Posted: April 16, 2015 at 7:36 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: The Perils of Privatization

by Sen. Mary Sheehy Moe, D-Great Falls

Mary Sheehy MoeIn a scene I love from To Kill a Mockingbird, a mob gathers outside the local jail, intent on grabbing the black man inside and stringing him up. Only one man, Atticus Finch, stands between them and the evil deed.

They approach Atticus en masse. The flash point rises. But then Atticus’s children emerge from the darkness.  One of them, Scout, doesn’t understand what’s about to occur, but she does recognize one of the men in the mob. It’s the father of her classmate, Walter Cunningham. At the beginning of the school year, Scout made fun of Walter because he had cooties. That led to fisticuffs on the playground, which led to interventions by her father and others to help Scout understand that Walter’s circumstances were a little different from hers, but he was still deserving of decent treatment, still worthy of respect.  Now she and Walter were friends.

“Hey, Mr. Cunningham,” Scout says to the man in the mob.  That angry man gapes at this little girl, prattling away, and sees the classmate of his son.  He realizes that Atticus Finch may have the temerity to defend a Negro accused of raping a white woman, but Atticus is also the father of a young child, just as he himself is, and that child would be lost without Atticus, just as his Walter would be lost without him. He wouldn’t want to tell Walter what he was about to do to his friend’s father — or what he was about to do to that Negro.  So Mr. Cunningham convinces his buddies to back off and go home.

We talk a lot these days about the curriculum and performance of our public schools, as we should. We don’t talk much, though, about one particular byproduct of these 13 years our children spend together. It’s the only time in their lives they’ll forced to interact in depth and at length with individuals whose backgrounds, beliefs, lifestyles and druthers are different from their own. Those interactions teach them more about appreciating diversity and building community than any formal curriculum ever could. As Neal Postman observed, the understandings and relationships forged in our public schools don’t just educate a public.  They create one.

That’s the main reason I’m disconcerted by all the bills this session providing incentives for parents to pull their kids out of our public schools – or rewarding those who have already done so. Certainly, parents can and should make choices for their kids’ education.  But those private choices should not be publicly funded. It’s not in the public interest.

Our public schools generally do a good job, “school choice” proponents concede, but some kids “fall through the cracks” and need a different environment. History teaches us that sometimes the cracks kids fall through have more to do with society than with the school.  But, yes, occasionally a particular school has a climate of intolerance or indifference that hurts kids.  Whether societal or school-specific, when there are cracks kids are falling through, the public interest is served by calling them out and insisting they be fixed.

These proponents also remind us that “one size doesn’t fit all,” and parents need the freedom to search for the school that “fits” their child. If any institution on earth knows that children’s needs and interests and ablities are infinite in variety, it’s our public schools.  The differentiation in instruction, setting, and programming and the variety of opportunities parents will find there are far greater than what they’ll find in any private school. But these parents don’t really want variety. They want a gated school community, often a faith-based one, where every child is comfortably similar in some fundamental way to their own. That’s a private choice they’re entitled to make. It should be privately funded.

The choicers say our public schools are too rigid in their curricula and our teachers don’t have the freedom to innovate. To the extent that’s true, it’s the result of expectations foisted on these schools by the public. Nothing has done more to drive the joy out of teaching than the national public school “reform” known as No Child Left Behind, with its relentless testing of discrete and dull skills unconnected to anything meaningful to the child.  NCLB was brought to us by public officials at the national level in a publicly deliberated process.

Accreditation requirements and teacher licensing requirements are also publicly crafted products. Local curriculum, programs and policies as well are put in place by publicly elected school boards. Do I like all of these practices? No. But when I lose a particular argument in the public arena, I don’t take my ball and go home.  We shouldn’t encourage anyone to.   Decisions about public education, like decisions about all public enterprises, should be made in public with the active participation of as much of the public as possible.

With these empty platitudes as their rationales, the choicers propose legislation designed to chink away at Montana’s high-quality public school system.  Some bills promote tuition tax credits for parents who choose a private school for their child. Some bills shamelessly exploit children with a special pull on our heartstrings to justify publicly funding private school choices. The most egregious this session is HB 322, providing public funding for private, even parochial, schooling of children with developmental disabilities, children with chronic illnesses, children of soldiers in active duty, and children who have suffered abuse or neglect … as well as any siblings these children may have, not only while they themselves are in a private school, but long after they’ve left it.

