Category Archives: Uncategorized

GUEST POST: Banning and Criminalizing Telehealth Abortions, HB 587, Rep. Keith Regier, Kalispell

by Carol Mackin, Helena

Carole Mackin is the Website Administrator for the People’s Power League in Helena. Learn more at http://www.peoplespowerleague.info

HB 587, sponsored by Rep. Regier, says medical practitioners may not perform an abortion, including a chemically induced abortion, unless they’re in the physical presence of the woman.  Prescribing, administering, or dispensing a drug intended to cause a chemical abortion via telehealth services turns medical practitioners into felons and punishes them with a jail term for a maximum of five years.

Telehealth services are undefined in this bill or anywhere else in Montana law or regulations.  So who defines telehealth?   Since no rule making authority is granted in this bill, the definition depends on the courts–either a court prosecuting a medical practitioner or the Supreme Court deciding constitutionality.

Sometimes a bill’s language triggers a Legal Review Note from Legislative Services.   A note evaluates conformity between the language of the bill, constitution and court rulings.  HB 587 deserved such scrutiny because Montana’s Constitution states “individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.” (Art II, Sec. 10)

HB 587 also may infringe a woman’s right to privacy as determined by the Montana Supreme Court (Armstrong v. Mt 1999) which ruled a woman may seek and obtain a pre-viability abortion from a health care provider other than a “physician only.”  Legislation designed to make it difficult, inconvenient and costly to obtain a specific medical procedure could be seen as interfering with the constitutional right of privacy.

HB 587 remains unamended after clearing the House.  It awaits executive action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Will they address constitutional issues?

 

 

GUEST POST: Did Montana Just Elect A War Criminal To Congress?

by Wade Sikorski

Sikorski is a farmer and rancher in Baker, Montana. , he holds a Ph.D in political science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a degree in Contemporary Political Theory. Before moving to Montana to write books and ranch, he worked as an assistant professor at New Mexico State University. He is active in the conservation movement and has written several books. 

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Ryan Zinke, a former Navy Seal didn’t want to talk, but there he was, talking.  His Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training might have taught him how to get out of tight spots, how to not talk, even if waterboarded, but now he was caught, captured by the much maligned mainstream media, and forced to talk.   There was no escape.  He had to debate his opponents.  There were two of them, basically, the one he was running against and the Montana media, the one that was trying to figure out what he was running for, and both of them were talking democracy, accountability, and answering questions about where he would lead the nation.

Last fall, when Ryan Zinke was running as a Republican against John Lewis, the Democrat, to be Montana’s sole representative in Congress, he consistently led Lewis by significant margins in the polls.  He perhaps felt there was no reason to risk his advantage by giving his opponent a chance to attack him in a debate.  So, he took what many Montanans felt was the dishonorable way to victory: He refused to debate.

The Montana Democratic Party, the Lewis campaign, and various bloggers had a field day ridiculing the Navy Seal who was ducking out of a debate.  A whole series of guest editorials in state newspapers attacked him for not debating.  A Democrat party commercial also ridiculed him for not talking about his role in a political action committee that he had founded, for not talking about a series of election complaints filed against him, and for failing to release his military records.

And then, the Billings Gazette published an editorial saying Zinke had flunked the political courage test for refusing to debate, arguing that if he was going to represent the people of Montana, they had a right to know what he thought, how he would vote.  Imagine that—being a Navy Seal, someone whose courage was supposed to be beyond question, and having the state’s largest newspaper telling everyone you flunked a political courage test.  If war is politics by other means, courage, it would seem, is still the test of character in both.

Afraid of failing more tests of political courage, Zinke finally agreed to debate.  Then things took an even more unfortunate turn.

The editor of the Billings Gazette, Darryl Ehrlich, had been joking with the Lewis camp for weeks about how to fill the hour-long debate if Zinke did not turn up, as he was threatening to do. Someone said that maybe Lewis could play a guitar. Several times after that, Ehrlich teased the Lewis campaign about making sure John was practicing on his guitar.

When the night of the debate came, Ehrlich asked Lewis as they were waiting with Zinke to go onstage if he had his guitar tuned. They laughed.  Several minutes later, according to Ehrlich, Zinke said, “John plays the guitar. I waterboard.”

Such simple words, so admirably clear, so unambiguously precise, and yet so open to interpretation.

Unfortunately Ehrlich didn’t follow up on Zinke’s statement that he had waterboarded people. He later dismissed it as an off-hand comment, maybe a self-deprecating crack, a joke perhaps, though maybe also a veiled threat.  And the Billings Gazette has not published a story since clarifying the issue, despite being sharply criticized for not following up.

So, months later, the question remains: What was it?  A joke or a threat?  Mere bluster or the terrible truth?

There are two separate issues here: One, a possible threat against an editor, and the other, the possibility Zinke tortured people.  First the threat.

