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
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.
1. Banning technology. GOP lawmakers are pushing a rule change that would allow GOP leadership to ban the use of technology from committee hearings. Rep. Tom Woods, in a guest post on the Cowgirl Blog, explained some of the draconian new rules the right-wing of the GOP legislature is seeking to pass this week. Democrats on the rules committee objected that technology was important for “researching facts and figures during a hearing, which is of great benefit to our constituencies, our objections were disregarded.” Some Republicans objected too: Rep. Mike Miller says he uses technology to take notes, you know, because it’s 2015. The GOP majority still moved the anti-tech rule forward.
2. Giving legislative staff two weeks off because their new budget software doesn’t work. The MT legislature is implementing some new budgeting software this session. Word on the street in Helena is that the software isn’t working yet–so whomever is in charge supposedly decided to just give all the staff a couple of weeks off instead of preparing for the session. If this rumor is true, this move certainly doesn’t do anything to instill public confidence.
3. Granting new “insanely powerful tool” to the Speaker of the House. This session, GOP leaders are proposing a move which would grant unprecedented new power to the Speaker of the House. As the Billings Gazette wrote in an editorial condemning proposed rule change to give Speaker Austin Knudsen new powers, “If the full House approves this rule, the speaker will effectively have the power to kill any bill that he wants to kill – unless 60 House members vote against his decision.” Bad idea. The Gazette editorial concluded by calling on “Knudsen to rethink his support for this ‘insanely powerful tool,’ as Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, has said.”
“We call on all House members — Democrats and Republicans — to vote against this change that would take power from the majority and transfer it to one representative.”
4. Banning the public from the house floor. Apparently unfazed with the fallout from getting busted holding a secret caucus meetings in a Helena motel, GOP leadership is seeking yet another rule change to create what TEA Party Rep. Art Wittich called a “refuge” to talk with other legislators without the public present. (Wittich is the lawmaker who faces removal from office for his role in the meth house scandal.) Republicans are proposing a rule banning the public from the house floor 24 hours a day – 7 says a week. In the past the public was not allowed on the house floor two hours before and after a floor session, but at all other hours were able to come to speak with legislators.
5. Claiming they are striving to be more like the U.S. Congress. The GOP-controled rules committee also voted to unilaterally demote democratic vice chairs to the position of “ranking members.” Rep. Jeff Essmann said the move is intended to make the MT legislature “be more like the U.S. Congress.” As Rep. Tom Woods explained so well,
“In a move that can only be seen as sticking a thumb in the eye of Democrats, GOP leaders in the house rules committee stripped the titles of all house Democrats serving as vice chairs of their committees. No valid reason was given for this action aside from a stated desire to “emulate the traditions in the US Congress.” I have never, ever had a constituent request that our Montana legislature be more like the US Congress, but…there you have it.”
10. Inviting a hate group to speak to the state legislature. Intelligent Discontent first reported that a hate group would be speaking at the Lewis and Clark Library this week. Now, that same blog and the Billings Gazette are reporting that this guy has been invited to speak to Montana lawmakers as well. The group’s speaker is a nullification proponent who preaches that parents should teach their children to hate people and that wildfires in CA were divine retribution for a state anti-discrimination law.
As the Gazette reported “Republicans participating in the sermon defended his inclusion as a matter of free speech.” The Gazette spoke with GOP state Sen. Jennifer Fielder about it Sunday, as well as Wendy McKamey (R-Great Falls) who originally said she may not participate in the program after learning of the speakers’ views. Other GOP-ers must have got wind of her hesitation however, because she called the Gazette back the next day to tell them she would definitely be there.
These mistakes are bad not because they further damage the hard right’s reputation with the public, although to be sure they do. They’re bad because they serve to keep the public out of decisions the legislature make and to consolidate these decisions into hands of a few extremists behind closed doors who dutifully follow national special interest and fringe group directives but don’t represent most Montanans.
9. Dems Make Amanda Curtis U.S. Senate Candidate The enthusiasm generated by Amanda Curtis’ candidacy for U.S. senate shows what a bright future Curtis has in Montana politics – and made this one of the year’s most-read posts.