And then there’s HB 596, promoting “public charter schools” – a parallel system of public schools that don’t serve all the public, don’t have to meet accreditation requirements, don’t have to hire licensed teachers, and above all, don’t fall under the general supervision of the Board of Public Education.

The bill is so riddled with violations of Montana’s constitution that it’s hard to believe its sponsor and its primary author are both lawyers. Even harder to believe are the sponsor’s responses to questions about the bill’s constitutionality.  Article X, Section 9 of Montana’s constitution authorizes the Board of Public Education to exercise “general supervision over the public school system and such other public educational institutions as may be assigned by law. ” The sponsor claims that the parallel system he proposes is one such “institution.” When asked what the constitutional framers intended by using that term, his reply was, “I wasn’t around at the time.”

When asked how, grammatically, this language could mean anything but that the board has general supervision over the system we know now as well as any other institution the legislature might create, his answer was, “I don’t see it that way.”

At some point during that long, long hearing, I began to think about what my husband was doing at that very moment. Once a week, he and his old high school buddies gather at a local watering hole.  Among them are a lawyer, a retailer, two insurance agents, a financier, an artist, two teachers, and whoever else happens to show up. Over a beer or two, they tell the same old stories they’ve told for years and know so well now that they laugh in anticipation of the punch lines. They all have separate lives now, but that bond they formed in high school still enriches their lives – and their communities.

I don’t oppose “school choice” bills because they’re unconstitutional, although they are. I don’t oppose them because they will inevitably weaken the funding and consequently the quality of our public schools, although they will.  I oppose them because, in an increasingly polarized society, so much depends on the bonds of good will and understanding our public schools create. Our public’s schools are diminished by every Walter Cunningham or Scout Finch who doesn’t attend one.  And so are our communities.


Sen. Moe represents Great Falls Senate District 12.  

Posted: April 15, 2015 at 7:33 am by Cowgirl

Gianforte Caught Telling People He Believes Discrimination Attracts Businesses to the State

The National Journal reported yesterday that Bozeman Billionaire and creationist museum builder Greg Gianforte said in a 2014 email to Bozeman’s mayor and city commissioners, that he believes policies legalizing discrimination are good for business.

“Homosexual advocates try to argue that businesses are leery of locating in towns that aren’t friendly to homosexuals,” Gianforte said in a 2014 email to Bozeman’s mayor and city commissioners. “I believe the opposite is truer.”

This bigoted belief has been very obviously and very publicly proven untrue.  Indiana’s discrimination law has been nothing but bad for that state’s business climate.  (The law Indiana passed was similar to HB 615, which Gianforte’s group the Montana Family Foundation tried to push in MT.  That bill failed – no doubt in part because people saw what was happening in Indiana.)

Gianforte had been pushing Bozeman to adopt discriminatory policies and even went so far as to propose the language he personally preferred.  Mrs. Gianforte has stated in a public hearing that she would gladly go to prison for breaking a non-discrimination ordinance and that she would “regretfully watch others shut down the organizations and businesses that people in other state[sic] are currently doing,” whatever that is supposed to mean.

Gianforte is a major funder of creationist museums around America, including one in eastern Montana where the main focus is on showing that “there is no scientific evidence that evolution ever took place on earth,” as the museum’s director explained.

Such beliefs present serious problems for anyone seeking to become a statewide officeholder in Montana, regardless of how much money such a candidate might be prepared to spend promoting himself as someone looking to create a tech sector in the state, an obvious political ploy.

The Western Word has a must-read piece up on this- go read it here .


Posted: April 15, 2015 at 6:55 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Everyone needs a say in school district expansion

by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell (D-Helena and East Helena)


Mary Ann Dunwell

Mary Ann Dunwell

Day 75 of the Montana Legislature brought SB 107 to the House floor. I was torn while deciding how to vote on this bill that allows for a public vote to expand K-8 school districts to K-12. Reluctantly, I voted no. Here’s why. I represent both cities of Helena and East Helena, and feel that everyone affected by a vote to expand East Helena’s K-8 district deserves a right to participate in the election. That includes taxpayers in Helena K-12 as well as East Helena K-8. The bill shuts down the Helena voice and that’s not okay. People on fixed incomes struggle to pay their property taxes as it is. Asking them to pay more taxes to sustain a district transfer without giving them a vote seems like taxation without representation. It may even violate the right to participation clause in Montana’s Constitution. Allowing everyone a voice is our democratic process of majority rule and fair representation. Public education is a shared benefit that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not about East Helena or Helena or Lolo or Missoula or Lockwood or Billings. It’s a collective benefit for public good. So collectively, everyone shares a say. I have spoken at length with folks in both Helena and East Helena, and gotten mixed opinions about expanding East Helena K-8 to K-12. Some parents and teachers in Helena support a K-12 district for East Helena. Some parents and teachers in East Helena oppose one. My personal opinion is that East Helena could well meet the challenge of a K-12. It’s a spunky, tenacious and resilient community. A bright new high school of promise could soar above the ugly black slag pile and forgotten footprint of the Asarco federal superfund site. A new high school could advance public education’s goal to improve learning environments for kids. But SB 107 was not about that. SB 107 denies full participation. Public education is a shared benefit. I had to vote no.