Zinke didn’t want to be at the debate, it should be remembered.  Really did not want to be there. He was there because he was shamed into it, in no small part because Ehrlich had published an editorial calling his political courage into question.  It is likely that Zinke resented the editor, and the point of his comment was to remind the editor of what kind of man he was, a Navy Seal who had done things, very possibly including waterboarding, that were not very funny at all.

So, actually, the joke was an anti-joke kind of joke, one that might make Ehrlich more carefully consider his options as an editor.

If you put it this way, a politician threatening an editor with violence because he didn’t want to answer questions about how he would lead the country, freedom of the press does become an issue.  Editors are actually where freedom of the press happens.  Writers, reporters, journalists, cartoonists, and various other kinds of artists might be the heroes of free speech, providing the content we argue over, but editors decide what gets published.  The whole point of freedom of the press is for editors to be free to decide what gets published without anybody involved in government intimidating them.  Freedom of the press is how government is held accountable, and so, even the slightest, most veiled, threat by a politician against an editor is unacceptable.

In the editorial where he reported Zinke’s off-hand comment, Ehrlich angrily denounced the Lewis camp for leaking the comment to the Los Angeles Times.  He argued it was taking an off-hand comment too seriously, playing political gotcha.

But perhaps the Lewis camp was simply, if clumsily, trying to raise a legitimate issue that should have been raised long before.  If Zinke has been involved in torturing people, and is an indictable war criminal, we need to know.  Torture is a war crime, prohibited by the Geneva Convention, the Torture Convention, various domestic laws the military operates under, and by an American tradition that goes all the way back to General Washington, who famously issued an order against it.

But the editor might still have a point, at least if it is about Zinke saying crap that just can’t be taken seriously.

During the campaign, for instance, Zinke said that Hillary Clinton was the anti-Christ.  (That’s one small insult by a man, one giant leap for womankind—final proof of Hillary’s awesomeness, if ever it were needed.  For her to be nominated to the high office of anti-Christ, which had exclusively been reserved for men, shattered a glass ceiling in place for thousands of years.)

In an email to potential supporters, Zinke said that he took part in killing Bin Laden, even though he had retired from the Navy three years earlier.  And, believe it or not, he claimed this after repeatedly attacking President Obama for using the raid for personal political gain.

In a TV interview on Newsmax, Zinke said that the first thing we need to do to deal with the ISIS invasion into Iraq is to secure our border with Mexico. Yes, that’s right, that’s the considered advice of a Navy Seal: ISIS invades Iraq, we need to stop it at the Mexican border.  No need to worry about the long and almost unguarded border Montana has with Canada, or that terrorists might simply do what the 9/11 hijackers did, and get a visa and enter the country legally; we need to stop ISIS at the Mexican border.

In an email to his supporters he warned that a “leftist infiltration is going to take over the country because of the apathy of patriots.”  And then he said that President Obama should be impeached for Benghazi.  “He’s had six years of doing his will to this country, and I believe that’s intentional dismantling of American power both domestically and abroad,” Zinke told The Huffington Post. “So, is impeachment in the cards? Let’s hope we have the votes.”

This was not an isolated attack on Obama; it got worse.  He told the Daily Inter Lake, “It’s time to stop President Obama from negotiating away our freedoms and our ability to win on the battlefield.  For those who have taken an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, it is a call of duty to take back America from a commander-in-chief that is incapable of understanding the sacrifices that have been made for the values that have made America great.”

Think about that last one for a little bit—the “call to duty” from a former Navy Seal, addressed perhaps to his Seal peers, to “take back America” from their commander-in-chief?   Doesn’t that sound just a little bit like a call for mutiny to you?  Or actually, a lot?

Yes, Zinke was retired, and thus a civilian, when he said this, but he was a Seal once too, and so we must wonder: Are his words so impotent that other Seals would not take them seriously?  He was one of them, and he also had some rank among them, which, one might imagine, meant at least once they took what he said seriously, and obeyed his orders. So, now that Zinke has issued his “call to duty” to take back America from our commander-in-chief, will the Seals still take orders from a man one of their own has said is betraying America and should be impeached?

Whether or not anyone is taking him seriously, Zinke is very seriously organizing his former colleagues in special operations to support his political ambitions, dangerously politicizing military organizations that are prohibited by law from becoming political.  In 2012, Zinke organized a super PAC called Special Operations for America, to attack Obama on behalf of special operations personnel for “taking credit” for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.  After the election he continued to take in a large amount of money, and then, just before he filed to run for Congress, he quit his PAC, turned over the leadership to another former Seal, and then became the primary beneficiary of the PAC he had created to attack Obama.

Yes, he actually did that. According to Mother Jones, this was an innovation in campaign financing first pioneered by Stephen Colbert that no one else took advantage of until Zinke came along.  Isn’t that funny?  Campaign financing has become so much a farce, politicians are now taking their leads from comedians.

Until Zinke got involved in politics, Seals were not known for talking much about what they do, and it might be agreed both left and right, though for different reasons, that Zinke has talked way too much, but now that he has started talking about torture, and about a “call to duty” to take back America from a president that he claims has betrayed us all, Zinke needs to talk a whole lot more.  He needs to explain just what he meant when he said what he said–this time without all the crap.

