Tag Archives: Jennifer Fielder

American Lands Council, GOP Senator Silent in the Face of Questions Over Staffing Arrangement

The Bozeman Chronicle is reporting today that a Republican senator’s aide was asked to step down after it was revealed that the aide was a paid staffer of and lobbyist for the American Lands Council, a Utah group that is pushing for the takeover of Montana public lands.  Sen. Jennifer Fielder has so far refused to comment on the matter, but it doesn’t look good that an out-of-state group was paying the salary of an individual serving as Fielder’s staffer, who was simultaneously a registered lobbyist for that organization to boot.

Typically, the only lawmakers that have staffers, are the leadership (majority and minority) of the House and Senate, and these shared staffers are paid for out of the legislature’s budget  A personal staffer paid for by a lobbying group is something I certainly haven’t seen before.  The Cowgirl Blog first reported the issue yesterday morning after tipsters discovered what was happening.

Fielder has introduced multiple land takeover bills on behalf of the Utah group this session, and has been helping the out-of-staters push the scheme for the past year and a half. But most people thought the land takeover plot was just too extreme–not to mention unconstitutional and somewhat ridiculous.  Every bill Fielder introduced on this issue has died, even though Montana’s legislature has wide Republican majorities in both houses.

It’s concerning therefore that Montana’s Senate President, Debby Barrett has said she tapped Fielder as vice-Chair of the Republican party because of her stance on these very issues.  As Lee newspapers reported recently, Fielder who is currently the vice-chair of the Montana Republican Party, was “nominated by Sen. Debby Barrett of Dillon, who is now president of the Montana Senate.”

Barrett says she was impressed by the job Fielder did as a freshman senator, working on the lands issue and representing her district.

“There’s not economic benefit from the forest up there anymore,” Barrett says. “It’s a problem and she’s searching for how to address that. … She has educated herself and she’s educating other people on the issue of getting the stewardship of our lands taken care of, because they’re just going to waste.”

The Lee Newspapers also discussed Fielder’s role in a group called the Sanders County Resource Council.   But what they didn’t report is that Fielder and John Trochman, founder of the Militia of Montana, are co-leaders of that group.  Fielder is on the group’s board of directors, according to her website. Here’s the screenshot in case this gets taken down.

Trochmann founded the Militia of Montana in the 1990s after the wife and son of white supremacist Randy Weaver were killed in a standoff with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. He’s a big figure in the national militia movement.  And the Sanders County Resource Council was formed by Trochmann specifically to serve as a front group for militia activity.  We know this because Trochmann admitted it, in a radio interview, in which he explains that for legal reasons, he now conducts much of his militia-oriented activity under the guise of several new groups, SNRC among them.

So heads up, folks. If the American Lands Council starts agitating in your state next, this is the kind of thing you’d be wise to keep an eye out for.

The Puppet Show

Yesterday on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives, TEA Party Republican Randy Pinnocci gave a speech in favor of his bill to prohibit the United Nations from the “use of technology for controlling human activity…and the indoctrination of children for global citizenship.” (Which 41 Republicans voted for.)  Pinnoci said the goal of his bill was: “to prevent us from being told what to do by an outside entity.” “What I believe is that if we have a good idea in Montana we should implement it on our own,” he continued.

But two new and separate pieces of investigative journalism in the Bozeman Chronicle and the Flathead Beacon, and documents obtained by Cowgirl tipsters, show that outside entities are indeed telling the Montana legislature what to do, even writing boilerplate bills introduced in Montana and providing direct instruction to legislative bill drafters.

A Florida right-wing group called the Foundation for Government Accountability is instructing Montana legislators and legislative staffers on how to write our laws, and TEA Party lawmakers are attempting to pass boilerplate legislation provided by the same organization. But that’s not the only disturbing evidence of the extent outside forces are pulling the strings at the Montana Legislature.