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Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell is the state representative for Helena and East Helena,  Montana House District 84.  She can be reached at


Posted: April 14, 2015 at 6:57 am by Cowgirl

Why Keenan’s Selection Matters

Nancy Keenan,  head of the Montana Democratic Party

Nancy Keenan, head of the Montana Democratic Party

The Montana Democratic Party has picked Nancy Keenan to be its new executive director.  Keenan is an old-time Montana politico and also a national figure.   She comes from Anaconda, ran for Congress in 2000 and then became the president of NARAL Pro Choice America and held that post until 2012.

Nobody of Keenan’s caliber has occupied the top post at the Party, and so she is a welcome presence and is arriving not a minute too soon.  Steve Bullock could end up facing a Billionaire self-funder in the next election and if that happens, the Party will have to come up big for Bullock.  Keenan also will excite the grassroots folk.  She is a Montana politician in her own right, not just party staff, and thus can serve as the main attraction when a Bullock or a Tester is unavailable.  This gives the party strength.  And with a Bullock victory, Keenan can build upon a monstrous record for Democrats: in the last decade, Democrats have won 13 of 15 elections for state office (Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, Schools Superintendent).

There were a few tweets in response to the news today with terms like “baby killers” and the like.  I suppose that’s a step up from 2000, when as a congressional candidate Keenan was the victim of a whisper campaign by Denny Rehberg’s camp which criticized her for a being single woman without children, surely one of the ugliest political attacks in Montana history.  (Rehberg now runs a Burger King).

Times have changed and such foul machinations no longer work the way they used to.  And if it’s any indication of how scared Republicans are of women’s reproductive issues,  note that the GOP had almost no response at all prepared for Keenan’s hiring, even though her selection by Dems has been an open secret for many weeks.  Those who are in charge of the state GOP would no doubt love to fly off the handle and label Keenan’s selection with terms like “abortionist” and “abortion on demand” and all of the other silly expressions the GOP coins.   But they can’t.  Opposition to reproductive freedom has become an albatross around the neck of Republicans throughout America, and even in red states, particularly those with vibrant progressive movements. The Montana GOP doesn’t want to catch that plague. Or at least, they don’t want to catch more of it.  They already have a dose, with their public opposition to birth control and their absolutist positions against choice.  This is a party, after all, whose top figure, US Senator Steve Daines, believes a rape victim should be required to give birth to the rapist’s child.

The most enjoyable part of Keenan’s selection is to know that while the GOP is coming apart at the seams with infighting and Tea Party lunacy, Keenan’s counterpart at the GOP is a right-wing zealot who just graduated from college recently and spends 24 hours a day trolling twitter.  So I like our chances.


Posted: April 14, 2015 at 5:54 am by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: When Democracy Blocks the Will of Oligarchs

by Secret Squirrel

The dynamics of rules committee decisions, motions on the floor, and other assorted parliamentary maneuverings (and tantrums) this past week have roots in last year’s elections. They also suggest what will happen and be at stake in the 2016 cycle. The common denominator in both the future and past is the money that flows into the GOP primaries and generals.

A good portion of funding in 2014 from everyone’s favorite Montana oligarch, Greg Gianforte, who has every reason to see this session accomplish nothing as he plans his 2016 gubernatorial run. Lending their own bottomless wallets to numerous candidates were Ray Thompson,  computer millionaire from Kalispell, and Texas fracking billionaires from the Wilks family. And adding a little extra darkness to the wheelbarrows of money that went to Montana GOP legislators last election cycle was what we do not know came from groups like American (Western) Tradition Partnership (ATP), Americans for Prosperity, and assorted other gun and rightwing groups who financed many legislators from the shadows.

