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
I was granted the rare honor earlier this week of receiving a personal email from Matthew Monforton, the Tea Party agitator and new legislator from Bozeman, asking if I would blog in support one of his bills, House Bill 37. This bill would allow prior convictions to be introduced as evidence, in criminal trials where the defendant is accused of either partner assault or endangering the welfare of a child.
This bill would make an exception, for these two crimes, to a longstanding, almost ancient rule of law, which the American criminal justice system has always recognized, that a prosecutor cannot introduce a prior conviction to prove a defendant’s guilt or tendency to commit crimes. It is a bedrock protection for the accused in our legal system.
If we didn’t have this rule, then prosecuting a person for a crime would be as easy as cake. Few defendants would ever be acquitted, and having a criminal record would ensure that a fair trial would be impossible. A prosecutor could just let the jury know that the defendant once committed a crime, and the jury will be happy to convict him again, instead of agonizing over whether they might be convicting an innocent person. Under a system in which prior convictions could be introduced as evidence of guilt, the criminal justice system would end up looking like Casablanca. We’d just round up the usual suspects whenever a crime was committed but a suspect could not be found, and put them back into jail.
Monforton, who was once a prosecutor in Los Angeles, apparently believes that this rule should be lifted for a few specific types of crimes which are, I would note, probably among the most common cases that come before prosecutors, with the exception of DUIs. Monforton no doubt believes that because I am a feminist that I would support his law because it would make prosecuting spousal abusers easier. It would indeed make life for prosecutors much easier, but it wouldn’t do much for justice or the rule of law. He could just as well propose a law that suspends the presumption of innocence in cases of child endangerment or spousal abuse.
Monforton also thinks that because California passed a similar law right after the OJ trial, that his makes it right. Quite the opposite. Protections for the accused can always be wiped away by a mob mentality, when tempers are flaring. Simply review what the Bush administration did with regard to detainees in Guantanamo after 9-11.
So unless I’m missing something (and feel free, Matthew, to chime in), I can’t support this bill, nor can the ACLU which is officially opposing it. But I do thank him for asking my opinion. Foolish though this bill may be, he did the right thing by coming to my blog first before taking it to committee. I would encourage many other legislators, especially most Republicans, to similarly consult the Cowgirl Blog for reasoned analysis prior to putting forth legislation.Tweet
I was walking in the Capitol recently and it resembles a nursing home. Legislators are senior citizens predominantly. Largely this is because legislators are volunteers. They get $5,000 a year roughly. Who, other than a retired person, someone who is wealthy, or someone who is married to someone wealthy, can afford to take four months off from their job and come to Helena? Other than retirees and the wealthy the only people who can be a legislator it seems are a few people who are either self employed, are young enough to be extremely flexible, those who work from home, work part-time, or work in fields where there is a special arrangement (teaching, for example).
I say let’s pay legislators a living wage. Maybe $20,000 a year. Also, let’s accompany it with a law, similar to the Family Leave Act, which protects workers’ jobs if they want to take leave to serve. It’d still be a part-time job for many, but a livable stipend, along with protection for their job, would at least open the door to others becoming legislators. One final important change that would allow more women and younger people to serve. Rep. Ellie Hill is sponsoring House Bill 131, Revising Legislative Compensation to Include Daycare Reimbursement. This is a no-brainer. The hearing will be January 21 at 9:00 am in Room 455 (State Administration). Rep. Hill also has a new blog – check it out Tales from the Dome here.
Hate Sermon Organizers Revealed
Ed Kemmick at Last Best news has a must read piece up this week, revealing the right-wing lawmakers behind the hate-group leader they organized to kick off the 2015 session: Here are the ‘lesser magistrates’ who hosted bizarre sermon. Yesterday was “National Religious Freedom Day,” which was established to mark the enactment of Virginia’s law upon which the separation of church and state was based, written by Thomas Jefferson himself. So much for respecting the nation’s founders.
The Montana Chamber of Commerce has endorsed extending health care coverage to 70,000 working poor Montanans. And a Chamber of Commerce poll. As the Bozeman Chronicle reported, even the notoriously conservative Chamber of Commerce poll found that “Montanans, by more than 20 percent, ‘support the state providing health care coverage for up to 70,000 uninsured childless adults whose income is below $16,100 per year.'”
An interesting email from Concerned Citizens of Western Montana (the right-wing group from the Flathead opposing rights to water for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes) was accidentally disseminated today. The email was sent by Terry Backs, titular head of the organization, to Kate Vandemoer a birther blogger who once infamously launched an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the U.S. government by ousting President Obama, which she called the Usurpathon.