Inside Job

First,  we turn to the office of TEA Party Senator Jennifer Fielder.  Fielder alone has requested dozens of different bills to address the same scheme – which republicans call TPL for “takeover of public lands.”  The Utah-based American Lands Council has been pushing the idea at at  ALEC conferences.  It is an ALEC boilerplate bill, and it would increase our taxes by hundreds of millions, and inflict a major blow to Montana’s tourism economy.

It has now come to light that the individual that has been serving as Jennifer Fielder’s staffer and legislative aide (granting him full floor privileges amongst other things) was at the same time being employed by the American Lands Council as their registered lobbyist.  Montanans deserve to know what the deal is here including the serious ethical questions raised regarding her own staffer being paid by the American Lands Council.

You can see here screen shots from the commissioner of political practices website showing he is the registered lobbyist of the Utah land-secession group.

And here is a shot of this guy’s Facebook page where the lobbyist publicly posts his position as a Senate Aide.

And finally here you can view a picture with him wearing his official Montana state legislature name badge which grants him unrestricted access to the Senate Floor and GOP leadership.

 Boilerplate and Behind the Scenes Instruction

Yesterday,  the Bozeman Chronicle reported that as many as 1/3 of the bills written by legislative staff come at the request of or under the instruction of outside groups rather than from Montana elected officials.

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The group behind this is the Florida-Based “Foundation for Government Accountability” or the FGA.  The group is active in several states – usually working to kill Medicaid expansion as they did in Wyoming and Tennessee.  They also worked to kill Medicaid expansion in Maine, where they conducted a biased “poll”.  A similar push-poll was also in conducted recently in Montana and is expected to be released soon.

Below is a screenshot of that FGA-AFP Facebook AD.

FGA-AFP Facebook AD

You can see the Florida group’s  Montana attack site here: http://dontexpandmt.com/ Here is their Facebook timeline: https://www.facebook.com/TheFGA?fref=nf   Like AFP, the group is spending big bucks to kill Medicaid expansion in Montana with ads and talking points being parroted by right-wing, “legislators” (or should we just call them puppets). The FGA is saying that if we expand medicaid we will lose school funding, highway funding, prison funding, funding for first responders etc., which is obviously a complete lie.

But it doesn’t stop there.

 

The FGA is also behind Fred Thomas’s Senate Bill 206 - one of the worst bills of the 2015 session which would take assistance buying food from thousands of hungry seniors, people with disabilities, and kids. As the Bozeman Chronicle reported:

State Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, a longtime legislator, introduced a bill last month to create limits on food stamp assistance in Montana.

Thomas told the Associated Press that he drafted the bill after hearing from store cashiers that food stamps are being used to buy energy drinks, frozen pizza and other items.

According to emails obtained by the Chronicle, the bill was written in large part by the Foundation for Government Accountability in Florida. A copy of the group’s boilerplate bills was provided to drafters.

It’s not just Thomas who is pimping Foundation for Government Accountability boilerplate bad ideas- check out Sen. Cary Smith (TEA -Billings) who is carrying SB 148, an ALEC boilerplate bill also procured from him by the same Foundation for Government Accountability, as you can see here.  That bill aims to strip tens of thousands of the poorest Montanans from Medicaid or food stamps – even though they are still eligible.  As the Flathead Beacon reported:

 portions of a bill introduced in the Montana Legislature, SB 148, which aims to prevent welfare fraud, are taken nearly verbatim from a piece of model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council,

This is likely the tip of the iceberg and I expect more such evidence of who’s really calling the shots at the Montana Legislature to come to light.  The Great Falls Tribune and the Flathead Beacon have already reported on the series of fake “town hall meetings” that backfired on Americans for Prosperity recently.

With this latest revelation, Montanans will respond to the bills these right-wing legislators and out-of-state groups are attempting to foist on us with even greater skepticism.  Because while Fred Thomas embarrassingly tries to spin this insider influence for out-of-state special interests as a good thing, I doubt most Montanans would agree. 