This money started flowing a year ago in the GOP primaries of 2014 where those assorted oligarchs and groups attempted to unseat many of the moderates who formed today’s working majority. In retrospect, the oligarchs’ and party’s understanding of the dynamics of the races and potential for the 2015 session was right on target. However, despite deep contributions to candidates running against the likes of Rep. Christy Clark, Dan Salomon, Frank Garner, and the other assorted 10 “Responsibles” these moneyed interests achieved nothing. The “Responsibles” ran with local money and ran clean campaigns. May that be the message from here on out. The races were not even close and one has to wonder if those to their right had just left these Republicans alone that the tide may not have gone as far out this session. You can always count on them overplay their hand.

One so-called moderate, Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, played the GOP’s game in 2014 and received $340 from Mr. and Mrs. Gianforte. He also doled out donations to other connected Republicans and appeared to be a team player. Then during the 2015 session, he stood up against party votes like “Agenda 21” and brought a bill forward to keep open primaries. Then after getting slammed on the floor and at home, he seemed to come back to the fold and went against the Ankney bill. But then, oddly, he seems to have returned to helping the working majority by voting for Medicaid and made the motion to put the CSKT compact on the floor. Is he back? The jury is out until the end of the session but he could be a powerful figure in a future moderate-led legislator.

But back to the 2014 primaries. Rep. Art Wittich and Randy Brodehl helped to finance many of these insurgents against the moderate Republicans. Now, Wittich has been the leading voice on the floor against the working majority Republicans bucking the party line to get things done, in many cases for the interest of their rural hospitals and constituents. During his spasm over the rules of the “silver bullets” Wittich said he wanted them to realize he did not want “Republican fingerprints” on Medicaid expansion. That comment was out of order but revealing for reasons that will play out below.

The money continued to flow into the general elections of fall 2014 and most of them meant nothing despite the cash that kept flowing as if they would be close elections. Money to Wittich, Jeff Essmann, Matt Monforton, and others who won their elections by three to four times their opponents. But a quick $340 here or $680 there sends a message to the party and the candidates about where their support comes from and what expectations there will be.

After the general elections, the session leadership took shape and, again, it is in the money that you can see how it formed. Some of the House floor leaders did not receive much from the oligarchs but most received a good portion from assorted PACs, like Thompson’s Excellence in Voting PAC. Many from PACs outside the state like OneOK or Denbury Resources. financed others and they are oil and gas interests who gave equally to House leadership and members, including some moderates but mostly it went to legislators who would pull the strings.

In all, the Wilks spent more than $16,000 on primaries and general elections and the Gianfortes around $12,000. These are numbers from the candidates C5 filings on the Commissioner of Political Practices raw data filings so those numbers are compiled from numerous forms and could still be amended. But at this point, even if I did miss some donations here or there, it is probably pretty close to what went out. None of this counts what was probably a good deal of mailers and calls to constituents in those districts from dark money fringe groups. My guess is a lot of time and money went into that.

In return for the effort, House committees are stacked with legislators who received oligarch money. For that relative small amount of money, they bought control these committees intended to crush major bills this session. In some ways, you could call it a coup.

Just take a look at the heavy-hitting committees and consider, pre-session, what bills they would come to host: (the list is by number of GOP representatives in the committee and how many took Gianforte or Wilks money)

Appropriations (financing and backstop): 12 GOP, 9 financed and led by Ballance

Education (school “choice,” Common Core): 9 GOP, 7 financed and led by Laszloffy

Human Services (Medicaid expansion): 10 GOP, 5 financed and led by Wittich

Judiciary (referendums, compact): 12 GOP, 9 financed but chair Bennett not funded

Rules (emergency backstop): 10 GOP, 8 financed and led by Essmann

State Administration (campaign finance): 11 GOP, 8 financed and led by Essmann

Then take a look at what would have been relatively unimportant committees:

Business and Labor: 11 GOP, 2 financed (one is Fitzpatrick)

Fish, Wildlife, and Parks: 12 GOP, 5 financed

As the session started,  the system worked and not much made it into, or out of, those committees. The oligarch-funded legislators and their rightwing friends held strong. Then, with the moderates in the wings, the Democrats started to maneuver at some bills like SB 289 (Sen. Duane Ankney’s shot at ATP and other dark money groups) and move them into different committees to get around the blockade. Republicans took note and did what they could to avoid the motions.

Which brings us to what happened with SB 405, the HELP Act, over the past several days. Wittich held the hearing on it before the session returned, on a day and time he had never held a meeting of his committee before, and voted on it immediately. None of this was surprising.