Backs is asking for marching orders on how an email to legislators opposing access to water for a tribe in northwest Montana should be handled. Particularly interesting is the embarrassing question of whether or not it should go to all legislators or to all except Tutvedt and Salomon (as though they could somehow be kept out of the loop) and the overall impression that Dr. Kate is the eminence grise of this outfit. Also, note that “Montana Land and Water Alliance” and “Concerned Citizens of Western Montana” are the same bunch.
You can see the entire email below.
The most important thing to know about “Dr. Kate” Vandemoer is that she has some pretty extreme, marginal views–and some writings that reflect the soundness of her judgement and the rational of the effort to stop a tribe from getting water.
She co-hosts a radio show with white supremacist Red Beckman, who wrote that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for Jews because they worship the devil. Besides the usual racist birther garbage, Vandemoer’s blog features the ravings Eustice Mullins, who “claimed that Jews kidnap Christian children, ritually puncture their veins, and drink their blood as a restorative for their own degenerate bodies,” The Atlanticreported.
Vandemoer herself has written that, “the Rothschilds (translated ‘Red Shield), Rockefellers, and many other monied JKhazar Jews, who together form a cabal acting like a synagogue of Satan that is in full gear enforcing its agenda on America, including Agenda 21.”
But back to Vandemoer’s Usurpathon–her campaign to organize 10,000 TEA Partiers and birthers from across the U.S. to descend on Washington in 2010. The goal: unseat “the Usurper,” President Obama, with a national event she called “The Usurpathon.”
“Out from the depths, out of every seam on the sidewalk, from every neglected corner, from the ether we come–filled with the mission of thousands, and the intention of millions to begin the usurpathon–the siege and removal of the Obama administration.”
Unfortunately for Vandemoer, only two people showed up for the Usurpathon. (She claimed after the fact that she intended only two people to show up because more than three people would have required her to get a government permit.) The Cowgirl blog has obtained an actual photo of the Usurpathon, which is posted here.
It is shameful that, on advice of the Usurpathoner and crew, the 2014 legislature failed, for the first time in the 34-year history that the water rights commission has existed, to pass a water rights agreement that was already negotiated between the state of Montana and a tribe.
You can see the entire email from Terry Backs to the Usurpathoner below:
Now that the Compact Commission has voted to forward the CSKT Compact to the legislature for consideration, we have attached the first of a series of informational documents describing the still outstanding issues involved with the Compact that were not resolved during the 2013-2014 limited renegotiations. This first document is from Montana Land and Water Alliance lead attorney, Richard A. Simms, and discusses the “quantification” proposed in the CSKT Compact.
Please do not hesitate to call or email with questions
The Montana Family Foundation is obsessed with privatizing Montana’s schools and using your tax dollars to do it. Last session, they tried to force an ALEC boilerplate bill sponsored by Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen to use taxpayer money to subsidize private schools in Montana, but did not succeed. They also control the house eduction committee, which has frightening implications for Montana’s public school classrooms. Just look what happened in Texas when fringe groups got control of school curricula. They required schools to teach about the communist threat, censored the word capitalism and required that “free enterprise” be used instead, and required students to read treatises by political leaders of the confederacy.
If their so-called “school choice” privatization scheme passes, your money could go toward textbooks like these*:
[*When satire flies this close to reality, it must be responsibly labeled as such.]
1. Gluing a purse on your head will not protect you from Satan ladies, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Probably will keep you from speaking out in public, which the bible forbids.
2. The Montana chapter of the TEA Party astroturf group Americans for Prosperity has an author on the payroll. Former executive director and now policy director Joe Ballyeat is the author of “Babylon: The Great City of Revelation,” (from $7.95 used on Amazon.com) which attempts to make the TEA Party case that if Christians don’t get involved in politics, “not only will hell prevail against us, but abortionists and homosexuals and humanists and pornographers and tin-horn TV networks will as well.”
3. I wonder if this screed against birth control, something 85% of women use at some point in their lives, explains how having more children than you can afford in rapid succession is supposed to line up with the GOP dogma of personal responsibility and hatred of government assistance.
4. Perhaps this is what will be taught in the time that used to be filled with science classes.
5. This one probably covers crop circles, United Nations conspiracy theories, and the health benefits of genetically modified organisms and pesticides.
Over 120 state Republican leaders met in a special caucus this weekend in Helena, to vote on whether the GOP should close their primary or keep it open. Under current law, primaries are open which means anyone can choose either ballot. In a closed primary, only a registered Republican can vote in the Republican primary. In the end, the GOP voted 2-1 to close down the primary.
The TEA Partiers won, as I expected they would. This meeting was packed with right-wingers who came from rural counties. It was a big victory for the ringleaderMatthew Monforton, the Tea Party hot-head from Bozeman who wants to wage war against GOP moderates. They are working in concert with the TEA Party faction in the legislature including Art Wittich, Jennifer Fielder, Jeff Essmann and the rest. They are seeking to prevent more independent types and non-purists from voting in the GOP primary. They believe that if they can make this change, then in the future they will no longer have to contend with a moderate faction who wants to work with Governor Bullock.