Zinke is a Congressman now, setting national policy, not a Navy Seal, carrying it out.  His words actually matter, even if he says them frivolously, for political effect.  We might be tempted to dismiss what Zinke says as impotent and useless bluster, as the editor of the Billings Gazette seems inclined, but there is a limit to how much we can ignore the man’s crap.  At some point, Zinke must be held accountable for what he says, what he has done, and what he proposes to do.  It’s called democracy, holding leaders accountable.

In his comment to the editor of the Billings Gazette, Zinke suggested he waterboarded people.  Of course we can’t take that as a confession, given his belligerent bluster, but we can take it as an invitation to investigate the possibility.

Here’s a beginning: As a Navy Seal, Zinke was under the command of JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command . According to a page on Zinke’s campaign website, which has since mysteriously disappeared, he held various positions of leadership in the Seals, sometimes as the leader of Seal Team Six. In 2004, he eventually became the Deputy and acting Commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task ForceArabian Peninsula, where he led a force of over 3500 Special Operations personnel in Iraq, conducting 360 combat patrols, 48 direct action missions and hundreds of sensitive missions.

Zinke’s positions of leadership in JSOC in Iraq during the war are significant because if you were a president (or a vice president) who wanted to torture people, as both Bush and Cheney surely were, JSOC would be the preferred means.  Unlike with the CIA or the regular military, Congress has not exercised its oversight powers over JSOC, and because so much of what it does is classified, oversight by the courts or the press doesn’t happen either. No one outside the executive branch asks what JSOC does, and JSOC never tells.  It is like a ghost, there, but not really there.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, told Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for The Nation, that Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often bypassed traditional military command structure by relying on JSOC to carry out their orders.

According to the recent Senate investigation, the CIA tortured a couple dozen people.  JSOC, which was barely mentioned in the investigation, very possibly tortured people by the thousands, using much harsher techniques, and potentially killing a much large number than the CIA.

According to Tim Heffernan, a reporter for Esquire magazine, an elite Army interrogator said that he witnessed both physical and mental torture at a U.S. base in Iraq operated by JSOC.  In 2006, this interrogator, which Heffernan called “Jeff,” told Esquire that he had witnessed the physical and mental torture of at Camp Nama, which was, according to a tedious joke told whenever anyone asked about what happened there, short for NastyAss Military Area.

When “Jeff” objected to the treatment of prisoners there, he was reassured that the Red Cross would never know what went on there, and they would never be called to account.  Under the Geneva Convention, to make sure no one is being tortured, the Red Cross is supposed to have access to all prisoners of war so that it can document their treatment.  According to Jeff “Once, somebody brought (Red Cross access) up with the colonel.  ‘Will they ever be allowed in here?’ And he said absolutely not. He had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in—they won’t have access and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating, even Army investigators.”

According to an article in the New York Times written by Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall, JSOC routinely tortured people at Camp Nama in what was called the Black Room, where the rule was, “No Blood, No Foul.”  As long as there was no blood, the presumption of the leaders operating the camp apparently went, there was no evidence, and no one would get prosecuted for anything they did.

But actually, not even that rule applied.   “The reality is, there were no rules there,” another Pentagon official said, according to the New York Times article.  At least several detainees were beaten until they died.  The torture was so bad the CIA, incredible as it may seem given its own use of torture, bared its personnel from the camp so that they would not be implicated in anything JSOC did.  The Human Rights Watch later published a lengthy report that expanded on the Times article.

Because of the secrecy that JSOC operates under, there is no public record of how involved Congressman Ryan Zinke was with the torture that happened while he was a leader in JSOC.  Conceivably, it might be that he knew nothing of it, or that, if he did know, he was a restraining influence.  However, given his elevated position in the chain of command, and the fact that he was promoted to it during a period when the Bush Administration was interested in finding ways to torture people, one might assume he did know, or even worse and more likely, was deliberately chosen because he was willing to carry out the Bush Administration’s illegal orders.

We don’t know what Zinke did while he was a Navy Seal, since the records are almost all classified, but we do know, at least as far as the issue of torture goes, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, serving in the wrong organization, under the wrong president (and, it should be added, the wrong vice president and the wrong secretary of defense), and, since he has retired, he has said all the wrong things, complaining endlessly about Obama’s restrictions on the rules of engagement, which presumably means limits on torture.  Given all that, the worst is easy to imagine.

According to the Convention on Torture, every country that is a signatory–as the United States is–must investigate and prosecute all instances of torture.  If they fail to do that–as the United States also clearly is–every other country that has signed the treaty has universal standing to prosecute.  So, if Zinke goes abroad, he could be arrested and prosecuted as a war criminal.

Think of what that would feel like, to have our representative prosecuted in a foreign country for war crimes.  The possibility is appalling.  So, here’s the question we in Montana must ask: Is the man we just elected to Congress a war criminal?  If it turns out he is, we cannot, we simply cannot, allow him to continue to represent us.

