Tag Archives: Ballot initiatives

Despicable

It’s difficult to believe that the needless maiming and suffering inflicted on animals through the practice of trapping is still legal.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, the National Animal Control Association, and the World Veterinary Organization all have declared leghold traps to be inhumane. Animals, including pets, that get caught in leg hold taps can suffer for days. They have also been known to chew their legs off to try to get free from the trap after suffering, alive, in the trap for days.

But the Montana Trappers Association and their sidekick, the Orwellianly-named “Montanans for Effective Wildlife Management,” aren’t just promoting the cruel and completely unnecessary practice of trapping animals–they also appear to be using some pretty despicable tactics to keep trapping legal.

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Analysis: Clock Runs Out for Healthy Montana Initiative

The Healthy Montana Initiative announced to volunteers and supporters across the state that it will not qualify I-170 for the November ballot, but Montana advocates will continue the fight to provide health care for low income Montanans.

Personally I wonder if it is even possible to qualify an initiative in a non-presidential election year any more–especially because the percentage of Montanans who vote by mail continues to skyrocket. High mail vote numbers are usually a good thing for democracy because it’s a convenient way for many people to vote, but it makes it difficult to collect signatures. That’s because in a true citizens initiative driven by volunteers, the bulk of the signatures gathered come from standing outside polling locations on primary Election Day.

UPDATE: The best way to see how turnout and mail ballots has changed in recent years is to go look at the striking graphics up on James Conner’s Flathead Memo.  This chart tells the story best.

GOP Attorney General Tim Fox was another big part of the reason this ran out of time– he stalled the initiative effort by demanding that campaign organizers re-write the ballot language–forcing the citizens groups to spend time re-doing the initiative language that could have been spent gathering signatures–which may have been his intent.

But that wasn’t the only time opponents used stall tactics to prevent the ballot measure’s backers from having time to gather the necessary signatures.

They also had to fight off a lawsuit by TEA Party AG Tim Fox and a TEA Party legislative candidate named Matthew Monforton to block the popular citizen’s initiative to accept federal funding for health care for the working poor and veterans.

In a unanimous ruling, the justices of the MT Supreme Court ended up ruling that Fox’s and the TEA Partier’s attempt to invalidate the initiative fiscal statement was wrong. This fiscal statement was written by Fox himself and is supposed to explain how muh the measure could cost and save. Fox and the tea party tried to have it rewritten–an attempt to force the pro-Medicaid expansion signature gatherers to throw out thousands of signatures already gathered and start over at a later date, thereby severely restricting the amount of time they have to gather signatures. So the opponents failed, but in terms of time, money and resources used up to fight the legal challenge, the damage was severe.

It’s also worth noting that TEA Partier Monforton’s own attempt to block Medicaid expansion and nullify the entire Affordable Care Act had virtually no support. While the pro-expansion initiative got between 20-25,000 signatures, Monforton has never had enough to even report–which means so few signatures as to be embarrassing. I couldn’t find a Cowgirl tipster who had ever seen a Monforton signature gatherer.

Nor do I expect two anti-trapping ballot initiatives to qualify, nor the initiative to require a new appointment process for U.S. Senators, nor the initiative John Bohlinger proposed, nor the measure to require that half of our state legislators be women, nor the ban on medical cannabis, nor the measure to change how dentists are paid, nor the measure making it a right to access natural food and medicine, and not the several others out there that slip my mind right now either.

Most importantly however I think worth reading the statement from Montana’s leading field organizer and veteran human rights advocate Kim Abbott, who was the President of the Healthy Montana Initiative. If anyone could have qualified a citizens initiative ballot measure in this climate, it would have been Abbott. Nobody else even came close. (Charter’s paid signature gatherers bankrolled by corporate money hardly count, and it would not surprise me if Abbott bests them too.) Here’s Abbott:

“We are disappointed that the clock ran out on this effort, but we know that Montanans overwhelmingly support expanding Medicaid for 70,000 Montanans. Over 300 volunteers worked tirelessly over the past eight weeks. Because of their work, the movement to expand Medicaid grew by over 3,000 voters each and every week this spring. We are over 25,000 people stronger than we were when we started, and make no mistake, the momentum for this will continue to grow until Medicaid is expanded. There is too much at stake for Montanans, our hospitals and clinics, and our state to slow down now.

When we started this campaign in late March, we acknowledged that it was an uphill battle. We were forced to start over on the 30th day of our 30 day initiative review process. We faced obstructionism in the form of a legal challenge at the Supreme Court that threw our campaign in to legal uncertainly. We recognized that our grassroots team would be up against enormous, dark, outside money in November.

