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
Chuck Johnson reported yesterday that the Flathead Republican Party has publicly censured veteran Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell for not being enough of a right-wing TEA Partier and for daring to actually support water rights for the one Montana tribe which still lacks a water compact.
Today, Senate Republicans are expected to announce their committee assignments. Cowgirl tipsters report that Republicans will stack certain committees with more republicans than merited by the make up of the house and senate (so that some committees are not representative of the proportion of Ds and Rs in the Senate) as a way of thwarting the efforts of moderates to properly represent the views of the people in their districts.
There are also rumors that GOP leadership is pulling more experienced and knowledgable people from committees they’ve served on in the past if right-wingers fear they they will not toe the TEA Party line. The senate may also cut the entire number of members on the senate’s most important committee Finance and Claims. Whether this is a move to make sure no moderates have a voice on that committee or as a way to punish moderates for past votes I can’t say. These contortions may help right-wing leadership more easily force its will on GOP lawmakers, but they also ensure the voters of many districts will not have the representation they deserve.
None of these games serve the people of Montana well.
We’ll see if this holds true when the senate assignments are announced today. House assignments are rumored to be much worse.
There is a new blog in Montana, an anonymous one, by the name of MontanaFloodlight.com and written ostensibly by self-proclaimed “responsible Republicans.” It takes aim at the Tea Party and the extremist faction of Republicans.
The headlines are very amusing as is the content, and as are the targets of the blog’s ire. “Fiscally Prudent” is the title, for example, of a July 10 post, containing the following paragraph:
Along with our balanced budget and healthy ending fund balance Montana is a shining example of government that works. Thanks in large part to Republicans that fought their own party to make sure pensions were funded!
Funnier still is that the blog apparently will employ a strategy of accusing extremists of being fiscal liberals. A July 1 entry is entitled “Essmann and Fielder: Big Spenders.” Fielder is state senator Jennifer Fielder from Sanders County, who works with militia groups, believes all federal land including national parks should be reverted to private status, and is a Cliven Bundy aficionado. And yet this moderate Republican blog has decided to try to take her down, or weaken her, by accusing her of being a “big spender.” Interesting choice.
The toughest part of this effort is that the blog finds itself arguing that the state is in solid fiscal health, something that Republicans hate admitting because it means crediting Steve Bullock. But a May 31 entry is headlined “State Government is NOT Growing” and features plums like this:
The latest falsehood created by Art Wittich and being repeated by the extremists is that the budget blew up three times faster than private sector growth. Nice fuzzy terms to hide the lies.
So the obvious question is, who is behind this blog?
I’d say there are a few possibilities. First, perhaps the responsible Republican faction in Montana, led by Kalispell Senator Bruce Tutvedt and company. Perhaps they raised some money and hired an operation. Lord knows that there’s no sitting Republican official in Montana who could even start a website let alone put together a blog. Perhaps some money has come from DC, from a group such as Karl Rove’s American crossroads which sometimes takes the side of establishment Republicans in primaries.
But since it’s anonymous, it tells me that the authors are afraid to admit that they are not extremists. Might it then be Bowen Greenwood and Will Deschamps, the director and chair of the state GOP?
Montana’s head elections regulator ruled this week that American Tradition Partnership illegally coordinated with a GOP legislative candidate, Dan Kennedy R-Laurel. Now, Montana’s top election regulator says he’s launching an investigation into other candidates ATP may have coordinated with.
ATP is the right-wing political attack group that was instrumental in bringing us the nation’s most bat-crap crazy state legislatures in 2011 and 2013. Kennedy’s primary opponent was but one of several GOP candidates who complained about ATPs activities to elect hard right-wingers over more moderate republicans.
The Montana Senate today voted to move forward with a bill by Sen. Dave Wanzenried (SB 395) to reform and expand the Medicaid program in Montana to working poor people–people whose employers don’t provide health benefits or don’t pay enough for people to afford to buy it on their own. The expansion program is called Access Health Montana.
Now the more conservative House must approve it as well.
Republicans have been hesitant to support the idea until now, even though it would mean billions of federal dollars for Montana. This is not surprising. Using government spending to create jobs (one of the Democrats’ strongest arguments for this proposal) is something that Republicans are claiming they fundamentally oppose, (though not when it comes to highway funding or farm subsidies apparently). So a few moderates joined in with the Dems, and the bill passed.
That hasn’t stopped many GOP legislators on the right wing from doing what they do best–spread misinformation.
During debate, for example, Sen. Art Wittich revealed that he has a most embarrassing lack of understanding of the bill–or perhaps he just decided to openly lie about it.