 

Nutjob Bills in the Montana Legislature

Yes America, here are some of the major pieces of legislation that have been put forward in 2015 by the Tea Party Republicans who are now in control of the Montana legislature.

This is not a joke. These are real bills, and they are currently taking priority in the Montana legislature over anything legitimate that would improve jobs, Montana’s economy, or the health and well-being of our citizens.

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1. Exempt political ads by churches from campaign finance laws by classifying them as news reports. LC 1942 by David Howard (R-TEA Park City)

2. Require federalism training for state employees. LC 1760 by Jennifer Fielder (TEA-Noxon)

3. Create a state militia and outfit them with uniforms. SB 130 by Roger Webb (R-TEA Billings)

4. Ban Sharia law from Montana courts. SB 199 by Janna Taylor (R-TEA Datyon)

5. Force the secession of all federal public lands within MT borders from the United States government. SB 274 by Jennifer Fielder (TEA-Noxon)

6. Prohibit the state Board of Education from establishing math and reading standards. HB 376 by Debra Lamm (TEA-Livingston) and rescind any math and reading standards the state may already have established. HB 377 by same.

7. Prohibiting the use of technology for controlling human activity and outlaw the indoctrination of children for global citizenship. HB 583 by Randall Pinocci (TEA-Sun River)

8. Eliminate the ability of law enforcement to use animal shelter staff to assist in the rescue and sheltering of animals in cases of alleged animal cruelty and abuse, because animal shelter staff are probably terrorists.  HB 179  by Theresa Manzella (TEA-Ravalli County)

9. Allow hunting with silencers. HB 250 by Kirk Wagoner (R-TEA Jackson Creek)

10. Allow hunting of mountain lions and wolves with silencers. HB 450 by Kirk Wagoner (R-TEA Jackson Creek)

11. Legalize even more hunting with silencers SB 295. by Mark Blasdel (R-TEA Kalispell)

12. Legalize guns and rifles in school parking lots. HB 320 by Carl Glimm (R-TEA Ashley Lake)

13. Legalize guns and rifles in office parking lots. HB 505 the official title of which is “establish employee safe travel to work laws”, by Matthew Monforton (TEA-Bozeman)

14. Lift the prohibition on carrying concealed weapons in bars, parks, and schools. HB 371 by Rep. Kerry White (TEA-Bozeman)

15. Legalize guns on college campuses. by Rep. Cary Smith SB 143 (R-TEA Billings)

16. Allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon. HB 298   Bill Harris (R-Winnett)

17. Nullify all federal gun laws. HB 203 by Rep. Art Wittich (R-TEA Bozeman)

18. Encourage the manufacturing of ammunition to prevent a national shortage. HB 122 by Matthew Rosedale (R-TEA Glendive)

19. Allow anyone to refuse to vaccinate their children for any reason.  Amendment to HB 158 by Rep. Greg Hertz (R-TEA Polson)

20. Make it illegal to don a costume that would make it appear you might be naked or which includes a prosthetic anus. HB 365 by David “Doc” Moore (R-Missoula)

21. Prohibit the use of drones to spy on hunters or interfere with “post-hunting activities.” HB 278 by Jeff Essmann (R-TEA Billings)

 

 

Big Rally in Helena Today to Derail ALEC Land Grab Nonsense

MTRALLYPOSTERMontanans from across the state are gathering in  Helena to oppose TEA Party Sen. Jennifer Fielder’s plans to takeover our public lands with SB 215 and a “package” of other such bills.

It’s ridiculous that the Lee Newspaper story on the land grab doesn’t even mention where Fielder got the idea, which is copied from a Utah state legislator named Ken Ivory and his “group” the American Lands Council.

Ivory has been touring around pushing the idea that states should condemn and sell of public land.  He says this will help pay off the national debt.   This is an ALEC boilerplate bill, of which there are several this session, and Ken Ivory, basically Utah’s Derek Skees, has been pushing it at  ALEC conferences.  Montanans rejected the idea, which was among the infamous nutjob bills of the 2011 legislature ridiculed across the U.S.  The Utah legislature’s own legal staff has said the idea is unconstitutional.