8. House Republicans Off to a Bad Start with Illegal Secret Meeting First, Republicans were busted by reporters holding a secret caucus in the basement of a Helena hotel. Now, they’ve proposed a new rule that would bar members of the public from the house floor entirely. Taking such extreme measures to keep the public out of the lawmaking process is a disturbing trend that does not bode well for the 2015 session.
7. Corporation Seeks to Bypass Politicians and Just Buy a Montana Law In 2014, a national corporation has decided to get around the corporate campaign donation and dark money group process and just buy the laws directly. Charter Communications tried, and failed to use paid signature gatherers to get its own personal ballot initiative on the ballot to force Montanans to pay its taxes. Montanans were outraged and Charter failed to gather enough signatures to get their scheme on the ballot.
3. GOP Packs Education Committee with Homeschoolers, Crackpots, and Convicts Now that the large-scale assault on public education is beginning to be exposed by the Montana press, the make up of the House Education committee is particularly troubling. Just this year, Montana PBS captured Montana Family Foundation leader Jeff Laszloffy claiming on camera –over and over again–that there was “no connection, absolutely none” between his public school privatization campaign and bill last session and ALEC.
The PBS expose then shows how Laszloffy’s bill is almost a word for word copy of the ALEC model bill. When Laszloffy tries to claim that charter schools aren’t for-profit corporations, the piece shows financial and investment reports showing the high profitability of these private charter schools. The documentary also exposes how ALEC funded the PR campaign Laszloffy used to push these private charter schools in Montana–and many other connections between ALEC and the Montana Family Foundation.
These connections include jointly funded surveys by ALEC and the Family Foundation and articles trumpeting the Family Foundation private school push, all of which appear in Laszloffy’s group’s legislative testimony. The ALEC bill Laszloffy was caught on tape lying about was sponsored by none other than Speaker Austin Knudson. You can watch the entire expose online here.
2. TEA Party-Militia Plot Unearthed in Bozeman When the 2014 election season began, the Cowgirl Blog uncovered a nasty plot afoot in Gallatin county and elsewhere, hatched by the local conservatives. It was dirty, below-the-belt, highly dishonest stuff. Embarrassed at the fact that they have become a national joke, the right-wing of the conservative movement resorted to an attempt to invade and infect the Democratic Party, Trojan Horse style, and take it over. Eight local Tea Partiers filed paperwork to run as Democrats for local legislative races. The Bozeman Chronicle and the Great Falls Tribune both looked into the plot and found additional candidates and shadiness.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Ben Franklin
As bizarre as this may sound, the Montana Republicans have chosen Sarah Laszloffy (R-Laurel) to be Chair of the House Education Committee. Laszloffy is 23-years-old and a major advocate (and product) of homeschooling and promotes using your tax dollars to subsidize private sectarian religious schools. She is also an alumnus of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, where students of all ages come to learn how to live “a supernatural lifestyle.” (Who says Republicans are to opposed alternative lifestyles?)
According to the school’s website, Laszloffy and her fellow students learn how to “do the Bible,” —including useful skills such as “how to cast out demons” and other practical solutions to life’s most pressing problems. [screenshot]
Bethel’s members also purport to have the ability to heal people through prayer and bring the dead back to life, although this failed when one young man at the academy fell from a 200-foot cliff and Bethel students tried for several hours to pray him back to life before calling 911. The victim, who had not actually died yet but was instead unconscious, filed a lawsuit against the students after he ended up a paraplegic.
Laszloffy quickly removed references to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry from her Facebook profile once the Cowgirl blog made the information public two years ago, but you can see a screenshot here.
Laszloffy is the daughter of noted birther Jeff Laszloffy who is a lobbyist for the ultra-religious, ultra-right-wing group which calls itself the Montana Family Foundation.
And if it’s not bad enough that this young ignoramus has been chosen to occupy the GOP’s top education post in the Montana state legislature, consider who her top deputy will be: the number two Republican on the Education committee will be Debra Lamm (R-Livingston), who also worked for the Family Foundation and in fact was the group’s top lobbyist until this year. She will be vice chair of the House Education Committee.