It turned into a rules fight when it came back to the floor despite his smug obstinacy and was salvaged by “silver bullets.” It is Wittich and others in leadership who are reneging on this deal because they did not think the Democrats could use the rules to their advantage and violate what was supposed to be pre-determined one party rule of the session.

But beyond that, it is leading to more than a fissure between moderates and the 40 or so other Republicans. Remember how they always overplay their hand? The fight over the rules is now causing some differences between oligarch-funded representatives. You can see the ire in Essmann’s eye when Wittch and Mike Miller spout off about the votes that have transpired. Knudsen seems worried that he might lose control of floor but seems content with Wittich’s plays. He did a valiant thing by allowing the ACT to pass on April 11 by moving the vote up in the day’s order. Still, these are just the beginnings of the cracks among those who were financed by the same people and have the same interests. It would follow the likes of Wittich, Miller, even the recently-quiet Monforton would attempt numerous future schemes on the floor to gum up the works and ensure their backers get what they need.

But what is the mutual concern between those bending the rules and their backers? Why so much discontent about Medicaid and tribal compacts? Why would they be willing to go back on their own leadership’s agreements regarding “silver bullets” and “blasting” bills?

For Wittich and Miller, neck deep in the American Tradition Partnership fiasco and funded by Gianforte along with other rightwing donors and groups (to include ATP’s Doug Lair, who personally contributed to their campaigns in 2014), this is about 2016. It’s about ensuring Governor Bullock has no successes to run on. It’s about party purity and enjoying that high of having unadulterated power. What’s most important in that equation is their interests are in no way aligned with the interests of most Montanans, those #MillionsofMontanans. Their interest is in remaining in power and defeating the other side at any cost. In the zero sum game, even their own are fair targets.

In January 2015, the House GOP set up the perfect machine to make sure nothing happened. That machine had a few cogs bust loose as of late and it is venting steam. Important bills are passing this session and it looks good for the governor’s 2016 chances in a turnout-friendly presidential election cycle. For all money and obstacles the oligarchs and their minions threw at the process this year, they accomplished little. There is still much to do and they will do what they can to stop it, but what has passed already is a good on its own. One can hope the message of the 2015 legislative session to be carried into the 2016 elections is that in Montana big money has no power.

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The Cowgirl Blog welcomes guest post submissions.  If you’re interested, email the tipline at mntnacowgirl@gmailcom 


Posted: April 11, 2015 at 1:41 pm by Cowgirl

The Art of Giving and the CSKT Water Compact

As the Montana House decides the fate of the CSKT Tribe water rights agreement for the only tribe in Montana that has been denied a water compact by the Montana legislature, some troubling information has come to light involving speaker of the House Austin Knudsen and a high-profile opponent of the agreement.

On Austin Knudsen’s Facebook page there is a December 24 picture (pasted below) of a gun and holster.  The wording is somewhat ambiguous, but appears as if the gun and a holster were a gift from EJ Redding.  It’s emblazoned with his name and the name of his lobbying and “consulting firm” M&B Strategies, Helena MT, E.J. Redding.

Knudsen Redding Gun gift

As you can see from the screenshot above, Speaker Knudsen writes in his Christmas eve post that it is from Redding: “Another set of art in leather from Edward J Redding”

It certainly appears that the value would exceed $50, the maximum value of gift Montana officials may accept from lobbyists as outlined in 2-2-102(2)(a) and 2-2-204, if this is what’s happened.  And, of course, the date suggests a Christmas gift.

Redding of course is a right wing operative at 47 North Communications.  He is reputed to have raised the bulk of funds for the candidacy of TEA Party fundamentalist Lawrence Van Dyke for the Supreme Court. He is also an outspoken opponent of the CSKT Water Compact, and his paramour, Margaret Morgan, is a registered lobbyist for the anti-compact Flathead Joint Board of Control, as you can see from one of Redding’s anti-compact letters.   It’s also interesting that neither Neither E.J.Redding nor Jon Metropoulos have registered any activities regarding the CSKT Compact with the Office of Political Practices, as of the time of this post.

GOP Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen (TEA-Culbertson)

GOP Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen (TEA-Culbertson)

It’s also worth noting that Knudsen, as has been reported, recently opened his own law firm.  Redding represents the Bainville schools (which are in Knudsen’s area) and undoubtedly has some influence over the selection of counsel for various businesses and developers in the once booming oilfields.

We can only presume that the brand on the cartridge holder is registered to the Knudsen family.  Some have wondered if this is even legal. It certainly doesn’t look good.

