Tag Archives: Jim Peterson

Montana Ranks 3rd Nationally in TEA Party Members Per Capita

A new report ranks Montana third nationally in tea party membership as a percentage of the state’s population.

Wyoming ranked number two and Alaska had the highest percentage of TEA Partiers.  Still, the report from Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights showed MT TEA Party membership was much lower than what local groups have claimed, but its not like this bunch’s other claims have had much credibility either. Continue reading

Dark Money, Dim Bulbs

by Cowgirl

Dark money and its corrupting influence is the biggest problem in American politics today, but according to one TEA Party legislator, the real problem is blogging.

Rep. Wendy Warburton (R-Havre) held forth in a committee hearing Friday with concerns about Governor Bullock’s bill to clean up political contributions.  She was concerned that the problem wasn’t massive amounts of unregulated, unreported money buying Montana politicians–but rather, the blogs. Said Warburton:

 “they’re exerting great, great power and in fact the internet is becoming much more of a forum than paper. You know what I mean as far as what we’re really talking about in terms of political power and things here.

I’ll bring up specific examples. The Montana Cowgirl online anonymous blog exerts influence. I’ve had my local newspaper call me in response to things they’ve said.”

Here’s the video:


Warburton is talking about the call she got from the Havre Daily News after this blog mentioned that her name appeared in a brilliant piece of national investigative journalism.  PBS show Frontline‘s piece aired nationwide and revealed the seedy underbelly of secret money in MT elections.

In a full-hour exposé of Montana politics and a secretive right-wing group known as American Tradition Partnership, or ATP, Frontline revealed that a secret stash of incriminating documents has been found in a meth house, showing extensive communications between Warburton and other Republican legislative candidates and the ATP, and showing that the ATP was even preparing campaign material for them.

The short story is that the 2010 election, in which the Tea Party swept into control of the Montana legislature, may have featured massive illegalities.   Under state law, third party groups, the ones like American Tradition Partnership which spend masses of unregulated, unreported money, are legally barred from coordinating with candidates.  But several legislative candidates and the ATP have been caught red handed, working together, in violation of the law.

Wendy Warburton's behavior should be investigatedThe Havre Daily News reported that Warburton appears to have been in direct communication with the group, even going so far as to send them a “signature stamp,” presumably so they could send out mailings on her behalf, using her signature.  That’s likely to be found illegal under Montana law.

So basically what we have here is Warburton having a fit because a reporter called her when her name popped up in a national dark money exposé.  That she is trying to seek retaliation against a blog because of this is hilarious.

She doesn’t realize that the fault here is hers–and that her actions are exactly the type of things members of her own party are working with Governor Bullock to try to prevent.  I shudder to think what Warburton will do when she finds out that the dark money expose she’s angry about was not just discussed on the blogs, but also on Facebook and Twitter, around dinner tables, at coffee shops, and around water coolers across the state.

The bill is SB 375 sponsored by GOP Sen. Jim Peterson.


Senate Votes For Bullock’s Healthcare Proposal; GOP moderates break ranks

by Cowgirl

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.

Moderate GOP Breaks Away from Loons on Dark Money

Right wing blaming anonymous blogs for GOP’s problems

by Cowgirl

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 HereIntelligent 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?

Leaked Emails Show Civil War in Montana GOP

The big news today, if it is news at all, is that Republicans in Montana are at war with each other.

Some juicy emails [PDF] were published by the Great Falls Tribune Wednesday, showing the machinations of rightwing Republicans such as Jeff Essmann and Art Wittich as they try to vanquish the moderates, led by ousted Senate President Jim Peterson, and pack the Montana Supreme Court with TEA Party activist judges.  Presumably, these missives were leaked by one of the moderate legislators in the scrum, who thought it would be good to publicize the schism.

There are some hilarious exchanges, and the article in the Trib, by John Adams, is required reading for anyone interested in Montana Politics.   It’s fun to observe the various leaders, or aspiring leaders, openly agitating against the opponent faction.

But it is also quite disturbing.    For the emails reveal that the objective of Tea Party Republicanism is to control all branches of Government, with absolute power, in its entirety.   Here is an excerpt from a September 2012 e-mail by Essmann to his ultra-conservative cohorts (the subject line of the email is “Agenda Control”) about how a redistricting of legislative seats will make the ultimate goal achievable:

Jon Bennion was able to draw a map with 63 safe Republican seats.  If we can implement the long term strategy we will be in a position to actually elect a majority of conservatives in both bodies, adopt conservative legislation and have a court that will uphold it.


And here is one from Art Wittich, describing efforts to get rid of moderates in GOP primaries:


We must help the purge along. Hopefully, a new phoenix will rise from the ashes.

