.   Because the main and most simple theory is most certainly the correct one:  Montana will not send a Democrat to Washington in a year in which we have a democratic (not to mention black) president at 28% in the polls, in a midterm year, who is fairly inept at articulating what he stands for or believes.

For those who believe that the Democrats should unabashedly come out against the Keystone pipeline, or unabashedly for a pro-immigration position, I have news for you: such positions are extremely unpopular in states like Montana, and very polarizing too. The greenlighting of the Keystone pipeline, for example, is supported by 85% of Montana voters.  Coming out strongly against it, and shouting it from the mountaintop, provides no electoral benefit.

Nationally, I’m not sure that the analysis is much different.  The election was a platform for voters to make an anti-Obama statement, and there’s not much a democrat can do when that’s what an election is about.

 

For the Record: New GOP Legislator Has a Record for Assaulting a Minor

If you google new Republican legislator Gilbert Bruce Meyers (R-Box Elder) some disturbing information comes up.

The GOP legislator was convicted of assault on a minor for abusing his own children, which is a felony, and sentenced to four years in prison. Meyers appears on the Correctional Offender website known as Conweb.  You can see his profile here. 

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Meyers’ sentence included that he was not allowed to live in Broadwater County, where his children lived, because they were afraid of him and afraid to ride their bikes around the small town they lived in for fear of running into him or that he would find them on their way to and from school.

Convicted child abuser Gilbert Bruce Meyers with Steve Daines

Convicted child abuser Gilbert Bruce Meyers with Steve Daines

For some reason, there is no mention of this public information in today’s Havre Daily News puff piece on the new Republican legislator, nor could I find evidence that they reported the information when voters needed it – before the election.

It’s unfortunate that the Democratic party did not inform voters of Meyers’ criminal background during the campaign.  Meyers challenged Rep. Clarena Brockie (D-Harlem) who has served the district well for the past two years and is the dean of student affairs at Aaniiih Nakoda College.

Convicted child abuser and GOP legislator Gilbert Bruce Meyers (center) with fellow GOP legislator Kris Hansen (right)

Convicted child abuser and GOP legislator Gilbert Bruce Meyers (center) with fellow GOP legislator Kris Hansen (right) and new legislator Rep. Stephanie Hess, also of Havre.  This is the party of family values. 

Meyers was appointed director of Indian Affairs under former Republican Governor Judy Martz, but resigned suddenly after only a few months on the job “for personal and family reasons.”  Martz earned national derision herself for saying at a public speaking even that her husband never beat her but “then again she never gave him a reason to.”

Convicted child abuser and Republican legislator Gilbert Bruce Meyers with Ryan Zinke

Convicted child abuser and Republican legislator Gilbert Bruce Meyers with Ryan Zinke

Convicted child abuser Gilbert Bruce Meyers and the Hill County GOP with fellow GOP legislator Kris Hansen

Convicted child abuser Gilbert Bruce Meyers and the Hill County GOP with fellow GOP legislator Kris Hansen (R-Havre).  Family values Republicans all.

 

 

 

Worst Political Ads of 2014

Here’s a treat for everyone in need of a good laugh to get rid of some post-election stress.

The Cowgirl Blog has scoured the web in search of the worst campaign ads of the 2014 cycle.  Here they are.

1. For reasons unknown beyond a cracked noggin, this Iowa candidate for U.S. Senate stops in the middle of his ad, turns to the camera, and says:

“If you’re the socio-path and sexual predator who murdered my sister Lynette, and you come to my front door to do harm to my girls, I’m going to use my Glock to blow your balls off.”

Ignore the dial testing graphics.

2. This newspaper ad, which appeared in the Lewistown News Argus, pretty much sums up the Montana GOP’s world view and campaign strategy:
butcher ad

3. The National College Republicans put out a series of ads like this, since I guess they don’t believe women have been insulted enough yet.

4. This ad, produced by an (unsuccessful) Republican candidate for the Mississippi state house named Chris McDaniel, features a series of non sequiturs.  It starts with a Lincoln impersonation voice-over, then some very bad actors engage in a forced promotion of some nutjob’s book, then someone says they “had a dream about that.” Then some very strange singers sing a very strange song.

5. This ad by Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton commits one of the biggest sins in PR – using your own air time to spread your opponents attacks on you.  Then there’s an awkward part where he says his opponent says he hates puppies, then admits that it actually did take him a while to like his girlfriend’s puppy, then he tries to say he was “just joking.” And that’s the entire ad.

Election Analysis

Now that it’s all over but the shoutin’, Democrats should feel okay about last night’s results. The one big, competitive and crucial race that mattered most, we won big. Mike Wheat destroyed Lawrence VanDyke to retain his supreme court seat.