In response to this post, Rep. Knudsen said he bought the pistol himself and that his wife bought the holster for him. In the Facebook post, he does not credit his wife with giving him a holster emblazoned with a lobbying firm logo – he only says it was “from E.J. Redding.” I’ll let the reader decide what they feel is the truth.

Posted: April 10, 2015 at 6:51 am by Cowgirl

Governor-wannabe bankrolls pro-hate, anti-Halloween crusade

As the GOP-dominated Montana Legislature narrowly defeated an Indiana-style bill to legalize discrimination, it has come to light that Bozeman billionaire Greg Gianforte has been bankrolling a crusade in favor of such laws.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which was previously called the Alliance Defense Fund, has been the recipient of tens of thousands of dollars from the Gianforte Family Foundation – tax-exempt political arm of Gianforte’s dark money leviathan.  According to Right Wing Watch, the ADF is, “particularly persistent in attacking attempts by [LBGT citizens] to have families, establish domestic partnerships or civil unions, or to be protected from discrimination in employment or housing.”

Gianforte – a billionaire transplant from New Jersey– has personally bankrolled the legal efforts of a Colorado baker who got into hot water for refusing to serve a same-sex couple.  But it’s not just the LGBT community that Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakes in Lakewood, Colorado is crusading against.  He’s also believes Halloween is a among the problems facing our times. Gianforte is his patron.

From a document Gianforte sent to Bozeman City Commissioners promoting the effort he bankrolled:

In addition to being a baker, Jack is a committed Christian who believes that he should live consistently with what he believes to be true.  As a consequence, Jack seeks to operate his business in accordance with his faith, even when it costs him.

For instance, he will not bake any Halloween-themed goods, event though Halloween typically provides bakeries increased revenue-making opportunities, because he believes that Christians should not promote Halloween.

Halloween – costumes, pumpkins and trick-or-treating – has long been a big celebration at the Montana Governor’s Residence, with every Governor in recent memory getting into the spirit.  Steve Bullock and his family dressed as characters from Peter Pan, Brian and Nancy Schweitzer were Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty in 2012, even Judy Martz had some fun, dressing as “Tigger.” These bipartisan festivities have featured full-size candy bars and thousands of trick-or-treaters.

In order to rid the world of this demonic holiday, is Greg Gianforte one of those guys who pass out religious pamphlets on Halloween?  Or does he simply turn the lights off and pretend he’s not home?  Either way, it looks like no candy – not even Smartees or “fun sized” bars.


Posted: April 9, 2015 at 7:27 am by Cowgirl

House Rules Battle on Medicaid Expansion Compromise: Explained

TEA Party Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen tries to end MT legislative session rather than even debate GOP Medicaid expansion compromise bill

There has been some confusing reporting out about the TEA Party battle to block Sen. Buttrey’s compromise Medicaid expansion alternative from getting a full debate.

Here’s what you need to know.

1-The House leaders of each party made a deal. They agreed that each party had issues that were so important that every representative–not just a small group in committee–had a right to weigh in on, debate, and decide on behalf of all Montanans. Each party could have six chances to bring issues to the floor that were so important that everyone should get to hear and discuss.  They agreed that if an issue was important enough 51 legislators could vote to have a debate of the full house of representatives. Even if the bill failed in committee.  These chances to see if enough people wanted a full house vote were called “silver bullets.”

A silver bullet only brings a bill to the floor IF a majority of the full house of representatives agrees and votes to bring that bill the floor. It is only a chance to ask the full house if they would all like to have the opportunity to discuss a bill.

2-Hands were shook, and folks got to work. After the deal was made, GOP leaders then claimed there was an exception to the rules deal. They claimed that an obscure, almost never used motion known as an “adverse committee report” negated the deal they had made. They randomly started attaching a few “adverse committee reports,” here and there, to bills in an attempt to make reporters and others think this was a normal practice.  They claimed that any bill with this “adverse committee report” could never be debated by the full house.  It seems that when Speaker Knudsen made the agreement, he had his fingers crossed behind his back.

3-House Republicans on the House Human Services Committee used this trick to block HB 249, Governor Bullocks Medicaid expansion bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Noonan, from getting a debate by the full house of representative.

This meant that the GOP was claiming that a small group of 10 legislators could block the full house from having the opportunity to decide whether a bill could be debated on the floor–in spite of the agreement both sides had reached earlier.