Wittich claimed there was “no cap” to the Medicaid expansion –that it would be infinitely costly for the state. That’s false. Eligibility is capped at 138% of the Federal Poverty Level – that means it’s limited to people who make less that that amount, about $15,000 for a single person.
He also made the ludicrous statement that instead being benefited by a Medicaid expansion, the uninsured should simply “use welfare” to buy health insurance. That’s not possible. Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF)–what Wittich calls “welfare”– is only for people with kids. It’s also temporary (hence the name). Families can only get the benefits for a limited time. There is no possibility of it being used for a purchase of health insurance.
Unlike TANF, Access Health Montana (the Medicaid Expansion plan that the Senate voted up) is not limited to people with kids.
Thankfully, a few GOP Senators looked into the facts of the matter, rather than relying on Wittich’s fibs. Llew Jones, Taylor Brown, Bruce Tutvedt, Ed Buttrey, and Jim Peterson are all Republicans who voted for the bill. All Democrats voted yes.
These Republicans made a smart choice. Access Health Montana is the only way to keep federal healthcare dollars in Montana now that Obamacare is the law of the land. If Montana doesn’t expand Medicaid, our federal tax dollars will go to the other states that do–instead of being spent here in Montana to boost our own economy.
That would translate to a $700 million annual loss to Montana’s future Gross Domestic Product. This probably doesn’t mean much to TEA Party dunces, but the GOPers with basic economic sense get that the expansion of Medicaid would add an additional 1.7% to Montana’s GDP for the next eight years. For context, understand that a 1.7% addition would roughly double the expected GDP growth rates for the next several years in this state.
The Medicaid expansion also helps states deal with some of the things Republicans say they don’t like about Obamacare.
For example, it protects small local hospitals and rural health care centers from federal cuts. Keeping the doors open to Montana’s rural hospitals means keeping jobs in their districts from being eliminated, and allowing rural Montanans access to medical care for which they would otherwise have to drive many hours.
It would also protect Montana employers from what the GOP calls “Obamacare penalties” – tax increases. The Affordable Care Act levies a tax on any company that employs 50 or more workers that does not provide workers with health insurance. This tax is alleviated or eliminated for many employers if these same workers can now get Medicaid. A recent private-sector report by Jackson Hewitt estimated that Montana companies will face an additional $10-15 million in tax penalties without the Medicaid expansion for this very reason.
Finally, Repubs who bothered to inform themselves about Bullock’s proposal know that Montana can do a trial run of the idea. For three years while the federal government is paying for 100% of the cost of benefits, Montana can opt-in to the expansion and see how things work. When the state is asked to start picking up a meager portion of the cost (the most states can be asked to pay is 10% and even then not until 2020), Montana has the legal authority to roll back the extension to the way things are now.
For these reasons, I expect that once Republicans have a chance to think about it this will pass the state House, with perhaps a few minor edits to increase the emphasis on reform. Certainly it doesn’t hurt that the GOP’s major electoral engine, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, has endorsed the idea too.
And don’t forget that an earlier version of Bullock’s proposal, HB 590, by Rep. Chuck Hunter has already received a majority of more than 50 votes on a (procedural) vote in the house. This latest version with its increased emphasis on reforming Medicaid and room for GOP input will be able to pick up more votes.Tweet
Right wing blaming anonymous blogs for GOP’s problems
Kudos to GOP senators President Jim Peterson and Senator Bruce Tutvedt, for thumbing their noses at their neanderthal GOP compatriots in the Senate and supporting (and actually carrying) Steve Bullock’s bill, SB 375, to reform campaign finance. Peterson and Tutdvedt held leadership posts once in the GOP, but were bounced by the new ruling right-wing junta.
Bullock’s bill imposes a very simple requirement, something you would think everybody could agree on: it requires campaign funding sources to be disclosed. If there is an ad on TV or radio, or a glossy mailer that arrives at a voters house, or a yard sign or leaflet, Montana law has always required that the voter be able to inquire as to who, exactly, is paying for the mass-produced item.
But the Supreme Court struck aspects of our law down (in Citizens United) and so Bullock and Peterson are trying to rewrite the statute to meet with the Supreme Court’s idiotic conclusion of law. At another time, Bullock was actually arguing the case in the Supreme Court.
Art Wittich, Jason Priest and others are leading the right-wing charge against the bill.