Gun Nut Threatens Utility Company

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 10.48.10 PM

Gary Marbut

A silly gun referendum has been proposed by Matthew Monforton, the grandstanding Tea Partier from California who recently arrived in Bozeman and now sits in the state House.

This ballot measure would create a new right of action whereby anyone, anywhere, who feels that their guns rights have been “burdened” by any action of anyone else, will essentially be able to sue and collect damages.

To get support, Monforton has enlisted a power player, Gary Marbut, the frightening lunatic who has been appearing at the State Capitol to lobby for gun rights lately.   He lobbies for every right-wing gun bill, such as those that would allow guns in schools, guns on campus, guns in bars and banks; and my personal favorite, the bill that declares all federal gun laws to be null and void.

This week, however, Marbut got carried away.  He sent a threatening letter to Northwestern Energy, scolding them for sending the company’s lobbyist into a hearing at the legislature to oppose Monforton’s stupid referendum.  Northwest Energy forbids firearms on company premises, and they are concerned about potential consequences of this new proposal.  The company could end up facing lawsuits simply because it doesn’t want workers bring guns to the workplace.

According to the Missoulian, Marbut told Northwest Energy that if they continue to oppose the measure, he will “cause political problems” for the company.  Hilariously, his specific threat is that if Northwestern ignores him, Marbut “might start showing up at Public Service Commission hearings to oppose NorthWestern in rate cases or other proceedings, or telling friendly legislators to oppose bills the company supports.”

Something tells me that Northwestern Energy doesn’t really care about Marbut showing up at a PSC hearing.  But I could be wrong.  After all, he will probably have a gun in the hearing.

Corporations Back Bill to Make Us Pay $60 Million of Their Taxes

The telecommunication companies are at it again – with yet another bill this session to shirk their property tax responsibility and pass it on to the rest of us.  The bill, SB 394, was introduced by Senator Blasdel, but it was quite clear in the hearing who actually drafted this:  Proponents included the Montana Taxpayer Association and the Montana Chamber of Commerce.  Charter Communications didn’t testify but was there in full force.  (Charter’s lobbyist did, in fact, testify, but apparently on behalf of the Kalispell Chamber, not Charter.)

So what does the bill do?  Well, it’s complicated, but the bill will exempt virtually all property owned by centrally-assessed telecommunication companies from being taxed. The bill sponsor and its proponents argue that this bill simply codifies the Montana Supreme Court ruling on how the Department of Revenue should value “intangible personal property.”  But the bill goes much further, and in the Department’s view will end up exempting over 90% of Verizon’s property from taxation. While the chart linked to in the last sentence shows no impact on Charter Communications, that isn’t entirely correct. The amount of Charter’s taxes for the past several years is a result of a settlement with Department of Revenue (so this bill wouldn’t have an effect on their taxes from last year), but Charter will most certainly see a reduction in taxes moving forward, just like Verizon and AT&T.

The Budget Office estimates that this will reduce revenue to the state by over $10 million per year.  But even more significantly, the bill will effectively shift property taxes to homeowners and small businesses to the tune of almost $50 million per year.  These taxes have a serious impact on the state’s general fund. It will also result in Montana homeowners paying more in property taxes, while these large corporation pay less.

 

 

Wednesday Quicktakes

Here’s what you need to know today in Montana politics.

What are they afraid of?

The Utah Catholic Conference and Utah’s Catholic bishops have been strong and vocal supporters of expanding Medicaid in Utah for years.

The Most Reverend, Bishop of Salt Lake City John C. Wester, head of Utah’s 300,000 Catholics has chastised state legislators in his state. He’s asked why in “a state that proudly proclaims its pro-life beliefs,” the lawmakers are “frittering away” the chance to expand Medicaid.

“Right now an opportunity to protect the dignity and sanctity of human life in Utah is being squandered by legislators who refuse to act in a morally responsible manner,” the Rev. John C. Wester wrote in the Intermountain Catholic, a weekly newspaper published by the Salt Lake Diocese. “Utah cannot proclaim itself a pro-life state so long as it refuses to provide access to basic health care coverage to a significant portion of its citizens.”

Yet Montana’s Catholic Diocese has done nothing to help Montanans in need except put out this statement in an email. They have not spoken to the press, they have not spoken in hearings.    Perhaps they should listen to Utah’s Bishop:

“While it may make us uncomfortable at times, we are required to speak in the public square and be a voice for the poor, the marginalized and the voiceless. Tens of thousands of Utahns will be impacted by the health care debate…I choose to support the Healthy Utah plan.”–Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake

The Helena Diocese has what only the most charitable would call a major image problem. You would think they would be eager to start discussing something people actually like about Catholics–concern for the poor.  Instead, I’m sure their lobbyist is up at the capitol trying to gut funding for birth control.  Because if there’s one thing poor families need it’s having children before they can afford to – right?