4-Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) introduced his compromise bill, SB405 in the Senate. That bill passed the Senate and was sent back to the House.  There was a hearing in the House Human Services Committee and Rep. Wittich and the members of his caucus again attempted to do the same thing. They attached an adverse committee report which they claimed made the bill exempt from ever getting a debate by the full house – even if the full house voted that they wanted to debate it.

5-House Minority Leader, Rep. Chuck Hunter (D-Helena) objected.  Rep. Hunter said that a deal is a deal and he asked the Speaker to stand by his word.

6-Speaker Austin Knudsen (TEA Party, Culbertson) said this was a matter for the rules committee.  The committee, which like all committees was chosen by GOP leadership and stacked with TEA Partiers, voted that the trick was valid.

7-The full house of representatives, which is dominated by Republicans,  overruled the small group of rules committee tea partiers. They wanted a chance to debate the bill, believing that every representative had the right to decide on matters this important. They thought the Medicaid expansion alternative introduced by Senator Buttrey was important enough that it should be debated by the full house — that it was too important to be decided by a small committee. (Especially since some house committees, Health and Human Services and Education for example,  were stacked with TEA partiers specifically to prevent the full house from getting to vote on certain bills.)

8.  And here’s where it really gets outrageaus.  Speaker Knudsen tried to end the entire legislative session and adjourn “sine die” as they say, to try to block the full house from even voting on whether they would like to debate Buttrrey’s Medicaid compromise or not.

You can see below a list of the lawmakers who voted with Knudsen to abandon the entire session without passing a budget, with the status of many bills left undecided –including many bills sponsored and demanded by his own party–all to prevent Montana from accepting OUR MONEY from the federal government to pay for health care for 70,000 working poor Montanans.

I’ve never seen anything like this happen in the Montana legislature before.

9-A bi-partisan coalition of republicans and democrats overruled the TEA Party ploy.  This coalition has been dubbed the “working majority” by session observers because they have been able to work to gather to move common ground proposals forward.



The full house of representatives will finally get a chance to discuss the issue today. You can watch online here:



Posted: April 8, 2015 at 7:02 am by Cowgirl

Amateur Hour: TEA Party Republicans Get Desperate in Attempts to Defeat HELP Act

hc3xcThe big noise in Helena yesterday was the final hearing on a compromise Medicaid expansion alternative, SB 405 which is being carried by Sen. Ed Buttrey, the Republican from Great Falls. It was heard in front of a committee chaired by angry Tea Partier Art Wittich (R-Bozeman).

Humiliated that they were outnumbered 10 to 1 at previous hearings, the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity rented a bus this time and hauled in (and may have actually paid) a few dozen idiots to rant and rave at the lectern about deficits, Obama, “taking back our country,” hatred of the U.S. government, conspiracies and so on. They were still outnumbered by supporters 2-1.

Highlights included testimony from AFP head Zach Lahn, who is in an understandable panic these days because Montana might become the first state where AFP loses the Medicaid battle.  Lahn told the committee that if Medicaid expansion passes, people “won’t take raises or job promotions anymore.”  Yes, that is the intellectual level on which the opponents were making their arguments. I suppose it’s no wonder that the AFP has crashed and burned in this fight in Montana.

Also arriving on the AFP bus was a young man named Chris Puyear, a 22-year-old Tea Partier.  He ranted at the committee that he is “frightened for his future” if Medicaid expansion becomes law.  Puyear left out an important fact: he himself is (almost certainly) covered under the health insurance policy of his father, who is the lobbyist for the Montana Association of Rural Schools, a group that is funded by public money.

Medicaid-Republicans-HealthcareSo if he is frightened for his future, Puyear might think about other people who are 22 years old and have no parents to cover them, have no college education, and earn $12,000 a year. I would say that THEY have the right to be frightened about their future, much more than this idiot who came on the AFP bus.

Then there was testimony from another AFP top staffer, Henry Kriegel. (Before becoming a top man for the Koch Brothers in Montana, Kriegel was a high ranking member in a cult called Church Universal Triumphant, whose members dug a deep bunker and filled it with enough food for ten years, because they thought the world was going to end at any minute.)  In the hearing today, Kriegel made two bizarre assertions. First, he tried to claim that studies show that Medicaid “has no impact on patient outcomes.” What this means is anyone’s guess.  If you have cancer and no health insurance, you can’t get chemo. If you have Medicaid, you can–and from the same doctors everyone else has. These are simple facts, backed up by decades of research.  Indeed AFP’s claims have already been soundly debunked. 

