Tag Archives: Mike Milburn

New Documentary Follows Montana Medical Cannabis Debate

It seems like every day we read about new medical cannabis business owners face serious federal charges. So it’s particularly timely that a new documentary film, “Code of the West” — telling the emotional story of out state’s medical cannabis political debate — will screen in four Montana communities this month. Here’s the trailer:

“Code of the West” documents the infamous imbeciles of the 2011 Montana Legislature as they debate cannabis regulation and repeal of the Medical Marijuana Act that Montana voters passed with a citizens initiative in 2004. It follows key figures on each side of the debate, including Tom Daubert — longtime lobbyist for environmental and public health-related issues including medical cannabis, who recently reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors after his former business Montana Cannabis was raided by federal agents in March 2011.

On the other side of the Montana debate, the documentary follows advocates of the medical marijuana repeal effort, including Cherrie Brady of Safe Communities Safe Kids and disgraced Montana Speaker of the House Mike Milburn(R) HD 19 Cascade, who sponsored the bill to repeal the medical cannabis initiative and make all marijuana use again a crime. Speaker Milburn will participate in the film’s panel discussion in Helena on Thursday, May 17, at the Myrna Loy Center, and Cherrie Brady will sit on the Billings post-screening panel. Milburn was term limited in the House but decided not to run for the senate (for obvious reasons) after he presided over the massive disaster that was the 2011 Legislature.

Opponents of the new law, SB 423, have collected more than enough signatures to put a Montana Medical Cannabis Referendum on the November 6, 2012, ballot. If passed, the measure would repeal SB 423. During the 2011 session the Governor called SB 423 “unconstitutional on its face,” and issued an amendatory veto to fix the parts he considered legally defective.  The legislature rejected his changes.

Also, the Montana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on May 30 for Montana Cannabis Industry Association v. the State of Montana, a suit that is appealing portions of state District Judge James Reynolds’ ruling on June 30, 2011. That ruling blocked portions of SB 423 from taking effect. The state of Montana is required by law to defend SB 423.

Screenings and post-screening panel discussions with high-profile figures from both sides of the political debate are to be held in Missoula, Bozeman, Helena and Billings the weeks of May 13 and 20. “Code of the West” screening times, trailer, ticket information, discussion panelists and Facebook event links are available at http://www.codeofthewestfilm.com/screenings.

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.

Speaker of the House, Scrambling for Relevance

Mike Milburn, Speaker of the House, is taking aim at Brian Schweitzer’s idea for health clinics for state employees in locations across Montana.

As described recently in the news, employee clinics would save taxpayers millions per year by reducing the cost of the health care plan for the state workforce.  Doctors at the clinic would be on salary and would make decisions in the interest of their patients, rather than being motivated by profit and running up the tab by performing unnecessary tests and and procedures, which currently all get billed to taxpayers.

As reported in Fortune Magazine (an article that Milburn might consider reading), such clinics are increasingly becoming a feature of large, successful corporations, such as Boeing, Google and Intel.

Nearly a quarter of the 588 large companies surveyed by Towers Watson this year already have on-site medical clinics for both factory and office workers, and [in 2012] another 12% of those corporations will open new clinics for employees.

Thus has Schweitzer attempted to bring a private sector strategy into government.  And so Milburn, in trying to block this effort,  has inexplicably and suddenly abandoned the GOP mantra that government ought to be run like a business.

Then again, it is understandable that Milburn is looking for a fight to pick.  These are his last months as Speaker; he decided not seek a new term in the legislature, and so he has only seven and a half months left to try to rescue his legacy. As it now stands, he will be forever remembered as the author of the infamous 2011 legislative session, which resembled a four-month-long prison riot, a total humiliation for Milburn and the GOP.

And Milburn appears to be working the phones now, calling members of the Tea Party faction to whip up support for a special session, laughably for the stated purpose of trying to impeach Schweitzer over bison management as well as healthcare.

A GOP wing-nut special session during an election year, a la 2011? That would prove, definitively, that God is a Democrat.

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.

Political Quick Hits

Quote of the Day

The Billings Gazette ran an article today announcing the Democratic candidates running for office this year.  One man who had been through the 2011 session got right to the point.

“We don’t need to waste our time talking about whether we should or should not secede from the United States,” said Rep. Bill McChesney, D-Miles City. “I’m not here to do that. I’m here to ensure that my kids and their kids have an opportunity for a good education, a good job and a solid future in the state of Montana.”




Here is an interesting item from Congressional candidate Diane Smith. It is kind of a strange way to announce yourself, but maybe standing out gets you noticed. See for yourself.


Leadership Troubles

The top Republican legislator in the GOP House of Representatives says he’s waiting “to see whether another Republican candidate surfaces” before deciding to run again himself.  Speaker of the House Mike Milburn (R-Cascade) is termed out of the House but is eligible to run for the Senate seat that encompasses his house district.  That seat is currently held by Democrat Brad Hammlett.

