Political Gossip, Satire, and Analysis from MT's Capital City "…a viral sensation…"–Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos "Among the best state-based political blogs in the nation."–Washington Post "MT Cowgirl gets more scoops than anyone. The online voice of the left in Montana." –Billings Gazette
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.Tweet
Yesterday, the Montana House of Representatives debated the massive cuts Republicans have made to help for people in need. Montana’s largest newspaper has reported and written opinions over and over again denouncing what they call “the Montana Republican Party’s war on the poor.”
From cutting funding that helps seniors, gutting protections for abused kids, justice for the poor, infrastructure, economic development, children’s health insurance and people with disabilities – the GOP-controlled legislature made broad and deep cuts, the impacts of which will hit the most vulnerable Montanans and hit them hard.
This war on the neediest Montanans is not just part of the GOP plan – it is apparently a source of great pride for GOP leadership. Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen has apparently even bragged about it at a recent Republican fundraising banquet.
Let’s not forget that Knudsen is one of the largest beneficiaries of government funds: federal farm subsidy payments– $705,941.00 from 1995-2009 in farm subsidy program payments. And he’s not alone.
To be sure, not everyone was gloating about declaring war on the poor like Knudsen. The attitude rank and file Republicans was manifested to the public during debate on an amendment to address the GOP’s cut to suicide prevention in Indian country. (Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation.) During the debate, this picture was taken, in which TEA Party Republican Kerry White (R-Bozeman) appears to be watching a movie on his tax-payer funded laptop.
UPDATE: I said one picture, but sadly it turns out this kind of incident isn’t isolated- here’s Rep. Vince Ricci (R-Laurel) doing a little online car shopping during the budget session.
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.
David Lenio is the white -supremacist, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and holocaust denier who tweeted comments saying he wants to execute “grade school students” and “shoot up a school” and a synagogue, and put “two in the head” of a rabbi or Jewish leader. He also said he hoped to go on a killing rampage until “cops take me out.”
When they arrested this white supremacist, he had just finished a day of snowboarding in Montana. He had marijuana and a pipe in his van (along with jugs of urine). He worked as a cook in a local restaurant, and had three guns. He had on Sunday retrieved ammunition and two rifles—a bolt-action and a semi-automatic—from his storage locker.
Lenio even threatened the guy who uncovered his threats on Twitter.
That guy is Jonathan Hutson who has a background in investigative journalism and now serves as communications director for the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence. He is also the dad of a first grader. After Hutson discovered Lenio’s threats–and endured threats against Hutson himself and Hutson’s kids– FBI agents and local law enforcement officials in Montana and two other states were able to track Lenio down.
Meanwhile, there are just a few of the gun bills still being pushed forward by the MT legislature:
Legalize guns and rifles in office parking lots. HB 505 the official title of which is “establish employee safe travel to work laws”, by Matthew Monforton (TEA-Bozeman)
Lift the prohibition on carrying concealed weapons in bars, parks, and schools. HB 371 by Rep. Kerry White (TEA-Bozeman)
Legalize guns on college campuses. by Rep. Cary Smith SB 143 (R-TEA Billings)
Allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon. HB 298 Bill Harris (R-Winnett)
Nullify all federal gun laws. HB 203 by Rep. Art Wittich (R-TEA Bozeman)
Encourage the manufacturing of ammunition to prevent a national shortage. HB 122 by Matthew Rosedale (R-TEA Glendive)
Hutson shared some of Lenio’s tweets with the Cowgirl blog, and they are indeed disturbing. You can see them below the fold (click continue reading):
Harvey Investments L.P. in Dillon is a small, family owned business. They have a positive relationship with the State of Montana, providing full service leasing of office space for over 23 years. During that time, they have responded accordingly to the changing needs of state agencies, especially DNRC. Through years of working with the State, a high level of trust has been established. They are now also the victims of one of the worst Senate administrations in the history of Montana.
Business relationships are all about trust. Due to that trust, Harvey Investments has worked closely with the Department of Natural Resource Conservation to find an economically prudent way to solve the office space problems that DNRC has in Dillon. The company was able to negotiate on an existing property and remodel it suit the operational needs of the Dillon DNRC unit. That was a significant investment of capitol and resources; based on trust.