Lamm’s greatest hits include her publicly held belief that improved math and reading standards are connected to the workings of “the United Nations, UNESCO, the ‘New World Order,’ Marxism, Globalism, Islam, etc.” and the culmination “of an envisioned future of ’dominant elites’ who have been working behind the scenes for over 100 years to ensure its adoption.” She has also worked closely on education policy with the wealthy Greg Gianforte of Bozeman, who builds museums that attempt to prove that dinosaurs lived 4,000 years ago.
Overall, however, I’d say the big winner in the Laszloffy and Lamm appointments is Chick-Fil-A. The Family Foundation was behind the enlightened plan to import stale chicken sandwiches to Montana from Chick-Fil-A locations in other states (there are none in Montana) after it announced that it wanted to keep discrimination against LBGT people legal.
But if you thought the bizarre appointments ended there, you’d be wrong.
Even so, newly appointed house education committee member Rep. Matthew Monforton appears to lack faith that Republican voters can tell the difference between someone who’s truly uninformed and someone who’s just faking it to get elected on the GOP ticket. He’s calling for closed primaries–which would prevent independents, the unaffiliated and anyone but GOP stalwarts from voting in the GOP primary. Presumably this will help the electoral chances of the truly backward – so that they too m may be appointed to the committee that makes Montana’s education laws.
It looks like Billings Mayor Tom Hanel got into the gene pool when the lifeguard wasn’t looking.
Lee Newspapers photo
How else to explain that Hanel cast the deciding vote to keep discrimination legal in Billings, Montana’s largest community. By doing so, Hanel put the crackpot ideology of certifiable nutjob Jeff Laszloffy over the views of most people in Billings–people Hanel is supposed to represent. Laszloffy is head of the “Montana Family Foundation.” He’s the guy who led the fight to allow discrimination against LGBT Montanans.
So let’s take a look at the man whose views Mayor Hanel valued most when it came time to make city policy. This was certainly a very poor calculation on Hanel’s part.
Hanel listened to a proven liar
Earlier this summer, Laszloffy was the subject of a documentary exposé on influence peddling in the Montana legislature. He was caught lying on camera when he claimed that there was “no connection, absolutely none” between the public school privatization bill he backed last session and the corporate front group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, which was pushing this same bill nationwide.
The PBS documentary uncovered multiple connections between Laszloffy and ALEC, including how Laszloffy’s bill to force taxpayers to subsidize sectarian religious schools is almost a word for word copy of ALEC’s bill. Laszloffy claims in the documentary that charter schools aren’t for-profit corporations, and was caught in another lie. The exposé pointed out financial and investment news reports outlining the high profitability of these private charter schools. ALEC even funded the PR campaign Laszloffy used to push these private charter schools in Montana. And even though Laszloffy said he had nothing to do with ALEC, PBS also uncovered jointly funded surveys by ALEC and the Family Foundation–and jointly funded articles trumpeting the Family Foundation’s private school push, all of which appear in Laszloffy’s groups’ own legislative testimony. You can watch the entire expose online here.
Hanel listened to a birther
Laszloffy went live from Birtherstan in 2011, when he actually supported the infamous birther bill, Bob Wagner’s House Bill 205 which would have required all candidates to produce birth certificates–especially a certain black candidate. Laszloffy testified:
We’ve gone over 200 years without this being a problem and it just became a problem in the last election cycle. And I think the circumstances surrounding this are frankly bizarre. There is question as to whether the president was born in the United States, we all know that…The president could fix this by simply releasing his birth certificate and that would get us past this little road bump.
Hanel listened to a man who celebrates discrimination
Laszloffy also organized a small group in celebrating their hatred of gay people by throwing a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. The day was marked by bringing gay-haters together to teach their kids that discrimination against others is something to celebrate–preferably with stale fast food from 1000 miles away. Just the kind of person you want to be playing a key role in making city policy right?
Hanel listened to a man who led the fight to allow religious boarding schools to operate without regulation despite terrible allegations of child abuse.