Kriegel then turned to Ed Buttrey, the sponsor, and accused him of having “written his bill in the dark of night” or something to that effect. He said he was furious that Buttrey did not show him the contents of his bill “before it was drafted,” a strange thing to say given that no bill is available to the public before its drafted. It doesn’t exist until there’s a draft.  Several other TEA Partiers took to attacking Buttery personally, presumably because they couldn’t think of any real reason to oppose the bill except, and I quote, “gub’mint ruins America” and “I would know because I was a football coach 30 years ago.”

Finally came the bizarre climax of the hearing. Inexplicably, the Tea Party Republican committee members began offering amendments to the bill, one after the other, turning what is a conservative Medicaid expansion bill into an all out, clean Medicaid expansion bill, arguably  more progressive than the Governor’s opening compromise bill that was killed in Wittich’s committee a few weeks ago. A final amendment changed the bill to a referendum, to be put on the ballot.

And then, with all these amendments added, the same legislators voted the bill down.

If it doesn’t make any sense to you, you are not alone. There was no logic to what was going on.  The best guess is that the ring leader of all these shenanigans, Wittich who is the chair of the committee, thinks that he is “poisoning” the bill so that moderate Republicans in the house–who are backing the Buttrey bill at present–will no longer back it. Alas for Wittich, he apparently doesn’t understand that each of these amendments can be taken off the bill on the floor of the House.

So one thing is clear, from what we saw from the Tea Party today: it’s no surprise that they are losing this battle. These laughable wing-nut tautologies, cherry-picked “arguments” and blatant lies are the best  they’ve got.  They were no match by Sen. Buttrey, who easily shot down every ludicrus statement–and clearly could have done so with one hand tied behind his back. It is amateur hour, and the amateurs are getting desperate.

For more highlights and the latest on what you can do, see the guest post below by Linda Gryczan.


Posted: April 7, 2015 at 10:31 pm by Cowgirl

GUEST POST: Dirty Pool in House Human Services

by Linda Gryczan, Helena Hotflash

Rep Art Wittich, (R-Bozeman), chair of House Human Services, called the committee back early from spring break to hear SB 405 by Sen Ed Buttrey, (R-Gt Falls), the compromise Medicaid Expansion bill. Representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, hospitals, business leaders and local government lined up to appeal to the Republicans on the committee.

“The fact is that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Your job is to set aside your bitterness and take up the reality of the opportunity that is here before you, right here, right now. The principles in 405 are conservative Republican principles. I respectfully implore you not to be so blinded by anger  that you fail in your duty.”

Lewis & Clark County Commissioner Susan Good Geise

In a clearly prearranged maneuver, committee Republicans introduced a series of amendments designed to kill the bill. Over objections from the Dems, they amended Bullock’s Medicaid Expansion bill—a bill they killed just weeks before, and amended it into SB 405. They required hospitals to report on the amount of uncompensated care, then turned the bill into a referendum, before voting it down.

The Dems cried foul. SB 405 was a bipartisan compromise. It had been agreed before the hearing that a “silver bullet” would bring the bill up on the House floor. Amending the compromise legislation violated this agreement.

“In Montana a deal and a handshake matters and your word means something. These motions, these amendments, they lack integrity,
they subvert the process that we put into place.”
Rep Ellie Hill, (D-Missoula)

“It seems to escape the members of the committee that people are dying
[without medical care]…This is nothing more than games and trickery—
schemes to bypass any kind of governance by two parties.”
Rep Carolyn Pease-Lopez, (D-Billings)

“We are continuing on this bastardization process that needs to come to an end…
I’m going to have to vote no on any part of this circus.”
Rep Tom Jacobson, (D-Gt Falls)

“The people who testified today believed they were testifying in good faith and the whole time you had a substitute bill. I don’t know how you can look these people in the face. And how you can look the sponsor in the face. And the Republicans and Democrats who both agreed on this compromise.”
Rep Ellie Hill, (D-Missoula)


At 5:00 the House went into session and Minority leader Chuck Hunter, (D-Helena), objected to the adverse committee report for SB 405. Speaker Austin Knudsen, (R-Culbertson), overruled. Rep Hunter continued to object. Tomorrow the rules committee will take up the matter.

Do not let them get away with using parliamentary trickery to deny health care to 70,000 Montanans.

Rally at 11:30 on Wednesday, April 8 on the Capitol steps.

To contact your legislators–

Call:  (406) 444-4800, your message will be taken to their desk.

E-mail through online message form

Messages are printed and delivered to legislators several times a day.
Linda Gryczan