But that doesn’t stop those looking for ways to become the next Cliven Bundy or Robert. E. Lee–and since Fielder can’t figure out how to secede, she is hoping to spark a new sagebrush rebellion in the Montana legislature.

It’s also troubling that the Lee Newspapers article on this nonsense didn’t mention how the republican party distanced itself from the land grab during the 2014 elections, since the scheme is obviously extremely unpopular with Montanans.

The rally is expected to be one of the largest in recent memory.  Fielder isn’t pushing this because it’s the right thing for Montana.  She’s creating more TEA Party circus theatrics like the Bozeman Chronicle has already pointed out Rep. Art Wittich and Rep. Tom Burnett are guilty of:

Somewhere along the line, our state Legislature — or at least certain members of it — stopped deliberating on what is best for the state and turned the whole process into a stage for politicians to preen and prance in front of their base with absurd proposals that consume valuable time and money…..

We get it, Reps. Wittich and Burnett: Some of your constituents dislike and distrust the federal government. But is it really necessary to turn the Legislature into a circus sideshow to keep them happy? These measures aren’t going to be enacted, and even if they were, they are utterly unenforceable.

Let’s drop the theatrics and get to the state’s real business.

Bullock meme

Another glaringly ludicrous ALEC bill this session is Cary Smith’s SB 148, which is an almost verbatim version of the ALEC bill found here. The Florida ALEC “State Policy Network” affiliate Floridians for Government Accountability is also pushing a slew of boilerplate legislation designed to defeat medicaid expansion and crack down on the poor.

 

Family Foundation Private School Textbook List Revealed

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.

Unglued

 

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.”

Babylon

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.

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4. Perhaps this is what will be taught in the time that used to be filled with science classes.

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5. This one probably covers crop circles, United Nations conspiracy theories, and the health benefits of genetically modified organisms and pesticides.

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6.  Montana doesn’t need Medicaid expansion to save lives – it just needs books like this. And people who have been trained how to bring the dead back to life of course.

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7. The Bible can do pretty much anything, which is very important.

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8. Mandatory Federalism Training - will soon be a requirement for all public employees in Montana, thanks to GOP Vice Chair Jennifer Fielder, which is likely based on this ALEC boilerplate bill – and is yet ANOTHER idea Sen. Fielder has copied from her new favorite person, Utah TEA Party state lawmaker Ken Ivory of the land grab debacle.  So certainly this indoctrination will also be required of the Family Foundation’s new private school corporations.

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9. TEA Party former legislative candidate Tonya Shellnut’s book  “Women Power Revolution: shellnutbookUnderstanding True Feminism” (written like the Ron Paul Revolution graphic) in which she explains how she found that true “feminism” was of the conservative “true femininity” woman hating right-wing traditional role variety.

 

10. Wherein a good Christian man heartwarmingly colonizes Africans and gets them to farm potatoes, and love Jesus.
.

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For reference, the members of the House Education Committee are:

Laszloffy, Sarah (R) – Ch Rep.Sarah.Laszloffy@mt.gov
Lamm, Debra (R) – VCh Rep.Debra.Lamm@mt.gov
McClafferty, Edie (D) – VCh  ediemcclafferty@gmail.com
Bennett, Bryce (D) bennettforhouse@gmail.com
Essmann, Jeff (R) jessmann@mt.gov
Funk, Moffie (D) Rep.Moffie.Funk@mt.gov
Greef, Edward (R) edgreef@hotmail.com
Hertz, Greg (R) greghertz11@gmail.com
Kelker, Kathy (D)  Rep.Kathy.Kelker@mt.gov
Meyers, G. Bruce (R) Rep.GBruce.Meyers@mt.gov
Monforton, Matthew (R) Rep.Matthew.Monforton@mt.gov
Price, Jean (D) jeanbigskybigwin@gmail.com
Salomon, Daniel (R)  dansalomon12@gmail.com
Schwaderer, Nicholas (R)  nick.schwadererhd14@gmail.com
Webber, Susan (D)  Rep.Susan.Webber@mt.gov

Top 10 Biggest Mistakes Rightwing Legislators Made Before the Session Even Started

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.”