Hilariously, one of the GOP’s main arguments against this bill is….ready for this…..that Democrats are winning elections because of anonymous blogs, and this bill does nothing to regulate them. From the Helena IR today, reporting on Priest’s floor testimony on the bill:
State Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge warned fellow Republicans that the measure won’t affect anonymous blogs, a venue he argued where Democrats hold an advantage.
Priest went on to say that the democratic party uses blogs to “motivate voters,” presumably in a way that the GOP blogs fail to do. “Vote for this bill, and keep on losing elections,” Priest warned his fellow party members.
This same point is being made today, in a series of tweets, by party operative and former state GOP communications director Chris Shipp.
The bigger conflict, as we all know, is between conservative and moderate Republicans. Moderates are furious that right-wing groups, acting as a conservative Mujahideen, took it upon themselves to enforce conservative purity in recent elections. In 2010 and 2012 they spent big money to oust GOP moderate candidates in state legislative primaries. This division is a giant disaster for the GOP and has fractured the party possibly beyond repair. So it makes sense that they are blaming their problems on an anonymous blog. That’s what the GOP does best–blame someone else when it fucks up.
For the record, this blog is my own free speech, done on my uncompensated free time, and with the help of many tipsters who let me know about juicy stuff taking place in Montana politics. Mostly it is about googling, emailing and writing, things that many Republicans seem to struggle with as if these tasks require some advanced degree in science.
I get a few thousand readers on a good day (although I did get 14,000 on a single day last month!). It is true that this blog has become influential, but only because it prints facts and opinion that state newspapers, and in some cases democrats in general, choose not to bother putting out there. And don’t forget other blogs such as Flathead Memo,From Eternity to Here, Intelligent Discontent and the many of the blogs listed on the right of your screen on this page, who also do the same, important type of work.
More to the point, Jason Priest and other Tea Partiers should try to take this occasion to become more introverted and ponder an important question: why are typical Republican thinkers and writers in Montana incapable of producing a blog worth reading?
Today, PBS and ProPublica have posted the contents of the American Tradition Partnership’s bank records, which include some donor records from the 2010 election cycle. A Montana judge ordered that the information be made public last week. Among the groups funders is Pennsylvania Power & Light, or PP&L as it likes to be known in Montana (to eliminate the need to remind people where it is headquartered.)
Other ATP financial backers include:
TEA Party billionaire Ray Thompson, of Kalispell ($10,000)
John Sinrud, of Bozeman
Intermountain Rural Electric Association ($25,000)
Former TEA Party Legislator Tom Burnett (R-Bozeman)
Montana and Wyoming Oil Company
Flathead Timber, of Whitefish
Dan O’Neil Construction, of Billings
Soby Construction, of Bozeman
Raemaeker Insurance, of Choteau
Livingston developer Peter Mackenzie (various checks, thousands)
T. Baird Construction, Big Timber
developer Gateway Village LLC, Bozeman
Jason Theilman, Steve Daines campaign manager
GOP Senator Bruce Tutvedt (R-Kalispell)
Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill (Apple Gilroy Inc.)
Big Timber TEA Partier Bob Faw
AAON Inc.($20 k)
K12 Management Inc. Catholic religious private school corporation, Washington D.C. ($20k)
Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce PAC
Taxpayers for Liberty, Andrew J. O’Neill ($4k)
TEA Party Rep. Dan Kennedy (R-Laurel), Campaign account
Colorado Mine Association ($25k)
–and many others.
I haven’t had time to go through all the documents, but Cowgirl readers can do so here. It should be most interesting to see what people find. This information is from the 2010 cycle only, not 2012.Tweet
Republican candidates across the county have tried to distance themselves from Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who believes that rape victims should be forced to give birth and said that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
That’s been much more difficult for GOPers in Montana.
The forced birth for rape victims amendment cleared the house and the senate with 96 votes. All Republicans voted for it except Lila Evans. However, because it takes a 2/3 vote of 150 legislators to amend the constitution, the amendment failed by only four votes.
Below the fold is the list of current legislative candidates who voted in favor of forced births for victims of rape and incest. Check it out to see if your legislator is on it–I’ve alphabetized the list by town.
Shamefully, Jonathan Windy Boy and Gene Vuckovich also made the list. To be sure, there are many more GOP candidates for legislature who share these beliefs but weren’t in the 2011 session–like Scott Sales. There are also many more Republican legislators who voted for this but aren’t up for re-election this year.
For those who believe that last year’s TEA Party Republican Legislature has inflicted enough trauma on Montana, consider that what happened in this week’s primary election spells a looming disaster for the next session. Out-of-state corporate groups worked in the primaries to push the already Bat Crap Crazy Montana legislature further rightward and over the cliff.