Laszloffy lead the fight to allow religious boarding schools in Montana like Pinehaven Ranch to remain unregulated. These religious schools, which have no licenses, no accreditation and employ teachers who are not certified, are now dealing with allegations that staff used violence to discipline students. And yet the Montana GOP has voted, under Laszloffy’s direction, to allow such schools to continue to go unregulated. CNN ran a big story about it on the Anderson Cooper 360 show. Rep. Ellie Hill’s HB 236 would have addressed the problem. Laszloffy lobbied hard against Hill’s bill, convincing the GOP majority to let these kids suffer free from protection.
So yeah, this is pretty bad policy making, and its pretty ridiculous that Billings Mayor Tom Hanel went so wrong by listening to this guy instead of his own constituents. He should be replaced at the earliest opportunity since he has demonstrated such poor judgement.Tweet
At the Missoula Independent, reporter Ted McDermott has an incredible piece on a Montana militia member who organized militia types from around the U.S. to descend on Cliven Bundy’s ranch and claims to have led Bundy’s militia battles during the Nevada rancher’s standoff with the BLM.
The militia member, an Anaconda man named Ryan Payne who lives “off the grid” with his grandparents, also shares his troubling conspiracy theories. These include his belief that slavery never took place in the U.S., and why he believes his fight was “just the first battle in the fight to reclaim America.” Here’s Freedom Fighter.
Brought to You by ALEC
Anyone who cares about politics should watch the new expose by Montana PBS, Brought to You by ALEC which sends a reporter along with Montana legislators to a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. As Cowgirl readers know, ALEC is the bane of workaday Montanans’ existence. It’s corporate America’s mainline to corrupting the lawmaking process. At resorts in closed-door “summits” they write “model bills” and instruct GOP state legislators to force them through back home.
The PBS expose includes some telling interviews with Republican state legislators Sen. Roger Webb (R-Billings) and Rep. Dan Salomon (R-Ronan). Roger Webb is the guy who was convicted of beating and shooting his neighbors’s pets Katie and Alli, both black labs. Salomon is known for his outrage over the fact that Congress dared to ask a few ALEC members and donors for their views on “stand your ground” legislation, which was an ALEC boilerplate bill. ALEC found itself facing a mass exodus of major donors after it became public that the stand your ground laws were ALEC’s doing.
Anyway, the documentary has some great moments. There’s the clip of Dan Salomon at 11:25 starting to explain how the public isn’t allowed into the ALEC tasks forces. He then catches himself midstream and says the actually doesn’t know if the public is locked out.
Then there’s the moment at 7:05 when Roger Webb admits the bulk of ALEC’s revenue comes from corporate donors with a vested interest in the legislation they’re pushing. He says this doesn’t bother him in the least, because to him ALEC funding this is no different than businesses supporting Girl Scouts and Little League.
Then there are the several shots of TEA Party leader Art Wittich lunching at the ALEC conference. Wittich is not interviewed in the video. Presumably he was smarter than Webb and Salomon and refused. To be sure, the report should have included footage of Wittich refusing to be interviewed on camera. It also should have looked more into all of the variousALEC bills introduced in Montana, instead of just focusing on one.
But overall the expose was well done. By far the best part of the video comes toward the end, where Montana Family Foundation leader Jeff Laszloffy claims on camera –over and over again–that there was “no connection, absolutely none” between his public school privatization campaign and bill last session and ALEC.
The reporter then shows how Laszloffy’s bill is almost a word for word copy of the ALEC model bill. When Laszloffy tries to claim that charter schools aren’t for-profit corporations, and the piece shows financial and investment reports showing the high profitability of these private charter schools. The documentary also exposes how ALEC funded the PR campaign Laszloffy used to push these private charter schools in Montana–and many other connections between ALEC and the Montana Family Foundation.
These connections include jointly funded surveys by ALEC and the Family Foundation and articles trumpeting the Family Foundation private school push, all of which appear in Laszloffy’s groups legislative testimony. The ALEC bill Laszloffy was caught on tape lying about was sponsored by Austin Knudson. You can watch the entire expose online here. Kudos to Montana PBS reporter Anna Rau and all the PBS staff involved in this report.
Ken Miller has foisted himself into the public spotlight again, prompting speculation about whether he’s mulling another statewide run in 2014 or whether he’s trying to provide cover for some of Steve Daines’ wackier views.