Even with all of these obstacles, we knew that it was truly a try or do nothing situation. We knew we would have to run a unique, grassroots campaign in order to compete. We knew doing nothing was not an option because 70,000 lives and the stability of hospitals and clinics depended on us. So we tried. Over 300 volunteers across the state – from Rexford to Red Lodge – donated their time to this effort. In eight weeks, our volunteers collected over 25,000 signatures. Unfortunately, the delays were simply too much. The June 20th deadline is the one barrier that we cannot work around. Our effort doesn’t get more time because we faced delays. Those are the rules and our campaign plays by them.

We are saddened that the citizens of Montana will not be able to vote in November on this critical issue. We want to be clear that our work will not end until 70,000 of our friends and neighbors have the health care they need and deserve. Montana cannot afford to stop until we get this done.”

Additional Information on I-170:

The Healthy Montana Initiative would have expanded Montana’s existing Medicaid program and provide health care to 70,000 low-income Montanans including veterans and their families, home health care workers, working parents, and other uninsured people. According to the Montana Budget and Policy Center, the Healthy Montana Initiative would have created 12,000 new jobs and give the state’s economy a $5.4 billion boost by accepting federal funds. Each day Montana does not expand Medicaid, our state turns away $1.84 million in federal funds.

To qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot, signatures of five percent of the total number of qualified voters in the state (based on the number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last general election), including five percent of the voters in each of 34 legislative house districts must be obtained (a total of 24,175 signatures).

Supporting organizations include: AARP Montana, Blue Mountain Clinic Family Practice, Child Care Resources, MEA-MFT, Montana Budget and Policy Center, Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, MHA – An Association of Montana Health Care Providers, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Nurses Association, Montana Organizing Project, Montana Primary Care Association, Montana State AFL-CIO, Montana Women Vote, Rural Dynamics, Inc., Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, and Western Native Voice.

Our thanks are due to them all. The upshot here is that the pro-expansion movement now has a large base of informed, motivated and active volunteers that will be able to apply considerable and awe-inspiring pressure on the 2015 legislature to do the right thing. This power and pressure will only continue to grow.

For more information on the Healthy Montana Initiative, go to www.healthymontanainitiative.org or email healthmtinitiative@gmail.com.

Medicaid Expansion Story Misses the Boat

A recent Public Radio story about a ballot measure to use federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor left out some important information which left readers with an inaccurate view of what’s really going on.

Republicans are trying to claim that a ballot initiative to make some working poor Montanans eligible for Medicaid will cost more than it actually will cost, but the story misses some important points that show why the GOP’s claims are quite hollow.

The public radio story purports to compare estimates from the Governor’s office and Montana legislature on the cost and savings associated with expanding Medicaid to the working poor. However, the story leaves out the most important points – why the estimates are different, and why the opponents are saying what they’re saying.

Here’s what you need to know:

Republicans say that Montana can’t use savings generated from the extra federal funds coming to all states through the Affordable Care Act to fund the state’s share of the Medicaid expansion.

It’s unfortunate that the Public Radio story fails to mention an important fact related to any story about Medicaid expansion: that Affordable Care Act originally did not make expanding Medicaid optional. The health care reform bill extended Medicaid eligibility in all states–and paid for 100% of the cost of benefits for the first three years and most of the cost thereafter.

The new health care law also says the federal government would pick up more of the tab for states that had already expanded coverage to some people. Many states had already expanded coverage for some adults–even Montana had already expanded coverage for children in 2008.

Later of course, the Supreme Court said states could decide whether to expand Medicaid coverage or not, but it did not strike the part of the bill related to expansion that gave states extra federal funding to cover kids. The Affordable Care Act sent this extra money to states because it intended for them to expand medicaid coverage, so this is the obvious pot of money to use now.  MTPR should have included this fundamental piece of information.

Now let’s talk about the complainer-in-chief that MTPR interviews for this story. The man is Fred Thomas, who has had a long career in the insurance industry.

This is an important point because the insurance industry is currently seeking additional concessions, favorable rules, and lenient regulations from Congress and the administration. Unless you live under a rock, you know that insurance companies are screaming like little babies about any and all things related to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a kabuki theater of posturing and criticism designed soften the feds to give in to the industry’s latest demands (and increase their profit margins), and it sheds some light on why Mr. Thomas is trying to manufacture a controversy.