This is exactly what would happen if primaries were party-member only affairs. Imagine if the only voters who could participate in a GOP primary were Tea Partiers. What do you think such a party would be like? Nominees would be loons like Matt Rosedale, not Ryan Zinke; not Rick Hill, but Klansmen like Drew Turiano. Rick Santorum, not Romney, would have won the primary in Montana. And legislators would be more like Wittich and Monforton and less like Tutvedt and Ankney.
Monforton’s Republicans are suing the state, with Monforton acting as lawyer. He is claiming that although Montana’s open primary has existed for 100 years and was founded on the notion that the voter deserves as many choices as possible, the system is nonetheless unconstitutional because a party should have the right to restrict who votes in its primary. The GOP vote this weekend was in fact a vote to formally join this lawsuit. Such lawsuits have been won in states such as Idaho, although Brian Morris is the federal judge in this suit and I expect he will rule against the GOP.Tweet
But it doesn’t end there. Last week, lawmakers engaged in a series of orientations last week to learn about the issues that might come before them in their various committees.
But something different happened in the House Human Services Committee Thursday, when Chair Rep. Art Wittich (R-TEA Bozeman), put indoctrination on the agenda instead. He brought in two TEA Party opponents of Medicaid expansion from out of state instead.
TEA Party Appointees Brought in to Denigrate Programs to Help Working Poor Montanans
The first presentation Wittich scheduled was from a political appointee of Maine’s TEA Party Governor Paul LePage, one of the nation’s most prominent appointees of Medicaid expansion.
Rather than expand Medicaid, as most states are doing, Maine actually tried to bar people from the health care coverage who were already eligible. The AP reported this week that LePage spent tens of thousand in taxpayer funds on private lawyers in a failed attempt to remove thousands of low-income young adults from the state’s Medicaid program-against federal law with federal law–after being told by Maine’s attorney general that her office wouldn’t take the legal fight because he couldn’t win the case.
The LaPage appointee’s primary accomplishment appears to be that Maine’s Medicaid program had paid its backlog of debt it owed to hospitals (Maine did not say it had paid all its debts.) Montana’s Medicaid program is not in debt. The appointee’s goal seemed to be to convey that federal money to help the working poor is bad (but not presumably federal money for defense contracts and highway funding).Wittich and the TEA Party wing of the GOP has come out in favor of a nonsensical “plan” to refusing federal funding that would pay for most of the Medicaid expansion. Rather than bringing home the federal tax dollars that Montana has already paid, they are actually proposing that we throw that money to the wind, and spend additional state money for health care. This is one of the worst ideas ever to come out of the state GOP in a long time.
Next on the indoctrination agenda was a representative of a right-wing, Koch brothers funded “think tank” called the Foundation for Government Accountability. No joke. This group’s primary goal is fighting Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. The group’s director, Tarren Bragdon, is a former state representative with ties to the Koch brothers.
Rule Banning Information Testimony Debated
This committee even discussed whether it would bar informational witnesses, who do not support or oppose legislation but simply help inform the discussion, from stating anything other than their name and area of expertise unless called upon. Apparently, the only information Wittich wants this committee to hear is approved TEA Party dogma. Democrats on the committee objected to this move, forcing Wittich to back off of an official rule banning informational testimony–for now.
In Jon Tester’s first days in the Senate in 2007, he stopped by and said hi to the maintenance staff, appreciated their hard work, and even got his hands dirty.
In Ryan Zinke’s first days in the Congress, he called the maintenance staff “a larger problem.”
These workers don’t just hang pictures. They move desks, fix broken chairs, and make sure the building isn’t falling apart. They keep government office spaces running. This isn’t just about Zinke’s assault on hardworking federal employees (which is bad enough), it’s about disrespecting people whose jobs are “beneath” his and calling them “bureaucracy.”
Perhaps he should let the maintenance workers hang the pictures, and take an hour or two to hire a Montanan in his DC office – which is stacked with out-of-staters and questionable hires.
Conflicts of Interest
Two Helena city commissioners appear to have put their personal interests as lobbyists over the people of Helena. Matt Elsaesser voted against a resolution in support of Medicaid expansion citing the need to lobby right-wing lobbyists as part of his personal careers. Mayor Jim Smith, who is also a lobbyist when not serving on the city commission, laughably cited a supposed “political risk” to the city if Helena supported Medicaid expansion. Helena is not well served when its elected commissioners put their personal lobbying jobs and ridiculous amorphous theories over citizens.Tweet
Montana spends 15.7 percent of its state budget on education – considerably less than surrounding states. On average, states spend about 20% of their budgets on education. So Laszloffy’s statement sends the message that Montana’s portion of the budget spent on education is three times the size of what most states spend.