Mailers by third party, out-of-state, and corporate-funded groups succeeded in several races in getting more conservative candidates elected in GOP Primaries across the state. Their work was also designed to force a further rightward shift in the votes of all legislators in the next session. That’s because legislators who don’t currently vote hard right on every single bill now know that if they don’t toe the line next time, they are likely to face the same kind of attack ads and mailers we saw this year.
The attack mailers had an impact on several high profile races–putting in right-wingers over moderates in Laurel, Stevensville, Sidney, Polson, the Flathead, and who knows where else. Not only do these groups refuse to disclose how much their spending and who they are spending it on, they also refuse to disclose their donors. If their supporters were individual Montana citizens they would have nothing to hide and could just file as a Political Action Committee. But they don’t. They claim that their attack ads are “educational” rather than “electioneering” so that they don’t have to report who’s bankrolling them. Besides their ridiculous names, here’s what is known about the groups pushing the Montana Legislature further into the abyss.
“Taxpayers for Liberty”
An outside ultraconservative group calling itself “Taxpayers for Liberty” (linked to American Tradition Partnership) sent out mailers like those pasted below against Republican Rep. Carmine Mowbray and Republican Sen. Bruce Tutvedt. The group sent one mailer with a Washington DC return address. Another had the return address of the Helena UPS store. So, it’s unlikely a Montana group. There’s no record of “Taxpayers for Liberty” in the Montana Secretary of State’s database or with the Commissioner of Political Practices either. The group does not disclose its donors so the involvement of corporate or Koch brothers money can’t be ruled out. Even though they didn’t succeed in ousting Tutvedt, they still succeeded in sending a message that anyone who doesn’t vote hardline Bat Crap can expect the same treatment in 2014, thus resulting in a further right leaning legislature in January.
“Montana Family Foundation”
The massive amount of secret, corporate and out-of-state money at work in the Montana primaries allowed the groups that had worked in these races in the past to be more effective. Thanks to corporate money, special interest lobbying groups working in conservative races like the so-called Montana Family Foundation didn’t have to get involved in every primary this year. They could be more targeted, and more deadly. In fact, after a Montana judge that struck down the law requiring accuracy in campaign ads, the Montana Family Foundation called the court decision “a good thing”and a victory, the Flathead Beacon reported.
The group put out radio ads mailers claiming that Republican legislators Carmine Mowbray and Bruce Tutvedt:
“voted to allow fifth graders to be taught different sexual positions and variations and to allow “kindergarten students to be taught sexual detail without parental consent,”
You can tell the Family Foundation attack ads are designed to scare Republicans into making outrageous votes by looking at the groups “C-2″–a statement PACs are required to file with the Commissioner of Political Practices. The [PDF] form reads so explicitly it is a veritable “kill list” of Republicans who didn’t vote how lobbyist Laszloffy ordered. If you don’t vote like we tell you, this form says, you’re next.
Laszloffy attacked Tutvedt and Mowbray by distorting their voting records, but why he targeted Republican candidate Tami Christensen in Sidney is a puzzle. How Laszloffy came to the conclusion that she doesn’t meet his creepy purity test is unclear, since out of hundreds of legislative candidates, only one bothered to fill out Laszoffy’s questionnaire. One wonders if it was just because she’s a woman. Several local Republicans spoke out against the Family Foundation’s actions, including the Mayor and former State Legislator Sen. Donald Steinbeisser.
The quotes from their release were particularly outrageous, given that ATP is funded by large out-of-state and multi-national corporations:
“This isn’t just a victory for ATP-Montana, it’s a victory for all ratepayers, property owners and businesspeople across the Treasure State,” said Doug Lair, State Coordinator for ATP-Montana. “Whether it’s against foreign corporations coming after our property rights or Gang Green’s hand-picked politicians bilking us through our utility bills, ATP-Montana will continue to fight for working people.”
“ATP is going to make sure there are consequences for regulation-happy politicians who want to use mom-and-pop business owners and employers as nothing more than punching bags and ATM machines,” added Lair, “and we won’t be shut up or shut down.”
ATP also threatened to buy the November elections, and threatened Steve Bullock in particular, saying that
“a pro-resource development agenda is sure to weigh heavily in the legislative elections in November, and particularly as party nominees Rick Hill and Steve Bullock face off in the race for governor.”