Sadly, these writings and many of the other emails that were disclosed to the Tribune reveal an almost jihadist mentality at work.  The right wing of the GOP views itself as an historic movement seeking a distant, ultimate triumph in which the opposition will be vanquished and the right-wing view of the world will be imposed,  imposed upon all Montanans even if a majority of the voters don’t want it.

How can this type of thinking possibly be the basis for a successful political movement?  It can’t, which is why Republicans are currently circling down the toilet nationally.  America has a two-party system and regardless of what party you are in, to be taken seriously and help the greater good you must work with the opposition, and accept the fact that your opponents are not enemies, but simply a counterbalance representing the viewpoints of many.


After Eight Years of Saying Uncle, GOP Happy to be Rid of Schweitzer

In an article in the IR this weekend reflecting on Schweitzer’s eight year reign, past and present Republican leaders said they don’t much care for Schweitzer and are anxious to see him go. Given how many times they tried getting the better of him but ended up getting burned, I can’t really blame them for having had enough of him.

Former Senate President Bob Story complained in the article that Schweitzer ruled with an “iron hand” and often belittled the legislature and did not “share credit.” Outgoing President Jim Peterson was quoted in a grudging admission that Schweitzer has “put Montana on the map,” but went on to say that he doesn’t like Schweitzer’s “divide and conquer” strategy.

What these guys are not mentioning, of course, is that they spent the full eight years of the Schweitzer administration sending awful bills to the Governor’s desk, constipating the legislative process wherever they thought it benefited their party politically,playing games to try to jam Schweitzer politically, and often killing good legislative proposals solely to prevent good policy from being achieved by Democrats. Like, for example, the 2011 bonding bill that would have created great numbers of jobs around the state by investing in much-needed infrastructure. Clearly that would have been bad news for a GOP legislature, to have new jobs created by a Democratic governor. So they used their superior numbers to scuttle it. And yet these same bozos are now complaining that Schweitzer was somehow too heavy-handed a governor. It’s laughable.

Really what you are seeing, with these weak shots across Schweitzer’s bow in the waning days of his administration, is the agony of defeat. Nothing makes a Republican angrier than a successful Democratic executive, especially one who humiliates his opposition and occasionally poaches traditional GOP territory. And humiliated they were.

Without a strong GOP leader in either chamber, they simply got routed again and again, progressively worse each session, and in 2011 stumbled over themselves so badly that they became a national joke. And yes, the Governor took the credit for himself and his party, as well he should have. Why would he give credit to a bunch of obstructionists?

With the exception of a few moderate Republican lawmakers who have a commendable approach to public service that puts citizens above political games, the GOP crew in House and Senate have mostly focused on playing petty games, pushing Tea Party lunacy, and searching for a reason to get in Schweitzer’s way. Having morphed slowly but surely, over thirty years or so, into a party that does nothing but complain about liberals, environmentalists, “big government”, “illegal immigrants”, “people getting stuff for free” and all the other supposed ills of Democratic governance, the GOP now knows no other existence except to try to paint Democrats as boogeymen and boogeywomen. They tried the same thing with Schweitzer, but it never worked.

Worse, he beat them on their own turf: managing taxpayer money, creating a vibrant business climate, developing energy, and cutting taxes. Not to mention the bag of goodies with a more traditional Democratic flavor, including new programs like full-time kindergarten for toddlers, tuition freezes, a new public health system for state workers that might eventually be expanded for private citizens, many renewable energy projects, new protections for those seeking to avoid discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and new relations with Indian country, who were excluded from government and ignored by the GOP.

And so the GOP’s whining and moaning about Schweitzer’s shortcomings are nothing more than the whimper of a defeated army. It is enjoyable, predictable, and hopefully will continue on.

And Steve Bullock will continue the fight, I am certain. Though he doesn’t necessarily have a stage act like Schweitzer’s, Bullock showed during his campaign that he can be ruthless and nasty. His campaign hit hard at Hill. They crucified him over his taking the illegal 500lk$ and also ran brutal negative ads portraying Hill’s support of a sales tax. Hill himself has complained that these ads finished him off and were unfair. All is fair in politics.

I’ve even heard it whispered that many of the low blows dealt Hill during the primary– which forced him to empty his wallet to defend himself and caused infighting among the GOP, and ultimately suppressed enthusiasm for Hill in November–were instigated by Democrats, perhaps even Bullock’s operatives. Plausible, I suppose. If it’s so, it’s good stuff. It means he plays for keeps. It’s important, because if any of my readers think the newly appointed GOP leadership in the legislature wants to work in a constructive way with the new Governor, you are suckers, I’m afraid. A few moderates will want to do business with a Bullock administration. Otherwise, the name of the GOP’s game is to try to find ways to embarrass the new Governor. The GOP will, as always, be looking to start a knife fight. Like Schweitzer, Bullock will need to bring a gun.