Despite all of our pre-election optimism, no polling prior to the election at any point, ever indicated that the two federal races were winnable. They showed consistent double-digit leads for the Republicans. This speaks to the courage and backbone of the candidates and staffers who took on Daines and Zinke- we can be proud of them all.

Daines and Zinke ran smart races (not the intellectual content, but the strategy) and did what they needed to do. Amanda Curtis and John Lewis ran into an anti-Obama buzzsaw, and there was little they could do at all to scale the cliff that lay before them. Candidates of a lesser caliber would have fared much worse. Both have very bright political futures.
And for anyone who thinks John Walsh would have fared any better had his plagiarism not been uncovered–he might have put up better numbers but he still would have been beaten and probably pretty badly. Realize that Obama in Montana has lower numbers than he did in any of the other states in which important senate races were lost. This was not a night for a Montana democrat to win a ticket to Washington DC.
I was shocked at how badly Wheat beat VanDyke, but it goes to show you that Montana voters have a good nose and can sniff things out, and smell when something is not right.

We lost some good men and women last night: Franke Wilmer and Greg Jergeson, incumbents who lost state senate races will be missed. these were targeted Senate races that ended up not even being close. Jergeson eschewed help from the party, refusing to allow canvassers to go door-to-door, and this was a mistake that we can learn from and apply to future races. Wilmer struggled likely because Bozeman is Daines country and he got his people out. Ultimately, however, the tide was simply too strong against us to make more than small gains, much like in 2010.

 

In the state house, however, Dems picked up two seats, and the senate remains the same as last session. This is a small victory which deserves a big celebration in this climate.  It also means a net gain of one additional pro-Medicaid expansion vote in the house.

 

Also two big Helena races went our way. Mary-Anne Dunwell beat Steve Gibson and Moffie Funk beat Liz Bangerter, both rep seats. Bangerter is an angry right-winger who now understands that Helenans have no tolerance for posturing.
Two close shaves, by the way in Missoula. Diane Sands, of Missoula, was in the fight of her life last night in what had been thought to be a safe seat. It looks like she will win by a dozen or so votes. And Gary Marbut, the NRA lunatic, barely lost by a handful of votes, but again in a seat that was supposed to be safe. I think we can all cheer the fact that RWNJ Gerry O’Neil is no longer a member of Montana’s lawmaking body, thanks to Zac Perry.

 

Another major victory is the defeat of the Teapublican ballot measure to restrict voting rights. It lost big, and rightly so.
One dark spot last night, not of Obama’s making, is in Big Horn County- home of the Crow Reservation, where Daines and Curtis battled to a draw. That’s a serious problem for Democrats and we need to repair it. We also need to be mindful of the number of TEA party candidates who are directly in the pocket of the Montana Family Foundation- notorious anti education but jobs. They elected another of their lobbyists Debra Lamm, but thankfully Tonya Shellnut lost to Mary McNally.

Montana Legislature Looks Similar to 2013, Dems Make Small Gains

During the 2013 session the House had 61 Republican and 39 Democratic members, and the Senate had 29 Republican and and 21 Democratic members.

As of my bleary morning preliminary count, it looks like the House is 59 R and 41 D and the Senate is 29 R, 21 D.

Lots of very close races, some could be headed to recount.  I’ll have more later, and will recheck these numbers but for now I must say:

GREAT WORK MARY ANN DUNWELL!!

(And many others – Zac Perry, Mary McNally, Janet Ellis, Virginia Court, Moffie Funk, Kim Dudik, Chris Pope, Casey Schreiner- full analysis later today.)

So proud of you!

 

AP Calls Supreme Court Race for Wheat, Rice

Mike Wheat and Jim Rice will both retain their seats on the Montana Supreme Court.  This is spite of a massive amount of out-of-state dark money and some really subpar fake voter guides that we were supposed to believe were a “research experiment” on us.

Congratulations to both justices and to the members of their campaign staff – and to the hundreds of Montanans across the state who made this happen.

KECI has more here, including for some reason, a bio paragraph on VanDyke but not on Wheat, who was the winner, making the piece somewhat reminiscent of an obituary.

If you don’t know who Mike Wheat is yet, here’s what you need to know.

Wheat served in the Marine Corps as a combat soldier in Vietnam in 1968-69, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart.

He earned a BA in political science from the University of Montana and my law degree from the University of Montana Law School.  He then served as a criminal prosecutor, built a successful law practice and am honored to have served two sessions in the Montana State Senate.   He has practiced law in MT for 36 years.

Wheat and his wife of 40 years, Debby, have three sons.