The project has been completed and the DNRC has already moved in and is preparing for the upcoming fire season. Harvey Investments secured the loan from a local bank using their own collateral, creating economic opportunity within the community, which is how local business should work. That’s how partnerships between the State and private enterprise should happen – clean, honest and transparent.
Maybe Senator Matt Rosendale (R-Drone Killin’) didn’t realize that an amendment he offered would have screwed this small company in Dillon. Maybe he was just pissed that Dick Anderson didn’t back a horse whose support was a mile wide and an inch deep and ultimately picked Zinke as the winner of the Republic Primary. Maybe he didn’t understand that by screwing people over because they saw the light and knew that a Marylander with an accent as thick as a D.C. Crab-cake wasn’t going to win, he put the state in a position that would have led to litigation and big settlement, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s tough to see that far in advance after you shot down your drone, after-all.
The committee amended the Rosendale amendment to exclude the Dillon property after finally acknowledging their unintended consequence of screwing over more people than just Dick Anderson. But the issue of political pay-back against Dick Anderson for exercising his constitutional rights to engage in the political process can continues to move forward, putting at risk good paying jobs and contractual obligations made by the State. Now, the amendment is specific to Lewis & Clark County and Anderson Construction because, well, f*** you.
But as you can see from this letter Senate President Debby Barrett had drafted relative to Dick Anderson Construction and the DNRC office building being built, that same kind of trust that occurred with Harvey Investments in Barrett’s own district isn’t good enough for the political machine that’s almost running the session. In their rush to screw one contractor, they inadvertently screwed with a bunch of them, putting the trust that has been developed between the state and private enterprise at risk.
Why would Senator Barrett think that attacking private enterprise is a good idea? Consider the sources – Rosendale, Barrett and former Senator turned leadership lackey Dave Lewis don’t like that Dick Anderson supported Bullock’s HB 5, which would have created thousands of jobs and helped shore up Montana’s failing infrastructure. Maybe Barrett’s been grooming her personal assistant, Diane Rice, to primary Jeff Welborn (R-Common Sense) if he runs for the soon to be vacated Senate Seat. As the Missoulian reported, it was Barrett who recruited Welborn to run for election to the House in 2008.
He thought they worked well together on local issues, only to have Barrett and others attack him in his primary in 2014. She wrote a letter to the Dillon Tribune calling Welborn a hypocrite for attacking his opponent’s receipt of political action committee money when Welborn donated to another PAC.
Maybe Dave Lewis is just kind of a dick who would rather play games with people’s lives than allow for sensible policy to move forward. Maybe Senator Rosendale finally got that drone, but it wasn’t the drone he was looking for. Who knows.
Rosendale, Lewis and Barrett should be ashamed of themselves. That takes a bit of self-awareness so it’s doubtful it will happen. They put a lot of jobs on the line for political retribution, and rather than act like responsible adults, they slink around the capitol trying to act like they know what they’re doing. Fortunately, Representative Carl Glimm admitted there were unintended consequences of this retribution and Rosendale’s amendment was amended to only screw Anderson Construction and the DNRC. But here’s the thing: In their rush to punish political adversaries in their own party, Lewis, Rosendale and Barrett not only just about cost small businesses their companies, put countless jobs at risk and tripped on their own dicks in the process, they could have severely limited the ability of our state land managers of their ability to fight fires, oversee grazing and generally ensure that State Management of lands would be done in a sensible manner.
Rosendale and Barrett are big proponents for transferring public lands to the state government, but given how poorly they’ve managed this tiny issue, are we sure these are the people we want to managing 29 million acres of public land?Tweet
When it comes to women’s health, Republican says we should think about what a veterinarian would do.
TEA Party Republican Bill Harris, of Winnett, MT
Why can’t TEA Party Republicans in the Montana Legislature talk about women without comparing us to animals?
In an executive action session of the House Human Services Committee yesterday, Rep. Bill Harris (R-TEA Winnett) compared abortion doctors to veterinarians. Harris said:
“Whether you call this an unborn fetus or an unborn what–anything else, it still rises to the level of needing a humane consideration.