“I’ve thought about running for the Senate against Democrat Brad Hammett, but haven’t decided yet,” Milburn said. “I’ll wait and see whether another Republican candidate surfaces and then decide.”

All things being equal it is unusual that the top Republican legislator would be so fearful of opposition from within his own camp.   It suggests that Republicans are not as unaware of the disastrous nature of the 2011 Legislative Session as they publicly pretend to be.

No Love

In an email to supporters on September 9th, in which he talked about “starting to feel the chill of fall in the air” and questioned “Where did summer go?,” former Congressman Rick Hill said “In the coming weeks you’ll see my campaign name a running mate.” The entire email is posted below the fold.

That was over ten weeks ago.

Where’s the Lt. Gov?  What’s the problem?

Cowgirl tipsters say that Hill’s having trouble getting someone to agree to be his #2.  Word on the street is that Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund met with former Congressman Hill and rumor has it turned him down.  The gossip also says Hill supposedly had similar conversations with many state legislators, including: Sens. Jon Sonju and Bruce Tutvedt, Speaker Mike Milburn and Rep. Scott Reichner.

There could be several reasons why he’s running into problems.   It’s possible that Congressman Rehberg and his team, who are lined up behind another candidate, stopping potential candidates from signing on.  It could also be that no one wants to jump on with a candidate with a sordid history of political scandals and high unfavorability ratings.  The lack of an LG could mean that the party establishment and state legislators beginning to agree that this guy is unelectable, or that they know of another scandal about to drop that the rest of us don’t know about.

Regardless, it’s clear Hill wishes he had someone–anyone by now.

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New Analysis: GOP Ginned Up Fake Budget Crisis to Undercut Jobs, Schools

Republican legislators conspired to gin up a fake budget crisis to undercut jobs, public school classrooms, and seniors.   A new analysis by Tax Analyst [pdf], out this week, spells out the whole debacle in detail.   Here’s what went down.

Exactly one month before the 2010 election, the GOP legislature’s economic forecaster predicted a $400 million dollar budget deficit.

Even though Governor Schweitzer and his budget director explained why the prediction was inaccurate, the GOP refrain “$400 million dollar budget deficit” was parroted by the media.  Recall that the Billings Gazette sent out a questionnaire to every candidate asking what cuts they will propose to the budget to make up for the supposed $400 dollar deficit?

Legislative fiscal analysts predict that by June 30, 2013, there will be a $366 million state budget deficit with no money in reserve. How specifically would you balance the budget? What specific government services are you prepared to cut, by millions of dollars if necessary, and which government services would you preserve?

Then, by repeatedly feeding the “we’re bankrupt” lie to the electorate, TEA Party republicans rode the wave of fear and paranoia into state legislative office, claiming they were needed to help combat the supposed budget crisis.

The Governor again called it a fantasy, but the fraud continued. The legislature claimed that the drastic cuts they made to those hardest hit by the recession (seniors, veterans, school children and the disabled) were made necessary by a $400 million dollar deficit that wasn’t real.

As soon as the legislative session was over, the legislative staff admitted that their numbers were (badly) off.  They claimed to be “surprised” by how wrong they had been, the Tax Analyst analysis explains.  State Senator Ron Erickson (D) gave a scathing response, saying he and other Dems weren’t surprised, as the Governor had been saying that the deficit prediction was wrong from the beginning.

Montana has $300-400 million dollars left in the bank that could have been used to create jobs, to help the needy and to make sure school kids have a bright future.   Now, GOP gubernatorial candidates are trying to continue the deception to bring about their own elections.  They, too, will claim a spending crisis and the need for immediate budget cuts.  This time, however, the GOP’s record of deceiving the public for political gain will stand in their way.

Fuzzy Math

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish–Dr. Seuss 1965

The Montana Legislature, we now learn, was using strange counting methods and fuzzy math, from day one.

The chief forecaster for how much money the state should expect to have in its coffers on a quarterly basis is Terry Johnson, who reports to legislative leadership.  He and Schweitzer butted heads throughout the last four sessions session, because Schweitzer was evidently crunching the numbers and thought that there was more money available than was being estimated by Johnson, who takes marching orders from his bosses Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo) and Mike Milburn (R-Cascade).  As a result, as in states like Wisconsin, Florida and other places where the Tea Party as created a false premise panic about a lack of funds, the Republicans in the 2011 session were able to justify across the board cuts. Cuts in education, cuts in assistance to poor, and the denying hard working state employees a 1% pay raise they were slated to receive after years of going without.

In fact, the board of regents has announced that tuition at the University system must now be raised because of the Republican legislature’s cutting of funding for higher Ed.

Yesterday, I saw a mailing from the Policy Institute, a group run by Pat Williams, Ken Toole and other progressives, discussing the importance of standing up for what you value.  The mailing attributed democratic losses in 2010 to a tendency to try to reach persuadable voters at the expense of the base.   I agree with much of this.