This demagoguing flier was mailed with heavy saturation in Whitefish, Columbia Falls, and who knows where else:
“Montana Growth Network”
This group worked in the Supreme Court race, but since Montana TEA Party Republican legislator Jason Priest is the groups treasurer I’m including it here. The Supreme Court race is non-partisan but the Helena IR reported that
“the Montana Growth Network, spent $19,000 with Richmond, Va.-based Desumo Strategies, which on its website lists as its one goal “Putting Republicans like you in office, at every level.”
By spending more on one saturation mailing then the conservative candidate they were backing had raised for her entire campaign, this corporate front group took the first step to buying the Supreme Court seat. Laurie McKinnon, who dog whistled at Lincoln Reagan dinners across Montana about “judicial activism,” “strict constructionist” and other conservative buzzwords was pushed past front-runner Elizabeth Best–in spite of reports of alleged Judicial Code of Ethics violations reported in Montana papers across the state. The allegations involve a fundraising letter sent out on McKinnon’s behalf, paid for by Laurie McKinnon’s campaign, from a sitting conservative Judge, Nels Swandal.
State District Judge Nels Swandal, who’s running for an open seat on the Montana Supreme Court, sent some clear signals Saturday to Republicans that he is the more conservative candidate in the race, saying he didn’t have or want the endorsement of a prominent labor or conservation group.
Swandal, speaking at a forum at the Republican Party Platform Convention in Billings, said some of the questions posed by the Montana AFL-CIO to candidates “are among the most un-American ideas I’ve ever seen,” and that he wouldn’t seek endorsement of the Montana Conservation Voters “because of their assault on private property.”
With groups like this pushing Montana further into nutjob territory, it’s easy to see why leaders like Steve Bullock, Brian Schweitzer and citizens from all over the state are fighting so hard to restore accuracy, transparency, and citizen input into Montana elections. What remains of the right to vote when the only messages most people get on issues of public policy are those put forward by large businesses, out-of-staters, and those with huge amounts of disposable cash?Tweet
Most of the attention in the primary has been focused on the Republican gubernatorial race, but some surprises could be in store for the GOP legislators who are facing primary challenges next month. With the Republican legislature being so unpopular, it’s understandable that those in charge are seeing serious primary challenges.
Voters didn’t expect their legislators to show up in Helena with an intellect rivalled only by garden tools, but that’s what happened. And so, state Senator Bruce Tutvedt (R) must now defend his own Senate District 3 against Rollan Roberts II, of Whitefish.
Tutvedt is vulnerable on several fronts. First, Tutvedt has a problem because he was among those running the show last session. He served as Senate President Pro Tempore and was said to be in charge of the GOP legislative strategy–for the session that turned Montana into a national laughing stock. Tutvedt is rumored to be on tap to replace Jim Peterson as Senate President, who was a massive failure as leader.
Here’s a video of Tutvedt in action. That’s him in the upper right hand corner of the screen:
Tutvedt is also vulnerable to a challenge from the right. Here’s a guy that runs around Montana railing against excessive spending and the evils of “too much government.” Tutvedt wrote on his website that:
“To have better government we need more legislators with business and budgeting experience to expedite the principals [sic] of smaller and more efficient government. The budget cannot continue to increase at the present rate. It’s unsustainable.”
Tutvedt is also vulnerable because he probably has never had a serious challenger and doesn’t seem to be doing much campaigning. The Flathead Memo reported that Tutvedt has…wait for it…updated his website to say he’s running for a second term and that he has a few signs up. That’s basically it at barely a month out.
Rollan Roberts II meanwhile has been going full steam ahead. He has a new website up (his third): www.voterollanroberts.com. The Flathead memo reports that Roberts is conducting honk-and-waves and has a well-done 4-page letter out. The third GOP candidate, Jayson Peters, who now manages Sykes for TEA Party billionaire Ray Thompson, dropped out of the race to help consolidate the anti-establishment, anti-incumbent sentiment behind one candidate.
State Senator Bruce Tutvedt is the top GOP legislator up for election this cycle since Jim Peterson is a “hold-over” and not up this year. House Speaker Mike Milburn is termed out of the house. His disgrace as Speaker was so great that he appears to have realized he can’t run for Senate.Tweet
Republicans Compare Judge Who Sent Racist Email to Jesus
Have you noticed the letters to the editor from Republicans popping up to defend Judge Cebull by comparing him to Jesus? Cebull is the judge who sent the racist emails about Obama’s mother and bestiality. Perhaps these Republicans should read this Billings Outpost report on how minorities in Montana themselves actually view his remarks.
Montana on Maddow
Last night, Rachel Maddow viewers got to relive one of the Montana Legislature’s most satisfying moments Here’s the video.