Against a backdrop of Tea Party calls to abolish the Department of Education and eliminate the teaching of science from public schools, the former Republican candidate for governor is now on the stump for a new jihad – prohibiting Montana schools from adopting education standards relevant to the current century.
Reducing educational quality is no doubt a good strategy for hardline Republicans, as anyone facing a crowded GOP primary will need to separate himself from the pro-business wing of the party (otherwise known as RINOs).
In an email sent out this week (below), Miller invites his supporters to join his crusade against education standards, promising free pizza today (Wed) to anyone who shows up. Obstructing educational quality is a top priority of TEA Party front-group Americans for Prosperity, who presumably want to keep the masses uneducated in hopes this will help TEA Party Republicans keep their elected offices. TEA Partiers around the country are working overtime to spread the word against these standards, which 45 states have already adopted. Continue reading →Tweet
The Montana Family Foundation’s Jeff Laszloffy suffered a slew of losses this session, but perhaps none was felt so bitterly as his failure to get a parental consent legislative referendum on the ballot for 2014. The Family Foundation’s legislative referenda work was the organization’s major cash cow last election cycle. Since Laszloffy failed to get the measure on the ballot for 2014, the Family Foundation’s ability to impact elections has now evaporated.
Cowgirl readers will recall that Governor Steve Bullock allowed Laszloffy’s unconstitutional bill to become law solely so that the bill can be struck down in Montana’s courts. As John Adams at The Lowdown reports, the move allows women to immediately challenge the measure in court long before an identical referenda passed by the legislature gets to the ballot in 2014.
Sure, Laszloffy knew that the measure was unconstitutional–everyone knew it. But Lazloffy’s purpose in pushing it was electoral, not policy-driven.
You see, last election cycle Laszloffy raised some $300,000–purportedly for the parental notification legislative referenda which was sent to the ballot by the 2011 legislature. Montana Family Foundation’s Incidental Ballot Committee Reports in 2012 show they were able to raise and spend $320,000 in 2012.
In a typical year, the Family Foundation raises about $20,000 for electoral work. But because of the LR, LR-120, they were able to raise more than 15 times that amount. You can see the reports below.
For one thing, this is money that could be used to supplant Family Foundation funds that had been going toward Laszloffy’s salary. What’s also interesting is that the campaign finance reports for Laszloffy’s ballot committee shows that some of the money he raised was leveraged to actually help the GOP’s top targeted legislative races–not just the ballot initiative.
Here’s a screenshot from his “incidental ballot committee’s” campaign report. It reports the expenditure Lazsoffy made for a mailer that was about the ballot measure on one side, and a top tier targeted GOP race on the other. This means that all of the polling and research Laszloffy did for these mailings was supporting the GOP’s legislative candidates too.
Thanks to Cowgirl tipsters for pointing out these fundraising anomalies. Reader tips are the essence of this blog. Send tips to mntnacowgirl (at) gmail.comTweet
If it was the will of God that Jeff Laszloffy introduced such right-wing bills this session— as opposed to the will of the people the legislature is elected to represent — how does Laszloffy explain the fact that so many of his bills failed? Especially when the session was overwhelmingly dominated by members of the Republican Party.
Here’s a sampling of bills Laszloffy was backing which failed to pass.
Clayton Fiscus’s bill to require the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in all Montana schools failed.
To be sure, Laszloffy did get his way on one very prominent national issue. He allowed religious boarding schools in Montana like Pinehaven Ranch to remain unregulated. These religious schools, which have no licenses, no accreditation and employ teachers who are not certified, are now dealing with allegations that staff used violence to discipline students. And yet the Montana GOP has voted, on a party line, to allow such schools to continue to go unregulated. CNN ran a big story about it on the Anderson Cooper 360 show. Ellie Hill’s HB 236 would have addressed the problem. Laszloffy lobbied hard against Hill’s bill.
Before you start questioning God and his plan in light of this new information, make quick review of Laszloffy’s failed agenda–and how out-of-touch these bills make their sponsors appear. Sure enough, Laszloffy will prove to be the answer to the prayers of local Democrats next fall.