R’s Move Right

The GOP has thrown out its leaders, and replaced them with more ideologically conservative purists.

Jim Peterson, the Senate President, has been sent packing (literally–poor Peterson could be seen carrying his office contents, including a giant plant and a few framed pictures and a box of supplies, to his car yesterday.) Peterson’s license plate reads “REDST8″–perhaps the right-wing newbies mistook it to mean he’s a commie.

Peterson stood for re-election but was roundly defeated in favor of Christian fundamentalist, anti-cannabis crusader and hard-core rightist Jeff Essmann. Essmann proudly declared yesterday that the “Republican message was well received by voters,” though it’s hard to see how anyone could arrive at this conclusion given that the GOP won only a single statewide race and lost the rest.

Art Wittich, lawyer for the right-wing Montana Policy Institute and also a lawyer for ultra-shady American Tradition Partnership (which ignored Montana Law on the way to buying house and Senate seats for Tea partiers with secret money) is the new Senate Whip.  Wittich has also called publicly for an investigation into whether hungry kids might be fed via a statewide “gleaning” program, meaning hungry kids would be fed the scraps that restaurants usually throw away.

Young gun Mark Blasdel has taken over as House Speaker. Blasdel belongs to the Todd Akin school, believing that abortion should illegal in all cases including rape.  I would suspect that this position helped him gain the Speakership.  Also, Blasdel is on the ALEC education task force, ALEC being the corporate front group that ghost-writes most of the legislation that state Republican legislators introduce.

Gordon Vance, a car and ATV salesman from Bozeman, will be majority leader.In Vance’s first session he only introduced one bill – a bill to help out his pals in the motor sports industry.  And in 2011 he spent his time introducing bills to root out the many undocumented workers he believes have infiltrated our state,  and bills to help insurance companies, and the State Fund, make more profit.

And Austin Knudson will be Senate Pro Temp. The right-winger is a former college Republican (yeah, those insufferable twits) turned attorney.  He was swept in by the ATP-fueled TEA Party takeover in 2010, and has had an unremarkable career.  Knudson was elected by railing against health care reform, then he eagerly accepted taxpayer funded health care benefits for himself.  (So did Essmann, Wittich, Vance, and Blasdel.)

For the Dems: Jon Sesso of Butte will be Senate minority leader and  Robin Driscoll of Billings and Cliff Larson of Missoula will be the whips.  In the House, minority leader will be Chuck Hunter and Reps. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, and Edie McClafferty, D-Butte are minority whips.  Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula is caucus leader.

Another Montana Republican Inducted into Wingnut Hall of Fame

Several of Montana’s TEA Party Republican legislators have made names for themselves in the national news–as laughingstocks anyway.

Yesterday, Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel) added himself to that list.  TEA Party Republican Krayton Kerns was featured in a popular Huffington Post story  yesterday for his blog post claiming that moving some bison will “topple the Republic” and lead to $25/gallon gas prices.

The story was first reported last week here at the Montana Cowgirl Blog.

Other inductees include GOP Rep. Alan Hale (R-Basin) who said that DUIs laws are destroying small business was featured on MSNBC (VIDEO here.) Rep. “Birther” Bob Wagner (R-Madison County) has appeared on CNN‘s Anderson Cooper 360 to discuss his belief that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen, and Rep. Joe Read (R-Ronan) was featured on the Colbert Report for his legislative resolution declaring that global warming is good. Then there was Derek Skees, Rep. from Whitefish who proposed that Montana “nullify” all federal laws.  Rep. Greg Hinkle (R-Thompson Falls) was mocked on Fox News, as was GOP Sen. Jim Peterson, for his frivolous bill to put the “Code of the West” into Montana law and for his proposal to make spear hunting legal.  And there’s David Howard, the legislator whose Facebook page is devoted entirely to anti-gay rhetoric, and Tom Burnett, that programs to combat hunger are not needed in America because we have so many fat children.  And let’s not forget our Congressman, who says that the EPA is using drones to spy on ranchers.  I’m sure I’m missing some others….there are so many…..


Leadership Vacuum Provides an Opening

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:

Under Tutvedt, there were 92 bills deemed unconstitutional by the Legislature’s staff but still brought forward for consideration.  Tutvedt defended this using your tax dollars to debate frivolous and nutjob bills even as he admitted it was a waste of time.

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.”

But Sen. Tutvedt was later revealed to be one of the largest recipients of farm subsidies in Montana history.  At one time, word on the street was that Tutvedt would be picked to be Rick Hill’s running mate, but after last session–and Tutvedt’s hypocrisy on government spending, that was as obvious “no go.”