6. Continuing obsession with taking over public lands. Jennifer Fielder alone has requested dozens of different bills to address the same scheme – which republicans call TPL for “takeover of public lands.” Previously, GOP moderates tried to distance themselves from this half-baked and childish idea, especially after the idea got a nearly unanimous endorsement at the recent GOP platform convention.  Moderates backpedalled when it was revealed the transfer would increase our taxes by hundreds of millions, and inflict a major blow to Montana’s tourism economy.

7. Dress code and modesty standard. Requiring, then being forced to rescind a ridiculous modesty standard and dress code targeted at women lawmakers and reporters.  The embarrassment made national news.   Rep. Jenny Eck, thankfully stopped the nonsense immediately.

8. Packing the house education committee with anti-education extremists. GOP leaders sent a clear anti-education message when they appointed a group of homeschoolers, anti-education lobbyists, and even a convicted child abuser to the House Education committee.  It’s already clear that a right-wing attack on education is going to become one of the major themes of 2015.  Montanans are strong supporters of our public school classrooms, and this won’t bode well for the GOP.

9. Holding a secret caucus in the basement of a Helena motel in violation of state open records laws. Having 20 of the state’s largest news organizations file a legal complaint against your caucus for violating open meetings laws certainly can’t be how how any GOP elected official wanted to start the session.

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.

 

2015 Legislative Caucuses Meet Today

How this work – and what it means

Today, Montana’s new and returning legislators will convene for the first time to get some training, meet as R and D caucuses, and vote for leadership.

In the 2015 session there are a number of candidates vying for these offices.  Usually those who are seeking to become the leaders of a chamber reach out to members of their caucus to run for the office.  You’ll also often see those seeking leadership positions attempting to position themselves in the press or social media as leaders – or as attack dogs on the Governor or opposing party.

Today, the Rs will meet on the third floor to “caucus,” while D’s meet on the first.  Then the leadership selection process will begin. Until leaders are chosen,  the person of each caucus with the most seniority traditionally leads the caucus meeting and leadership selection to make it fair if leadership positions are contested.

Then those running for leadership need to be nominated and seconded for Speaker of the House or Senate president.  The nominators and seconders both must give a speech telling their fellow lawmakers why those they are supporting should be their leaders.   After that the candidates for Senate President and Speaker of the House give their own speeches.

Interestingly, members of the caucuses still vote by secret ballot and often the ballot count is never revealed and only known by counters, who must ensure the leader gets at least 50% of the vote or set up a run off.  I’m wondering whether this secrecy is actually allowed given MT open record laws and that caucuses are public meetings in Montana.  Legislators’ other votes are public too.

Leadership positions are very important because leadership of each body not only sets the tone of the session but, in the House, the leader is solely responsible for choosing committee chairs and committee members.  Also, it is the Senate President and the House Speaker who in the final days of the session will negotiate a budget with Governor Bullock.  Don’t let anyone tell you that someone wacky is the best fit for these jobs.  The budget and the committee makeup is too important. It needs to be someone who can work with both sides or nothing will be accomplished.  If the house alienates itself too much from the senate and the executive branch – either through leadership choices or committees or both — then it’s members may find themselves outside the loop and not involved when it comes to key negotiations, decisions, and bill passage.

Senate President

Senate President: In the Senate, the to position is the Senate President and she or he will effectively be chosen today by the Republicans as the majority party in that body, although there is an official confirmation vote on the first day of the session to elect this person.