And if I took an animal regardless of what it was, whether it was dying or whether it was just needin’ unwanted or wanted rid of, to a veterinarian to have it euthanized that veterinarian would go to every effort to do that in as painless and as humane a way as he could manage, so for obvious reasons, I’m a yes to this bill.”
Harris was arguing in favor of HB 479 by Rep. Al Olszewski (R-TEA Flathead). The bill is your basic junk science fetal surgery bill. It says physicians will lose their licenses unless they disregard the will of the patient in favor of pseudo-science.
This is one of the most offensive bills this session (and that’s really saying something). It treats women as incubators who should have no voice or opinion when it comes to procedures involving our own bodies .
Rep. Olszewski, TEA Party Republican from the Flathead, who wants to force women to undergo junk science medical procedures at our expense.
Under the bill, the physician must also determine the gestational age of the fetus by performing “any medical examination and test” that the physician deems reasonable. The only way to do this is through mandatory vaginal probe ultrasounds – but presumable Rep. Olsewski was hoping no one would point this out, as forcing women to do this has been the subject of much national outrage.
Rep. Jenny Eck, Rep. Jessica Karjala, and Rep. Ellie Hill spoke out against the bill during the committee meeting and against the offensive comments of Rep Harris. Committee Vice-Chair Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) said,
“I think its shocking that party that ascribes itself with a philosophy of less government is giving us yet another bill of more government. This is not scientifically proven, not medically necessary, and that’s going to cost women in the state of Montana more money.”
“I’m sad to hear this bill, I’m sad to hear one of the Representatives on this committee make an analogy to veterinarians…I think that this bill is a shame.”
House Minority Whip Rep. Jenny Eck (D-Helena) said:
“I’m sorry if women’s bodies get in the way of the development of a fetus; but that’s the reality. And until there is a day when babies can be grown in an incubator without women’s bodies, you’re gonna have this problem where, yes, we are the vessels that carry fetuses. And you can’t get around that fact.
We have a will of our own. We have opinions of our own. And we have lives of our own. So as soon as we become treated as just an incubator it becomes very problematic.
And, I would say, very different from a situation where someone puts their dog down at the veterinarian’s office.
During the 2011 session, Rep. Keith Regier, now a member of GOP legislative leadership, compared women to cattle on the floor of the House of Representatives. Regier analogized that pre-tested cows are more valuable than open cows in his speech arguing in favor of forced births for rape victims. Then TEA Party Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns made headlines by “comparing Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to a studding English bulldog named “John-Boy,” and here’s the story.
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Those of us on the left of center are still nursing the gash made by the Montana House Human Services Committee vote on HB 249 Friday evening. The wound is especially deep because of the types of articles we have seen on this very Web site: the Neo-Nazi links to the President of the Montana Senate and another staffer who was a registered lobbyist, the assorted bills that have or have not yet received a vote, and the distasteful feeling that a group of citizen legislators who control the process are not so much answering to citizens. It is easy to lose perspective in the face of this.
It is also easy to lose hope and view the other side as evil. Just look at the comments section any given day. There is no doubt there are some truly evil people in the Montana GOP. But a group of Republicans are also not happy with how things are going. They may not appreciate being lauded or written about by someone from the left but that is what I want to do. And to make it more dramatic, this session they will determine the fate of their party and how voters perceive Montana’s government.
They are Republicans like Representative Steve Fitzpatrick. Before the break, Fitzpatrick took to the House floor to denounce the support and vote on the so-called “Agenda 21” bill. It was a ridiculous vote and the bill did not pass. Even some on the extreme edge of the GOP did not vote for it. Shortly after that, Fitzpatrick introduced HB 454, a bill that would alter how candidates get to the ballot and would salvage the primary process rather than accept the purity test other Republicans desire.
It is in the vote for HB 454 that you can see the battle lines for the bills that are about to come. There are probably other bills that show this, but I consider this vote the litmus test for what is possible in the House. It was 54-45 and you can pick out the 13 Republicans who broke with the rank-and-file to pass this bill. Maybe a couple hit the wrong button but even so, that leaves at 10-11 members who can make that all important majority on the floor. These are the ones who can continue to break free and pass the key bills of this session. They can also take others with them–*cough* Kelly Flynn *cough* (I know you have it in you Representative Flynn, you said such great things about financing BMAs in your committee and have taken some dip-my-toes-in-moderation votes on the floor.)