 

 

Happy Election Day – Go Vote

Some helpful sources of information for today:

1.  If you want to know where you are registered to vote, the location of and directions to your polling place, the status of your absentee ballot, or to see a sample ballot you can do so on Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s website: https://app.mt.gov/voterinfo/ 

2.  If you want to make sure that the candidate you’re voting for is pro-choice, go to the NARAL Pro-Choice Montana Voter Guide.

3, Election results will be posted on the Secretary of State’s website after 8pm tonight:

http://electionresults.sos.mt.gov/

4.  Flathead Memo will be live-blogging election results tonight here- http://www.flatheadmemo.com/

5. Election Day Celebrations:

Amanda Curtis in Butte
(Jon Tester will be there from 3:30pm – 5:00pm) 
100 East Broadway

John Lewis in Helena
(Jon Tester will be there from 6:30-8:00pm)
995 Carousel Way

Gallatin County Dems
8 PM – 11 PM
Wild Joe’s Coffee House, 18 W. Main Street, Bozeman

Forward Montana/MontPIRG in Missoula
Flathead Lake Brewing Company of Missoula
424 North Higgins Ave (Next to Charlie B’s)
6pm-10pm

Great Falls election Watch Party
Dark Horse Hall at the Celtic Cowboy,
116 1st Ave South at 7:00 pm.

Yellowstone County Democrats Election Night Party
404 Houle Dr., Billings
8pm

If you know of others send them my way or post them in the comments!

Please consider this post an election day open thread.

 

UPDATE: Stanford and Dartmouth Caught Copying Each Other’s Mailergate Letters, Also Stanford Misspells Name of MT Senator

A disturbing new development in the mailergate scandal this week.

As Cowgirl readers will recall, Sen. Tester wrote a scathing letter criticizing the unethical and potentially illegal acts committed by professors employed by these schools. Sen. Tester had given the schools a deadline to respond (which you can read here).

UPDATE: It turns out that Stanford met that deadline with their response letter, but Dartmouth did not.  Not the other way around as I had earlier been told.  (To be fair, it is not known at this point if someone’s dog may have eaten the Dartmouth response.)

Then when Dartmouth finally did respond they essentially copied the (somewhat patronizing) Stanford letter word-for-word in many passages.  Or perhaps they both decided to compare notes. Stanford couldn’t even be bothered to spell Sen. Jon Tester’s name correctly.

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Here is a handy color-coded guide to identifying the identical passages:

Pink text. Passages taken verbatim.

Yellow text. Passages taken virtually verbatim.

For example here’s Dartmouth’s opening paragraph from its letter:

“On behalf of Dartmouth College, I sincerely apologize for the confusion and concern caused by the voter participation research study independently undertaken by Dartmouth and Stanford political scientists referenced in your letter dated October 24. As you know, Montana officials have begun an inquiry in response to a complaint that was filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices with which we are fully cooperating.”

And here is Stanford’s:

“On behalf of Stanford University, I sincerely apologize for the confusion and concern caused by the voter participation research study independently undertaken by Stanford faculty members in partnership with their colleagues at Dartmouth College. As you know, Montana officials have begun an inquiry in response to a complaint that was filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices. We are fully cooperating with that inquiry.”

The entire letter is like this.

This obviously speaks volumes about how seriously they are taking this.

If anything, Stanford should be taking the matter more seriously than Dartmouth, since they contributed $100,000 worth of resources (over 1/3) of the project, although they claim none of this has been spent.   The school’s response to the press so far has been to emphasize the Hewlett Foundation’s funding for this disaster and to de-emphasize their own contribution.

Montanans still need to know who approved the expenditure of $100k on a project that included these fake mailers – why Stanford released the funds without requiring the project to undergo any review.  Do they just give $100,000 to anyone, without review, no questions asked?

If that’s the case, I encourage them to send $100,000 my way for a very important blogging project I’m working on. Once I become a blogging billionaire, I promise to give the members of the Stanford endowment board a $5 annual discount on a subscription to this important news publication.

UPDATE: Stanford has contacted the Cowgirl blog to ask that I tell you that:

The mailer sent by Dartmouth and Stanford faculty members to Montana voters the week of Oct. 22 cost a total of $38,000. Those funds were entirely from an unrestricted grant from the Hewlett Foundation. 

As is pointed out in the comments to this post,

Buried in the fine print (on Stanford’s website on mailergate):

“The project was funded by an unrestricted grant from the nonprofit William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The $250,000 grant was for the researchers to study issues including electoral geography, political polarization, redistricting and other topics. Of that, about $34,000 was used for the study involving Montana elections. The Hewlett Foundation had no control over the study and did not review the mailers. Stanford University also committed $100,000 in matching funds for the work of the researchers’ lab, the Spatial Social Science Lab, though none of this money has been spent yet. ”
http://news.stanford.edu/votermailer/