Senate Committees

In the Senate, unlike in the House, a “Committee on Committees” will be elected today to choose who will serve on each senate committee.  This means senate Committee Chairs and membership will not be announced prior to the session beginning in January. The Committee on Committees will likely have Rs and Ds both.

Speaker of the House

Speaker of the House is the leader of the House, and is chosen like the Senate President, with an official vote of the full House on day one of the 2015 session. Because the four positions I just mentioned get voted on by the full membership of each body, depending on how this plays out and who is running, dems could play a role in the selection of the top two leadership positions of each body.

House Committees

In the House, the Speaker of the House personally chooses the committee leadership for every house committee.  For this reason, it is not likely that the committee chairs and membership will be announced today either.

Senate Pro-Tem and House Pro-Tem

Each body will also elect a Pro-Tem – basically a number two to the Senate President and Speaker.  The duties of this position are pretty much whatever they President and Senate want them to be – these two jobs get an official vote of the full house and senate on the first day of the session too.

Majority and Minority Leaders and Whips

Both the senate and the house each get a majority leader and a minority leader whose jobs it will be to serve as spokespeople for their parties during floor sessions (making objections, asking questions, etc).  Each caucus will also have whip positions who are supposed to “whip” their caucuses into voting together. Only the caucuses vote for these positions, not the full house and senate.

The house and the senate operate independently even if they are controlled by the same party – and the chambers do not always agree.  Typically near the end of the session it is the President and Speaker that complete the final budget negotiations with the Governor, this is why these roles are so important and why it is important that rational individuals and moderate Republicans are in these posts.

Each chamber functions under its own rules that are adopted by the bodies on the first day of session.  While many of the rules are the same in each body there are some significant differences.  There are also partisan differences in each body.  Not only has the house traditionally been more partisan and fractious than the senate, but word on the street is that the Senate’s moderating power will be greater this time because some of the most right-wing senators have moved over to the house.

These changes, plus the natural differences and division between the two bodies traditionally, provide use some clues about how the fault lines of the 2015 session will reveal themselves.

Additionally, it is important to remember that the GOP does not have a veto-proof majority and so will need to work with Governor Bullock in order to accomplish anything.

Committee Membership Selection

In the House, the Speaker appoints all committee’s membership and determines who is to chair each.  This gives the Speaker of the House a lot of power – power which has often been used to appoint imbeciles as chairs of key house committees.

There are several rumors circulating about who will run for leadership in the House.  For the R’s, Austin Knudson,  Steve Fitzpatrick and Ron Ehli are both said to be running for something. For the D’s Chuck Hunter, Pat Noonan, Bryce Bennett, Ellie Hill.

In the senate, those rumored to be running include Debby Barrett, Scott Sales, Mark Blasdel, Fred Thomas (architect of two of the worst MT laws –  deregulation and term limits),  and Jennifer Fielder (who has militia ties) are both said to be seeking some position.  This is frightening.  The GOP lacks women in both houses, and we will likely see some tokenism in play here to make it seem otherwise.  For the dems Jon Sesso is among the names being discussed for Minority Leader.

Backpedaling Underscores Land Transfer Problems

That didn’t take long.

Republican Party leaders are already trying to distance themselves from a costly land transfer boondoggle which was supported nearly unanimously at the recent GOP platform convention. This after word is starting to get around about how the land transfer would increase our taxes by hundreds of millions, and inflict a major blow to Montana’s tourism economy especially in communities surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks like Kalispell, Bozeman, West Yellowstone and others.

Montana Republican Party Vice Chair Jennifer Fielder tried to tell a legislative panel Thursday that a report out-of-state land grab advocates are pushing “does not recommend transferring federal lands to state ownership or management” and that “None of the recommended legislation would transfer [land] either.”