 

2Legit Episode 8 is Out

It’s Time to Stop Making Citizens Pay the Oil and Gas Industry’s Share

If you’ve been following the Montana legislature, you know there are needs across our state and especially in eastern Montana that should be receiving something in return for the big bucks out-of-state oil and gas companies get when they take out finite resources and ruin our roads and pastures.

That’s where Sen. Christine Kaufmann’s SB 374 comes in.  Her op ed in the Great Falls Tribune includes some great comparisons about what the money could have done for Montana if we hadn’t given it away to multi-national companies.

The tax breaks to oil companies in 2014 alone could have instead funded any one of the following:

 Over a third of the projected costs for maintaining roads in eastern Montana as a result of increased traffic from heavy equipment in the area.

 The critical services provided to victims of domestic violence and their families through the 22 shelters in Montana for six years.

 The state’s costs in addressing disaster and emergency services for 20 years.

 The state’s budget for veteran services and their families for 15 years; or

 Three-fourths of the annual state budget for the Montana Highway Patrol.

The revenue Montana lost between 2008 and 2014 could have supported seven years of Early Edge, an investment to ensure Montana’s children enter kindergarten ready to learn.

You can learn more about the oil and gas giveaways here, from the Montana Budget and Policy Center’s latest report.

 

 

GUEST POST: When ideology trumps fact, citizens become the victims

by Steve Muth, of Red Lodge. Muth recently retired as Red Lodge City Judge.

Several prominent Republican legislators, most all of whom are steeped in the tea party,  oppose Governor Bullock’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage for poor and disabled Montanans. Recently, all 10 Republican members of the Montana House Human Services Committee voted a “do not pass” recommendation on Medicaid expansion, meaning that the tea party Republicans will force a supermajority, or 60 Representatives, to bring the measure to the full house for a vote.  A supermajority would require that Democrats along with several moderate, independent-thinking Republicans vote to bring the measure before the House for a vote.  Tea partiers hope that they can keep the rest of the Republican legislators in line with the kind of threats and intimidation they and their out-of-state political pressure groups have made in the past against moderate Republicans in the Montana legislature.

It is believed by many that a majority of legislators favor the Governor’s proposal, but  conservative, tea party Republicans will do all they can to prevent an honest up or down vote in the legislature.

The arguments of the tea party Republicans against Medicaid expansion are in three broad categories:  that the private marketplace, without any interference from hated Big Government, can be relied upon to solve our health care problems; that the refusal to expand Medicare is proof of their own hatred of Obamacare and thus their standing within their own party; and that Medicaid expansion is a free government handout to underserving able-bodied Montanans who refuse to work.

None of these ideological arguments hold water.  In order for Medicaid expansion to receive the consideration it deserves in our legislature, it will be necessary for some Republicans to stand up to this narrow-minded thinking of tea partiers and insist that there be a full house vote on this important issue.

The argument that the marketplace can and will solve all our problems has been made again and again by members of the tea party, but offers no solution to a great variety of social problems, chief among them access to health care.  In 1997 the Montana legislature refused to expand coverage to poor, uninsured Montana children.  Some coverage was expanded by the 1999 legislature, and then Montana voters in the 2008 general election, after further legislative refusal to act, overwhelmingly passed I-155 which effectively established the Health Montana Kids Plan, which has achieved considerable success in bringing accessible health care to poor children in Montana.

During discussions in 2007 at the time of earlier legislative attempts to extend coverage to poor children, I recall then-Representative Scott Sales,  Republican legislative leader, saying that he  opposed spending one more penny on children’s’ healthcare, refusing to acknowledge that there even was a problem with health care for poor, sick and uninsured children.  He said that “if” there was a problem, he trusteed that the corporate ”marketplace” would take care of it.  What he left unsaid was that there is no profit incentive for the “marketplace” alone to offer health coverage to poor children, so that the reliance on the “marketplace” to address the needs of those more vulnerable in our society is an illusion. Today, Representative Sales remains a leader in the Montana legislature, still promoting hatred of Big Government and Obamacare, the political excuse for avoiding honest consideration of the proper role of government in our society .

Even today, children’ health care is still under attack in the Montana legislature.  In this current 2015 legislature, Representative Art Wittich, chairman of the House Human Services Committee and who, with impeccable tea party credentials forced throughhis committee the “do not pass” recommendation for the Governor’s Medicaid expansion proposal, introduced a bill to prohibit government supported health care for poor children whose entire family assets are more than $20,000, an amount apparently considered to be the threshold of wealth.   It would make as much sense to require each legislator to pay out of his own pocket all of his own childrens’ health care bills until his family assets drop below $20,000.  Fortunately, this bill was tabled in committee.  But members of the legislature, of course, keep their own government subsidized health insurance.

Ideological arguments are dogma to the tea party Republicans, and are made to avoid a fact-based debate about government’s responsibility to assist and grow a healthy Montana workforce. The Republican legislators who invoke a visceral hatred of Obamacare do not have to engage in a truthful debate about the benefits to the state of Montana from expanded Medicaid.