This group that creates a majority on the floor includes people like Christy Clark, Frank Garner, and Jeff Welborn. All of whom received surprise visits from Americans for Prosperity in their districts and mailers featuring them in juxtaposition with the President. I’m guessing none of them voted for President Obama and I can respect that. But they want rural health care and to keep their hospitals running. Now they will not have that chance. There are other rural Republicans in the same boat, but they have been silent so far.
This baker’s dozen of Republicans are targeted for being too soft and liberal, which is insane given their voting records and endorsements. In the face of it, Representative Clark had the courage to say, “I signed their stupid pledge and they’re still on me.” Such a telling quote.
When the Montana GOP staffed the Human Services Committee—assuredly with the aid of outside groups and the Republican members of Congress—they knew exactly what they were doing. None of the 13 who voted for HB 454 are on it. In fact, very few of the 13 are on any of the committees hearing the key bills this session. If HB 249 came to the floor, I would wager that nearly all of them would vote for it and that is why Chairman Art Wittich was so quick to defeat it.
HB 249 faces a tough challenge to get to the floor and even though time has passed, Minority Leader Chuck Hunter has left open the option to use the Rules Committee. It’s messy, but that would work for most of the big bills given the committee dynamics. It will take 60 votes to bring it up and the lift for another six is heavy indeed. You have to wonder if there aren’t several other Republicans willing to at least give the bill a proper hearing on the House floor. This baker’s dozen of Republicans should do what they can to sway some votes to at least bring this bill to the floor.
The Senate is obviously a friendlier place for the key bills and has a good slate of moderates who would ensure the bills end up on the Governor’s desk. Again, a campaign finance vote showcased who they are when Senator Duane Ankney’s SB 289 passed 28-22. Seven Republicans voted with the Democrats. Among them was Senator Ed Buttrey who is floating a Medicaid bill of his own and Democrats will also need to moderate if his bill can pass. I am not crazy about people in poverty having to pay when most of them have pennies left in their budget at the end of the month. But that is better than no care. If HB 249 can’t make it off the table then Buttrey deserves the same level of support as it received.
If Ankney’s campaign finance bill gets through House committee, it should pass with that majority of 54 or so on the floor. It was a bit of bureaucratic genius to watch Fitzpatrick, some other moderates, and the Democratic caucus move it to the moderate-packed business and labor committee earlier last week. Who was at the helm? Representative Fitzpatrick, no less. So at least, with the support of Republican moderates in committee and on the floor, campaign finance will see the light of day. It makes sense, given they are the ones taking the brunt of the attacks from out-of-state dark money meant to flip this state.
And if you look at it, based on the votes in the House, the Tea Party/Libertarian wing of the GOP is a minority party. They are strong and in control, but they are a minority in some of the votes they so strongly want to bring to the floor. The danger for Montana, and the state GOP and outside forces know it, is that nothing passes and nothing happens. If your philosophy is that the government is broken, then you make sure to break it. The inertia in D.C. has turned citizens against the process. By doing that in Montana, as they are in other states, these groups ensure they remain in power. If the moderates want to legislate, they need to legislate. If they do nothing or have nothing to show, they will lose elections because of growing voter apathy. This is what the forces behind the Montana GOP want.
In spite of all the money they’ve spent to force their views into state policy, AFP does not actually have much grassroots support from Montanans. The recent “Liberty Banquet” they held appears to have been attended mostly by AFP’s own paid staffers.
The fringes are loud and controlling but I refuse to believe that they represent Montana. Their voice and power has grown too strong. It would be a welcome change to make this a legislative session where we—citizens and citizen legislators—took some of that power and voice back. I write this as an appeal to the 13 Republicans in the House and the seven in the Senate who took a tough votes on campaign finance bills to keep their backbones for the tougher votes to come. I appeal to them to work with others in the GOP who are on the edge. If they are worried about not being re-elected, the easiest way to ensure that outcome is to do nothing.