Of course, the facts have already shown otherwise. Just last month Republicans  supported including the land transfer in their party platform – without an exception even for national parks.  And then there’s the fact that not just two of  boondoggle’s biggest cheerleaders, Vice-Chair Jennifer Fielder herself (fast forward to about 45 min in) and Rep. Kerry White (TEA-Gallatin County) have been caught on video supporting the lands transfer.  And video evidence now exists of nearly every Flathead area conservative candidate supporting the transfer: Oops.

Fielder’s swift and very public backpedaling underscores the political difficulties facing this idea.

A recent University of Montana poll found that 2/3 of Montanans oppose the idea, which has already become a defining issue in Wyoming’s top 2014 races (and not in a way that helps TEA Party republicans.)  Utah’s own legislative legal council said the idea is likely unconstitutional (Utah passed a bill to do this which is already facing legal problems.)  The idea faces heavy political opposition a well. As Rep. Bill McChesney (D-Eastern Montana) pointed out during the legislative panel, “This state not for sale.”

This is the second time Republican leadership has had to try to distance themselves from the ideas surrounding this land transfer. At an event promoting the land transfer earlier this year the Missoula Independent reported that a speaker from Defend Rural America called the environmental movement “domestic terrorists.”

 

TEA Party Land Takeover Will Cost You Big $$$

TEA Party congressional candidate Matt Rosendale and a militia-affiliated TEA Partier state senator have glommed onto a likely unconstitutional land grab idea pushed by out-of-staters that is a financial black hole for Montanans and a nightmare for Montana’s economy and environment.

Here’s why the plot copied from Utah by Jennifer Fielder, the TEA Party state senator who is vice-Chair of the Montana GOP, and Rep. Kerry White (TEA Gallatin County) so poorly conceived and is more about pushing state sovereignty anti-government uprising ideology.   It’s certainly not about jobs or fiscal responsibility.

Our federal public lands are what make Montana so great. The TEA Party land grab targets the Rocky Mountain Front, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Beartooths, the Bitterroot-Selway, the national forests and scenic areas surrounding our national parks including Going to the Sun Road, and all of our national wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. These are the places where we go to ride horses, hike, hunt, fish, ski, bike or just relax outside with our pets, friends and families.  These public lands don’t belong only to the 2015 Montana legislature and the special interests who would sell them off– they belong to all Americans for generations to come. The GOP’s June 2014 platform does not include an exemption for national parks.

Perhaps most obviously, the TEA Party land grab would limit public access to public lands. If this TEA Party and grab succeeds many of these lands could be sold or developed, strip mined, strip malls. Whatever. Montanans can expect to encounter a whole lot of “No Trespassing” signs.

What’s more, the Fielder/White attack on our public lands could cost also Montana taxpayers untold millions of dollars. Consider what’s happening in Utah, the state which recently passed the dubious law which the MT TEA-bunch is modeling their land grab scheme after.  The Utah legislature’s own lawyers have said that the land grab bill will only trigger a costly and ultimately futile legal battle because it has a “high probability of being declared unconstitutional.” The litigation costs to taxpayers will likely run into the millions of dollars.

And that’s just the litigation to defend this unconstitutional nonsense. That’s not even including the cost to manage the federal lands, which Montana taxpayers would now have to assume.

In Utah, the federal government spends between $200 and $300 million per year managing public lands (including fire fighting)–Utah has about 35 million acres of federal land.

In Idaho, the federal government spends more than $300 million per year in managing public lands–Idaho has about 33 million acres of federal land.  These numbers also include the costs of fighting wildland fires.

If you’re wondering what the federal management costs in Montana are, consider that we have about 27 million acres of federal lands.

Compare that with the fact that the state of Montana can barely manage to fully fund its own state parks budget because legislators refuse to appropriate the needed funds.  The state of Montana spends a measly $600,000 in state funds to manage our state parks.  That means that’s the only state money the legislature would allocate to manage our state parks public lands–that doesn’t come from hunting and fishing licenses or federal funds anyway.  If Montana did gain control over federal public lands, Montana taxpayers would be stuck with the cost of managing federal lands too–to the tune of a couple hundred million.