While I don’t expect MTPR to note that Fred Thomas was also the architect of energy deregulation, and therefore known to have little concern for public assets,  I’ll note it here as we all know how poorly that turned out.

Finally, it is simply ludicrous to refer to the legislative fiscal division as “the nonpartisan office responsible for analyzing the state budget.”

Perhaps the concept of separation of powers between the branches of government is new to TEA Party legislators, but most people know that the executive branch reports to the Governor, and the legislative branch reports to the legislative leadership:  Jeff Essmann and Art Wittich. In addition to not being non-partisan, the legislative staff are also not responsible for creating fiscal notes. That duty is assigned by law to the Office of Budget and Program Planning. And since Montanans did not elect a Republican as Governor, that office does not answer to them, and the GOPers are obviously not happy.

Public radio usually does such great work and I doubt they’ll be pleased to learn that Fred Thomas is trying to make them his pawn. So I’m hopeful that these facts will not be omitted in future coverage.

 

93 Years Later

Ninety-three years ago yesterday, women finally got the right to vote.  That was in 1920–only 144 years after the Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal.”

Yet today Montana Republicans are still obsessed with restoring policies from 100 years ago–including erecting barriers to make it harder to vote.  During the 2013 legislature, they voted to put a measure on the ballot to eliminating same-day voter registration and making the last day to register to vote the Friday before the election to create additional and unnecessary obstacles to voting.

This means everyone in Montana will have less time to register to vote in Montana.

But there are types of people in particular who will lose out if they can’t register and vote on the same day—people with disabilities who need to make one trip instead of two; rural voters, particularly those on reservations who may live miles from the election office.   Then there are the people who thought they were properly registered, but were not, from correcting whatever the issue was and voting–such as people who registered when they renewed their driver’s license and the paperwork wasn’t transferred to the election office by mistake.

Montana Republicans know their policies are too wacky to be viable, so instead of running on the issues they’re seeking to keep good people out of office  by suppressing the vote–especially women leaders.

Same thing’s happening on the national level.  Just this week, a GOP political analyst said women leaders would be bad for the U.S. Here’s what GOP strategist Donny Deutsch said on Morning Joe to explain his view that the U.S. shouldn’t have women in power until Al Qaeda does:

“Problem: we have a woman, but our enemies are still on the opposite side of the equation. I don’t think the Al Qaedas of the world are going to be headed by women, so it falls apart a little bit. Women plus women equals a win to me. Women and still men on the other side of the table? Theoretically the world would be a better place with women running it. It doesn’t solve the problem.”

“If you have two women down to negotiate something, it’s going to get done without bullets,” Deutsch continued, undeterred by the ridiculousness of his position. “On our side of the equation, we solve it, but there’s a world that’s still a century behind in our evolutionary state or progressive state in how we feel about women.” 

The Republican voter suppression ballot measure is LR 405.

Legislator Admits Medical Marijuana Bill Was “Defacto Repeal” of Voter Intent in New Ad

Medical marijuana advocates today released a new radio ad in support of IR-124.  The ad urges voters to overturn Senate Bill 423 by ballot initiative at the polls this November.  SB 423 was passed by the Senate in 2011, and effectively repealed and destroyed a voter approved medical pot regime that was put in place in 2004 (also by ballot).

The ad features a statement by Sen.Larry Jent (D-Bozeman), who was caught on tape admitting that the Legislature’s final vote in the 2011 session was actually intended to functionally repeal (rather than fix) the state medical marijuana law adopted by voters.  “And it worked,” Jent concludes.  Oops.

Jent is not up for re-election this year but will be term limited out after the 2015 next session.  He had previously campaigned in the democratic gubernatorial primary but dropped out after it became clear he had no support against the popular Steve Bullock.

You can hear the ad here: No on IR-124 Ad

As you can see from the photo above, it looks like Jent may already be using some kind of illicit substance.

Legislators had claimed during the 2011 session that repealing the citizen initiative was not the intent of SB 423.  So Jent’s comments are very disappointing.   And polling has shown that Montana voters strongly oppose a repeal of the Medical Marijuana Act–62% oppose repeal while only 20% support it. The initiative passed with over 66% of the vote in 2004.

During the 2011 session, the Governor called SB 423 “unconstitutional on its face,” and issued an amendatory veto to fix the parts he considered legally defective.  The legislature rejected his changes, overriding Schweitzer’s amendatory veto and demonstrating they had the votes to override an outright veto of the bill as a whole.