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.

Cowgirl Exclusive: Inside the GOP Hornet Nest

Lincoln Day Dinners: a snooze fest of olds, fake plants and ranting.

Today we have an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the political phenomenon known as the Lincoln-Reagan dinner.   Lincoln-Reagan dinners, for those who do not know, are the county GOP banquets where candidates show up to mingle with local party activists, make speeches and look for primary votes.  Well, several contributors to this blog have been in attendance at a few of these affairs this season.  They took notes, and have debriefed me on these dismal gatherings.

To begin with,  the overwhelming majority of attendees are senior citizens, many pushing 70.  There are few young people except for the staff of some of the candidates.  Mostly it is older couples, who arrive, two by two, dressed as if they were coming to a square-dance-slash-funeral.  Also, I asked one of my moles whether there was a lot of big, boofed-up hair, something I’ve noticed before at GOP gatherings. The answer is yes.

Before the dinner starts, there is some sober mingling and discussion. Lately the hot topic of conversation is Judge Cebull.  Cebull is the judge who forwarded a racist “joke” about the President’s mother having sex with animals.  The talk goes something like this: “Yes, Cebull shouldn’t have sent the email. But you gotta admit, that joke was damn funny! Hardy HAW har har.”

The GOP Chairman Will Deschamps kicks off the dinner with his personal greatest concern: that Missoula Republicans are losing legislative seats not because of ideas or ideology, but because of a gerrymadering conpsiracy perpetrated by the Democrats.  He insists that the Democrats believe in political redistricting, whereas the Republican Party approaches redistricting with a totally unbiased, non-partisan mind frame. Hence the lopsided advantage for Democrats in Missoula.

Then Congressman Dennis Rehberg is introduced and makes a speech in which he pines for the days of Conrad Burns. He tells Burns’ jokes, and then launches into jokes about President Obama.  These get loud guffaws and the biggest cheers of the evening.

Subsequent speakers, including Steve Daines and the Gubernatorial candidates, also trash Obama.  It’s all the rage.

Predictably, the speakers rant against Schweitzer, Tester, and Bullock.  They are angry that Bullock didn’t join the “Obamacare lawsuit”, as they call it, and they all believe that this will have grave repercussions for Montana.  They all praise Rehberg as their savior who will vanquish Tester who voted for health reform.  How dare the government get involved in healthcare, the speakers all say, as the crowd (90 percent of which is on Medicare) responds excitedly.

But even though they despise Tester, the majority of anger is reserved for Schweitzer.   I am told that they despise Schweitzer with a special type of invective, and that most speeches start with “We will finally be rid of Schweitzer,” which gets thundering applause.

After bashing Democrats and making moronic Obama jokes, the speeches all veer toward the same basic harangue:  that Montana is “not developing natural resources like North Dakota and Wyoming because of excessive taxes and regulations.”

(In fact, as the Montana newspapers have pointed out in their own investigation of this claim, North Dakota has an entirely different oil formation–easier to access.)  And, North Dakota Republicans spend their county dinners making the same complaints about their own taxes in relation to Montana’s taxes, which they view as more favorable to development.  Indeed, Montana’s taxes related to oil and gas production are 40-50% lower than in North Dakota, and we have a faster permitting process than both North Dakota and Wyoming. Montana permits are out in 60 days on average.  In Wyoming a permit takes ten months.  It takes a year in  North Dakota.

Notably absent from these revival meetings is any mention of the infamous 2011 legislature.  It’s as if it never took place at all, which is strange when you consider that 2010’s Lincoln-Reagan dinners were rife with claims that the retaking of the legislature was of utmost importance for the state.  Yet they are now unable to point to a single accomplishment, which is another way of admitting that the whole enterprise was a giant disaster and embarrassment for the party.

I was interested in one other item that was reported to me from these dinners.  Apparently, Rick Hill loves to blame Schweitzer for the fact that the work comp premiums in Montana have, in the last two decades, been among the highest in the nation.  What is hilarious about this is:  1) the system that existed up until last year was created by Rick Hill, when he was Chair of the Montana State Fund in the 1990s, 2) Neil Livingstone, Hill’s opponent, has publicly blamed Hill for the cost of work comp (audio here), 3) Jim Peterson and Mike Milburn (the GOP legislative leaders) have also publicly acknowledged that Hill is to blame, and 4), the legislature just revamped work comp and reduced premiums by 20%.

Fortunately, I’m told that on at least one occasion at a Lincoln-Reagan event, Zinke made some of these points after Hill had tried to divert the blame.  This makes sense given that Zinke was one of the authors of the work comp overhaul that undid, after 18 years, the damage that Hill caused.