Some right-wingers may say “well let’s just clearcut log federal land to pay these costs.”  In fact, the  Idaho Department of Lands came up with an estimate that the state could raise $50 million to $75 million annually in timber receipts from federal land.

But one cost not figured into Idaho’s estimate would actually negate any anticipated revenue gains.  That’s what are called “Payment in Lieu of Taxes” or PILT funds.  These payments make up for former timber revenues and compensating for the fact that counties can’t tax federal land–they amount to $58 million in Idaho.  If the lands weren’t federal, local governments would lose those funds. The situation is the same in Montana–and other states.  (Also, earth to the pro-logging crowd It’s not environmental protections that dictate how much logging is done –its demand for timber in the free market economy.)

That’s why TEA Party Republican Jan Brewer, who is Arizona’s Governor vetoed a land grab bill in her state because it would have overstressed the state’s budget and land management abilities. As the Salt Lake Tribune commented,

“[t]hat’s a much more logical view than the pipe dream held by Utah lawmakers, that the seizure of public lands would be a fiscal bonanza for the state.”

The White/Feilder TEA Party assault on our public lands is also bad for business.  Nearly eleven million visitors come to Montana each year, spending $3.7 billion dollars and supporting 13,000 jobs–largely to enjoy our public lands.  Just as important, our public lands are the single greatest reason why many people and businesses chose to locate and invest in Montana.  An increasing number of studies show that rural counties in the West with protected public landscapes see better economic and job growth than counties lacking protected landscapes. To the contrary, Feilder’s and White’s TEA Party agenda is to sell off and exploit – not protect and promote – our great places to fish, hunt, and recreate.

The White/Fielder plan will create enormous regulatory quagmire for grazing, drilling, and mining interests who now hold or are seeking permits and leases on our federally-managed public lands. This uncertainty will deter, not encourage, appropriate mineral, agriculture and energy development.  No business wants to come here and embroil itself in endless morass of risks and unknowns. This seems like an obvious point, but the TEA Partiers don’t seem to get it.

Finally, Fielder and White claim this is about “returning” federal lands to the state – the state never owned these lands in the first place, the federal government took them from Native Americans.  So if they are to be “returned” to anyone, it should be the tribes.

After all, just because an idea is ludicrous never stopped imbeciles in the TEA Party from forcing Republicans to swear oaths to support it.   Check out this TEA Party video of a GOP primary candidate forum co-hosted by the Flathead County Republican Women and the NW MT TEA Party Patriots.

The TEA Partiers asked only three questions.

Would the candidates support denying tribal sovereignty and water rights to the First Montanans?  (By blocking this, Republicans are costing the state of Montana yet more untold millions in legal fees through years of litigation.)

Would they reject federal funds to pay for 100% of the health are costs for 70,000 working poor and Veterans in Montana?  Montana loses $1.8 million every day that these funds are refused.

And would they support this unconstitutional TEA Party land grab to tank Montana’s economy, which would also cost the state millions.

The candidates answered as the forum organizers demanded – even though the TEA partiers’ ideological positions are the opposite of fiscally responsible.

 

TEA Party Tries to Distance Itself from Ravalli Financial Scandal

You know things have gotten bad when it’s the TEA Party trying to distance itself from the Republicans instead of the other way around.

The Ravalli County TEA Party has contacted the Cowgirl Blog in an attempt to distance itself from Ravalli County’s infamous financial mismanagement scandal. As you know, Ravalli Commissioners appointed a treasurer who was heavily involved in local politics. Since then, the Bitterroot Star and other news outlets have reported on a dizzying array of examples of late or unmade payments and bills, uncollected taxes, backlogs, oddities, tens of thousands of checks stuffed in drawers, hundreds of thousands in undeposited payments–and unanswered requests for information on what exactly is going on from cities, schools, libraries, and fire departments.

A leader of the Ravalli County TEA Party group wrote in to say Continue reading