Laszloffy has never attended public school and was home-schooled before a stint at supernatural ministry school, yet the 23-year-old is now the GOP’s leading expert on public school classrooms. Laszloffy’s dad is the leader of the state’s anti-public education group. Dad’s anti-education lobbyist from last session is now the Vice-Chair of House Education.
Whether Rep. Laszloffy’s statement was made with intent to deceive the public or out of ignorance is not known. The Great Falls Tribune did not note the inaccuracy.
Interesting developments yesterday on the rules of the Montana Legislature. Cowgirl tipsters are reporting that Montana Republican lawmakers got calls from Zinke and Daines, members of the the most unpopular U.S. Congress ever (with only a 10% approval rating) telling them what to do to ensure that the will of the people of Montana never sees the light of day.
Here’s what’s happened.
John Adams reports today that new proposed rule to grant speaker of the House Austin Knudsen what members of his own party called an “insanely powerful tool” to basically kill any bill he didn’t like–and require a super-majority instead of a majority to stop him– was rescinded by Democrats and Republicans alike in a unanimous vote of the house rules committee under considerable public pressure and outrage.
The Cowgirl blog was the first to report on the proposed new rule here. So far I haven’t seen reporting on whether the GOP will also canceled its proposed new rules to ban all members of the public from the house floor at all times and ban technology from legislative committees.
But Cowgirl tipsters are reporting a disturbing occurrence related to these rules changes yesterday–indeed an effort to quash, at least for now, a bipartisan coalition of legislators who were working to fix another problematic supermajority rule in the house.
A small faction of GOP leadership, who set up the committees and also decide which bills go to which committees, have the singular ability to create “kill committees” –committees that they can control to ensure no bill they don’t want pass will ever even get to be considered by the majority of the Montana legislature. These shenanigans can only be overridden by a supermajority of the legislature as a whole through what is colloquially called a “blast motion”–and a 60 vote supermajority. Anyway this bipartisan coalition saw that this rule too was contrary to a fair public process and the concept of majority rule, so they had planned to also change this rule.
That is, until, Cowgirl tipsters say, Republican lawmakers started getting calls from Congressman Zinke and TEA Party Sen. Steve Daines – urging them to “stick with their leaders” and leave their supreme powers untouched. Thus, tipsters say, at least at the committee stage, Knudsen lost his new power to send any bill back to committee to be killed but retained his powers to keep bills in certain committees from advancing in the first place.
This folks is the hard-right GOP’s brand of governing. We shall see what happens when the rules resolution goes back to the house floor for a vote. If Montana Republicans are going to continue to follow the orders of and strive to emulate the U.S. Congress, so too will their own approval ratings.
UPDATE:Sources report that the GOP also agreed to remind their proposed rule change to ban the public from the House Floor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are a member of the public you may now enter the House Floor except at limited times–unless you are registered as a lobbyist, in which case you remain banned.
Just in time for the 2015 legislative session, Yellowstone County Commissioners appear to be leading the charge to rebrand homophobia as “religious liberty.” A Yellowstone County Clerk Kristie Boelter has become a pawn in that apparent ploy after one her her employees claimed a religious exemption and is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Yellowstone County Commissioners have sent Ms. Boelter a letter telling her that if she doesn’t allow the employee who is claiming a “religions exemption” to refuse to issue marriage licenses, that the county will not defend her if she is sued. But because Ms. Boelter has already agreed to accommodate that employee, the commissioner’s actions are worse than unnecessary–they reek of political posturing.
“It is my responsibility to uphold the law and follow the law,” Boelter said Friday morning. “My directive to deputy clerks who took the same oath I did is to follow the law…In my opinion, some of those same religions (objecting to the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples) also disagree with divorce, and yet we deal with many divorce cases in this office,” Boelter said.
Boelter makes a fair point, which she backs up in a letter to the editor here. The state’s largest newspaper, the Billings Gazette, agreed with her in an editorial. Ms. Boelter pointed out to the county that they are more likely to be sued for refusing equal treatment of all couples than over a deputy clerk refusing to do his or her job.
It’s also interesting to note that we aren’t hearing from other clerks in other cities about employees who are refusing to issue licenses. Butte clerks, rather than refuse to do their job, they say they take their jobs very seriously and will simply do their duties and serve all Montanans equally. Others are just quietly doing their jobs without fanfare.
Boelter and other clerks across Montana are to be commended for doing their jobs to serve all members of the public – not used as political pawns by politicians eager to pander to tiny pockets of anti-gay interest groups. If the Yellowstone County Commissioners wish to express anti-gay beliefs, they should hang signs over their own places of business that read, “LBGT citizens not welcome here” and leave offices created to serve the public and funded by taxpayers out of it.