Now, Montanans have a chance to decide for themselves whether they like what the legislature did.  A “no” vote on IR-124 is a vote to reject the Bat Crap Crazy legislature’s bill and allow sick people to use pot.  (An easy way to keep track of all of the initiatives and referenda on the ballot this fall is to vote no on everything but I-166, the initiative that says corporations aren’t people.)

Patients for Reform – Not Repeal today began airing the 30-second spot on the Northern Broadcasting Network, during the Aaron Flint show, and the group hopes to continue airing the ad on a daily basis through the election as fundraising allows.

Here’s the script of the ad: “Same Old Story”

Same old story. Politicians ignore the will of the people.The federal government attacks Montana’s sovereignty. And our gun rights. Fed up? Vote against IR-124 this November. It’s simple. Voters passed a ballot measure. The politicians repealed it.Here’s Democrat Larry Jent: This was meant to be a de facto repeal, and it worked. And, uh, that’s why we did it that way.

Repeal? What about respect for the voters?

 

Politicians said no to you. Now say no to them. No on IR-124.

[Paid for by Patients for Reform, Not Repeal. Sarah Baugh, Treasurer]

 

This is Embarrassing

Which Montana Republican strategist decided it was a good idea to make a woman caught in a Medicaid fraud probe  the public face of the conservative health care message?

Former GOP legislator Joe Balyeat says he has “a group of doctors” who are “rallying” in support of a “free-market” health care system, the Ravalli Republic reports.

Yet only one doctor was mentioned in the article on the rally, which appears to have had more reporters in attendance than actual rallyers based on the coverage it got.  Sen. Balyeat insisted that:

“the new coalition has 12 to 15 members.

“We are going to try to involve other health care professionals,” Balyeat said. “Right now, it’s almost exclusively doctors.”

Right…perhaps he means “exclusively” the one doctor quoted,  and that one has quite the history.

Annie Bukacek is the leader the movement which has failed three times to collect even half of the signatures needed  to get an abortion ban on the ballot.  The reason it didn’t qualify is because Montanans simply don’t want this garbage in our Constitution.  That the signature gathering was found to be pushed largely by out-of state interests could not have helped. The proposal was so extreme that even Montana’s in-state anti-choice groups refused to get involved.

New Billboard Campaign on Medical Marijuana Initiative

A billboard that reads “Welcome to Yellowstone County, Where the Will of the People Doesn’t Count” us up on Montana Avenue in Billings.  The billboard encourages Montanans to vote “NO” on IR-124.

Initiative Referendum 124 (IR-124) is the voter initiative that will appear on this year’s ballot. It allows voters keep or reject the new medical marijuana law passed by the infamous 2011 “Bat Crap Crazy” Montana legislature. (An initiative referendum is the process for citizens to put bills passed by the legislature on the ballot for everyone to vote on.) The new law, Senate Bill 423, sponsored by Billings Republican Jeff Essmann, repealed the citizen initiative voters passed in 2004 in favor of medical marijuana.  A “YES” vote is to keep the Jeff Essmann law, a “NO” vote is to reject it.  (An easy way to remember how to vote on the ballet items this year is to vote “NO” on everything except the one about Citizens United.)

During the 2011 session, the Governor called SB 423 “unconstitutional on its face,” and issued an amendatory veto to fix the parts he considered legally defective.  The legislature rejected his changes.

Essmann had thought to run for Governor on the Republican ticket, but he ended up quickly dropping out of the race.  Everywhere he went, the state Senator from Billings was hounded by by large numbers of angry protestors, upset with Essmann over the his notorious medical marijuana stance. It got so bad that when the Republican announced his campaign for Governor, Essmann did it the only way he could find to avoid the angry crowds:  on a conference call.

So voters got together and collected the signatures to get IR-124 on the ballot to let Montanans have the last word–the chance to vote “YES” or “NO” on whether Jeff Essmann’s medical marijuana bill should stand.

The billboard was put up by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, best known for its legal challenge to the current medical marijuana law:

“Through their repeal efforts, the legislature ignored the will of the people and claimed to be abiding by it all at the same time,” says Chris Lindsey, President of the MTCIA.  “First, they rushed to repeal the original law and leave patients with nothing.  When that failed, the same group of people came up with their current back-door effort at repeal – by making participation in the state program as painful and risky as possible.   Voters need to regain control of this issue, repeal the current terrible law and demand a realistic set of regulations.  No one wants to go back to the way things were, but what we have now is worse for patients.”