Conservative Republican legislators tell us that Medicaid expansion fosters Big Government so that not one penny of federal money will be accepted back into Montana to pay for the expansion.  So instead of accepting back into Montana money that we pay out in federal taxes, Republican Representative Nancy Ballance has sponsored legislation that is a half-hearted expansion of Medicaid, extending coverage to a limited number of deserving Montanans.  This legislation proposes to pay for limited Medicaid expansion by spending Montana’s own state tax dollars.  Should this alternative to Governor Bullock’s plan become law, it would cost as much or more to the state treasury to insure 10,000-15,000 needy Montanans than the Governor’s plan which would cover over 60,000-70,000 Montanans by accepting our fair share of our federal tax dollars.

Although under the Governor’s plan Medicaid expansion would be paid for initially by 100% federal dollars and no more than 90% thereafter, with the match on a sliding scale and the 90/10 level reached not reached until 2020, we are told that we must refuse this support because the federal government cannot be trusted to make its promised payments. This ideological argument ignores the provision in the Governor’s plan which would terminate expanded coverage when and if the federal government failed to make transfers to Montana as promised.  When ideology trumps fact, citizens become the victims.   All we hear from the tea party Republicans and their “American prosperity” backers is that expanding Medicaid with cost money to the state of Montana.   Aside from their attacks on accessible health care for the poor, never have any of these politicos advanced any positive idea to serve the needy in our state and never have they admitted what the real cost to the state will be by failing to expand Medicaid.

Instead of invoking Big Government to avoid its legitimate responsibilities, the question we should ask is “What are the responsibilities of government and how can we satisfy these responsibilities?”.  Do we or do we not have a responsibility to provide access to health care to poor, uninsured children?  Do we or do we not have a responsibility to provide better access to healthcare to veterans, the disabled, the working poor.  Providing reasonable access to health care should be a moral imperative shouldered by responsible government, and which promises to strengthen the overall Montana economy.

The tea partiers unrelentingly pursue a war against the poor in Montana.  In 2013, another Republican legislative leader, Billings Representative David Hagstrom, who makes a living from Section 8 and other government housing subsidies for his low income renters, told his tenants, as reported by the Billings Gazette, that they don’t need “to live as long as they currently do, or as ‘comfortably’ as they currently do.”  He reportedly told his low-income renters “to accept the fact that you and your neighbor are going to have to work harder than ever, maybe take take a second or third job and live on less….”  Representative Hagstrom is still in the legislature and is appointed to the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, responsible for setting the state budget for Montanans in need.

In 2013, I travelled to Helena to testify before a Senate committee in favor of expanded Medicaid coverage and I heard comments made about “deadbeats” who want something for nothing through expanded Medicaid coverage.  This attitudes still guides some Republicans in the 2015 legislature where we hear continuing references to alleged fraud in the “system” and allegations about able-bodied people who refuse to work but who nevertheless want government supported health care.  Some Montana Republican legislators are content to group poor Montanans into an  underclass unworthy of Medicaid expansion.

Who are these low income Montanans who would be covered under the Governor’s plan for expanded Medicaid?  Are they deadbeats looking for a government handout, or are they working and disabled citizens caught in the net of expensive and unaffordable health care and health insurance costs?

According to information provided by the Montana Budget and Policy Center, those who would be covered under the Governor’s plan include over 9,000 veterans, thousands of American Indians, nearly 40,000 other working Montana adults.  These include the many thousands of able-bodied Montanans who do work and whose income is too low to afford insurance coverage.  These workers are waitresses, day care providers, hospitality workers, farm and ranch laborers, and thousands of others who hold down a jobs that we all rely on to our  benefit.  These workers are not deadbeats and do not deserve to be treated that way.  It is no answer to hector them that they should get a second or third job, or that they should expect to live a harder, shorter and less comfortable life.

The alternative plan introduced by a select group of Republican legislators, would cover perhaps 15,000 Montanans who surely deserve assistance with health coverage, but would exclude many thousands more who also merit this assistance.  Data recently released by the Corporation for Enterprise Development shows that Montana ranked 49th in the country for average annual pay, 42nd in the number of low-wage jobs and last for employers offering health insurance.  Montana has also been said to be at or near the bottom for uninsured or underinsured veterans and Native Americans.

It could not be more clear that good government should act to expand Medicaid to the working poor and disabled in our state.   The Governor’s plan is the right place to start.

Steve Muth, Red Lodge

Sen. Driscoll to Receive 2015 Health Advocate for Compassionate Leadership Award

Tonight, Planned Parenthood of Montana is hosting an event featuring entertainment by Katie Goodman’s Broad Comedy. That even is tonight, March 5, in the Helena Great Northern Hotel Ballroom.

As a special highlight, Planned Parenthood will present the 2015 Health Advocate for Compassionate Leadership Award to Montana Senator Robyn Driscoll, honoring her exemplary support and service promoting health care in Montana. Sen. Driscoll is a fantastic legislator and this award is well-deserved. Last year, former Helena legislator Christine Kaufmann was presented the first annual award.