So let’s salve the wounds, pick ourselves back up, and find some not so distant soldiers-at-arms for the coming battles. Encourage Democratic legislators and those key moderate Republicans to work with one another to get things done. Legislators need to ignore those voices on the extreme right wing minority of the House and Senate and work with your fellow Montanans across the aisle. We only get one shot at this every two years and giving the radical right of the Montana GOP the apathy they desire would poison our politics for years to come.Tweet
The members of the House Human Services Committee who used a rules bait and switch trick to block health care for 70,000 working poor Montanans paid for by the federal government each willingly except two years of health care paid for by us the taxpayers.
It’s a point that’s was made both by Governor Bullock in his state of the union speech and by that the Billings Gazette editorial made this past week in their support of Governor Bullock’s Medicaid expansion was that Montana taxpayers spend $887 per month on health insurance premiums for each state employee and for each of the 150 lawmakers who choose to be on the state health plan. You can see the entire list here. “Waived opt 2″ means they accept a cash stipend (paid for by you and me) to pay the bill for the insurance they get through their job, spouse, or parents.
Rep. Stephanie Hess, Rep. Lawrence Redfield, Rep. Art Wittich, Rep. Kirk Wagoner, Rep. Doane, Rep. Bill Harris, Rep. Forrest Mandeville and Rep. Vince Ricci all accept it and are Republicans on House Human Services committee who voted “do not pass” on HB 249 on Friday, March 6th. Rep. Seth Berglee and Rep. Al Olszewski accepted the cash stipend from the state and voted “do not pass”. So all of the legislators (all are Republicans) on the committee that voted against the Healthy Montana Plan accept Montana taxpayer funded health insurance.
You’ll note that also on the list are Nancy Ballance, who claimed that adults who don’t have a disability with no children living at home (like herself) should not get government-funded health coverage with her HB 455. And Fred Thomas, chair of the Senate Public Health Committee. And Cary Smith, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 148 which he claims will “reform” Medicaid (which to him simply means kicking tens of thousands of people out.) Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen is on it–so is Senate President Debby Barrett. And readers of this blog (and anyone who has been on the internet ever) know that the Americans for the Prosperity of the Koch Brothers front man Joe Balyeat took taxpayer funded healthcare when he was in the legislature.
Isn’t it interesting that we never hear them complaining about how much their insurance costs the taxpayer, how it will “crowd out” services for people with disabilities, how it will harm funding for schools and roads, how much their insurance will cost us 10 or 55 years from now, or other such nonsense.
The Montana AFL-CIO boycotted an event yesterday hosted by the Montana State Fund, an event billed as one “honoring workers and the 1915 Worker’s Compensation Act.”
A press release from Al Ekblad, the union’s chief, described the State Fund as having “an active role in attacking workers, not honoring them.” Ekblad accused the State Fund of cutting benefits, taking away rights of injured workers to pick their own doctor, and working behind the scenes to deprive firefighters of presumptive illness coverage. Word on the street is that the State Fund had hoped that the popular Lt. Gov. Angela McLean would attend the event, but McLean, a strong supporter of working families, did not attend.
The State Fund is a public entity but is run like a massive for-profit corporation. Though it is charged under Montana law of providing a public option for businesses who seek affordable workers compensation insurance, it often follows what appears to be a predominantly profit-oriented motive, and does this by limiting payouts to injured workers to the extent it can. In other words, it operates like a private insurance company.
Ekblad accused the Fund of diverting profits to exorbitant salaries and benefits of its executives, some of which approach half a million bucks a year. Some of these are well known among Helenans, who have of course seen the giant and beautiful new building that the MSF built for itself a few years ago, which looks like something that might have been designed by Frank Gehry or some other world class architect. Meanwhile many state agencies budgets have been cut the extent that they are housed in crumbling buildings with mid-century wiring and rotting carpet in order to minimize the cuts the legislature made to services for those they serve.
In recent months the State Fund has shown questionable judgment. They ran an ad campaign with the slogan “Work Heals,” designed to get injured workers back on the job ASAP and thus help keep the State Fund’s coffers nice and full. But the ad campaign was pulled when it was pointed out that it resembled the Nazi campaign to promote the benefits of Auschwitz (“Work Sets You Free”), and besides that, was just insulting to laborers. Then early this year (speaking of Nazi-like rhetoric), just before the legislature convened the State Fund announced that it had chosen Matt Rosendale’s (R-Drone Shooter) campaign manager to be its new director of government relations, thus revealing where its sympathies lie.