The event will run from 6-9pm and will include a no-host bar and hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, door prizes and a raffle. Individual tickets are available in advance by calling 406-422-1249 or at the door for $50. Student tickets are $20 (with student ID). Seating is first come/first served, but reserved tables of eight are available for $500.

Based in Bozeman, the nationally known Broad Comedy group is head-lined by Katie Goodman. Nominated for an EPIC Emerging Artists Award from The White House Project for changing the perceptions of women in the culture, Broad Comedy is full of energy, musical talent and wit. Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes describes them as, “feisty Broads,” who “attack the funny bone and skewer society with satire and song.” Playwright, performer and activist Eve Ensler calls the group “Fierce, female, fabulous and funny!”

As a leading women’s health care provider in the state, Planned Parenthood of Montana works every day to reduce unintended pregnancy and keep women healthy. An affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, PPMT operates health centers in Billings, Great Falls, Helena, and Missoula, as well as 4 rural, satellite locations across Montana. Planned Parenthood of Montana is the largest provider of family planning services in the state, providing reproductive health care on a sliding fee scale and responsible, comprehensive sexuality education to nearly 16,000 Montanans every year.

For more information about Broad Comedy, please go to:  www.katiegoodman.com. For more information about Planned Parenthood of Montana, go to: www.plannedparenthood.org/montana .

 

Four Pinnocchios for Wittich on Child Support Claim

TEA Party Republican Art Wittich claims that he supports child support enforcement as a way to help families in need, but his voting record shows otherwise.

Dan Brooks wrote at the Missoula Independent recently that:

 

In January, Sen. Art Wittich, R–Belgrade, subpoenaed welfare workers to share anecdotes about fraud before the Health and Human Services Committee. Weeks later, Rep. Tom Burnett, R–Bozeman, told colleagues on his own HHS committee that welfare recipients need to go to church and eat “with others, at a table, not on the couch.” Shortly thereafter, the House passed HB 200, requiring people who receive federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, to take monthly drug tests.

Clearly, Republicans in Helena believe we’re spending too much money on welfare. But if they’re serious about getting people off government assistance, they should look for better ways to enforce child support.

TEA Party Republican Art Wittich said he agreed.  He tweeted that:

“Our focus wasn’t on welfare Moms, but DPHHS management and reform. We should look into Deadbeat Dads too.”

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But what Wittich is hoping none of us find out is that he and 22 of his fellow TEA partiers actually voted to end Montana’s child support program entirely. On March 21, and 23, they voted against HB 227.  Testimony on that bill from the house floor and in committee included the fact that this bill,  if not passed, would end Montana’s entire child support and Temporary Aid for Needy Families programs.  The bill adopts an agreement for international child support enforcement which all states must pass in order to get child support and TANF funds.

Earlier this session, Wittich subpoenaed a hand-picked trio of OPA workers to rail against medicaid expansion and other help for Montanans in need. In an email to lawmakers before the hearing, those workers were caught using an analogy which references the people they were paid to help as “wild animals” and liars.  This is shameful and repulsive.  As Intelligent Discontent writes, given this email has come to light “presumably [Wittich, Ehli, Burnett and crew] were aware of her attitude and lack of evidence—and they chose to present this farce to the people of Montana in order to gin up a controversy about fraud in public assistance programs.”

At the “hearings” in which Ms. Brown and a couple of other Libby public assistance workers were brought in to denigrate Montana’s most vulnerable citizens, no members of the public were allowed to speak, nor was any requirement made that these individuals verify any of the claims they made.  The “hearings” spectacle did serve one purpose: it exposed the motives and true beliefs of Wittich, Ehli and Burnett.

 

 

Montana Astroturf Strategy Backfires on Koch Brothers

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This was a bad week for the Koch Brothers in Montana.

Their astroturf “group,” Americans for Prosperity, is fighting Medicaid Expansion.  That’s right–the Koch Brothers, who are worth $50 Billion – each,  are trying to ensure that someone who makes $15,000 is not able to afford health insurance or medical care.

Zach Lahn, a young GOP operative who was once a Steve Daines campaign aide, is now the head of AFP’s Montana chapter.   Lahn has thus been targeting pro-Medicaid Republican legislators, sending mailers comparing them to Obama, demanding that they sign anti-Medicaid “pledges,” and showing up in a suit holding astroturf “town meetings” in their districts designed to intimidate them.

None of it is working, and the town hall meetings have blown up altogether.  In Dillon this weekend, the legislator being targeted, Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon, actually showed up like an adult at the AFP meeting and naturally wanted to speak.  Lahn would not allow him to.  Wellborn walked out, as did a number of attendees.  You can see a video of this on the Great Falls Tribune website here-- the crowd was not pleased with AFP’s action.

Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell), the former police chief and now a pro-Medicaid Republican legislator from Kalispell, drove eight hours to be at the town hall meeting in his district this weekend and muscled his way to the podium.   That meeting, too, blew up in Lahn’s face.   A Flathead Beacon reporter covered the event:  You can also see some of the Flathead Beacon’s video coverage on the Great Falls Tribune site.

Garner’s mere presence had a chilling effect on the AFP presentation, which was frequently derailed by laughter, booing and shouting from audience members who overwhelmingly expressed support for Garner.

Following a hasty exchange with AFP State Director Zach Lahn minutes before Thursday’s meeting commenced, Garner took the podium to defend his record before the crowd of mostly supporters, who cheered the lawmaker on.

“I promised the people here when I ran that I would listen to you and not out-of-town special interests,” Garner said to raucous applause. “If every time they want me to sign a pledge card and I don’t do it they are going to rent a room and have a meeting, then this is going to get real expensive. Cause I’m not signing the pledge card.”

This is an example of a Tea Party event gone terribly wrong.  And it indicates to me that the Medicaid expansion battle will likely be won.  The moderates will break away and support some version of the Governor’s proposal.

This debacle in Kalispell (which played out in several other districts as well) is part of a larger emerging trend in the country in which classic Tea Party hooligan tactics are not working out like they used to.  A few years back, Tea Party town hall meetings were places where a moderate Republican would overwhelmed by a Tea Party mob.  Now the opposite is happening. This means that the Tea Party is in retreat. Even AFP’s own employees know how terrible their reputation is.

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Perhaps the person who has best summed this all up is GOP Sen. Llew Jones, who penned an op-ed in the Fairfield Sun Times today:

Irrespective of your stance on this, or any issue, these intruders need to get out of Montana politics.   I know that I now consider any issue or individual that AFP advocates for or against as highly suspect.   To me these folks are on the same level as the predator who called my 89 year old mother last week, pretending to be her Grandson, supposedly trapped in a “bad situation” in New York, desperately needing her help, which was defined as $900.00 on her credit card.  “Please Grandma, don’t tell anyone…..!!”   How despicable.. It took my son calling, and me talking to her, to finally calm her down, but she is still very upset and confused.

Predators: get out of Montana, we do not want you here.  We can take care of our own.

The problem AFP is running into is that these districts have rural hospitals that need the medicaid expansion because they currently provide health services to poor people who can’t pay the bills.  Plus Medicaid expansion helps all Montanans – without it, we are all are subsidizing the cost of the uninsured through our insurance bills.  So while Lahn and his pals are making angry speeches at these Munich Beer Hall-type gatherings, Governor Bullock and Lt. Governor McClean are touring the hospital down the street, meeting with workers and even the Republican legislators being targeted, and getting the majority of the community behind them, such as chambers of commerce, as well as local media such as editorial boards. The major newspapers have all turned against AFP and are supporting Medicaid expansion, as has the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

It might seem natural for Steve Bullock to be supporting this but keep in mind that he has taken on a herculean task.  Bullock stands alone as the only Democratic Governor in America who both presides over a Red state and is actively pushing Medicaid expansion.

 

This is Hypocrisy, Plain and Simple

Media coverage of TEA Party Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen’s response to Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s Healthy Montana Plan has failed to explain that Knudsen’s family farm has benefited from large government subsidies, despite highlighting his upbringing on his family farm and ranch and calls to cut government spending.

Rep. Austin Knudsen (R-TEA-Culbertson) is one of the largest beneficiaries of federal farm subsidy payments– $705,941.00 from 1995-2009 in farm subsidy program payments.  And he’s not alone.  Knudsen has said the following:

“The governor’s budget shoots the moon and is everything. We’re going to want to pare it back.”

“Like most Montanans, I was raised not to spend outside my budget. I want to see to it that Helena does the same, because Helena, like Washington D.C., has a spending problem.”

“Republicans are concerned about federal funding.”

“Excessive taxes and government spending in Montana is another primary concern.” *

“All state programs need reduction, across the board.”**

Knudsen himself receives health coverage paid for by Montana taxpayers–from a “third party administered” plan for state lawmakers just like the Healthy Montana Plan–except that Knuden’s plan is more costly than the plan that will cover the working poor.

He’s also been caught lying about Medicaid expansion – he told the Wolf Point Herald that  that “eventually Montana will have to pay for this entire bill” for Medicaid expansion, when in reality, federal law requires the federal government 100% for the first two more years—but never less than 90% of the costs.  That means for every dollar Montana puts in, the feds put in nine dollars.

Knudsen has not spoken out against other federally funded program in Montana.  From energy to telecommunications, roads, defense contracts, law enforcement, national parks, airports, hospitals and local clinics–all are supported by federal payments.

*Sidney Herald, March 12, 2010, http://www.sidneyherald.com/articles/2010/03/12/news/montana/doc4b9abbd4a4d19825926080.txt.
**Billings Gazette, Know Your Candidates Profile, http://billingsgazette.com/app/candidates/all/2010/?area=daniels.