But it also needs to be understood that many Democratic legislators seem not to have the stomach for butting heads with GOP front-man Terry Johnson and his crew, and instead enjoy singing kumbaya with him. Those who were guilty of this, and consider themselves progressives, now need to take a good, long look in the mirror.

UPDATE: Hamm on Wry has a good discussion of the Republican’s pathetic response.

Kerns Angry

The GOP circular firing squad has begun. Right-wing wacko Krayton Kerns, a Montana state rep from Laurel who ran for House speaker but lost out to the more moderate Mike Milburn, is fuming about the fact that the GOP allowed Schweitzer to eat its lunch during the session.

Expect to see plenty of GOP hotheads like Kerns in the aftermath of the GOP session debacle.

And of course, it will be all peppered with hilarious nonsense. In typical right-wing, Limbaugh-Beck mold, they will argue with facts that they pluck from some parallel universe. Kerns, for example, is outraged that the budget agreed to by the GOP and governor “is not balanced”, even though it leaves the state with an almost $300 million surplus.

He says Schweitzer “got everything he wanted,” even though there were cuts to education and other programs that were a part of the final compromise. And he says taxes will increase, even though there is no reason at all that they should.

Most of all, he’s pissed that his bill–which was intended to allow the carrying of concealed weapons in bars churches and schools–was vetoed by the Schweitzer. Never mind that every law enforcement group in Montana–like the highway patrolmen, sheriffs, cops, and others down on the line, opposed Kerns’s bill (will these folks start voting for Democrats?).

If I were making a psychological profile, I’d posit that Kerns is really just pissed at himself, for humiliating his party by proposing lunatic legislation, only to have the Governor throw it, and lots of other lunatic legislation, back in his face of the GOP with great success.

My favorite wound-licking tactic by wingnuts will also, no doubt, rear its head in the days to come: that the GOP lost its legislative battle because it “sacrificed conservative values.” That is, that the Republicans should have acted MORE conservative and not try to moderate themselves. In other words, go with the Tea Party and ride the wave. When ever Republicans lose or fail, the wackos always trot out this horse as the excuse.

Also, it’s clear when listening to the rantings of lunatic Kerns, and others like him, that there are two people who do not have political futures in the GOP, and these are Peterson and Milburn.

The Blame Game

The end of the legislative session should have been a triumph for Senate President Jim Peterson and Speaker of the House Mike Milburn — a celebration of the Republican agenda that the Republican incumbent Congressman Denny Rehberg could tout in his U.S. Senate race.  But if you read the latest series of news reports, topped of with Milburn and Peterson’s latest complaining in guest editorial form one finds only whinging, finger-pointing, and dejection.

“This is extremely disappointing,” said House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, summing it up in in the Ravalli Republic.

In news reports about the GOP’s breach of budget deal, GOP leadership is coming across as increasingly desperate it their attempts to place the blame on the other party, rather than where it really lies –with themselves.

Here’s how the blame game went down.

At first, Peterson tried to claim to the press that he couldn’t understand how he had reneged on the deal.

“We did everything that he asked us to do,” added Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo. “I don’t see there is any reason for him to break the deal, other than he just wants to.”

Then, when the public  got wise to the fact that the GOP hadn’t delivered the bills their leaders promised,  Peterson and Milburn put out an awkward spin on the deal, saying they hadn’t really promised to deliver anything on their end, only to try to make an attempt.

Milburn said the deal was to have a vote on not only SB94, but also on a pay increase for state employees and a $100 million bonding bill for state construction projects — but that he didn’t promise that any of them would pass. All three bills were killed by the House last Thursday.
“I can only do what I can do,” said Milburn, who voted for SB94 but voted against the other two measures. “I don’t have total control over everyone.”

Which is just a pathetic way of saying that their caucus hadn’t granted them the authority to act on its behalf.  If this is true, they shouldn’t have written checks that their caucus wouldn’t cash, making commitments and promises that their own colleagues were unwilling to uphold (whether through incompetence an lack of leadership ability or the GOP takeover by the far right fringe it is unknown).

There’s a problem with this claim  that Milburn “could only do what he can do.”  It simply isn’t true.  The GOP leadership could have gone to their caucus at any time during the negotiations to ask them if they had they would vote to pass the measures that were part of the deal.  Their caucus could have done so and then Peterson and Milburn could have let the Governor know — and moved forward with the negotiations on other fronts.  Failure to make this happen shows that the  budget battle was between Republicans and Republicans, rather than between the parties.  As it was, that they had come to the table on false pretenses.

Fast forward to today.  Schweitzer is using the breach of trust as an opportunity to fix a slate of GOP bills with line-item vetoes.  He nixed a GOP tax on businesses and a bill to gut voter passed initiatives–actions that benefit the people of Montana.

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership is playing the blame game, while at the same time still making the ludicrous claim that the session was a smashing success because – get this –  that they had spent less time trying to make a budget that any legislature in previous history (as if this slamming through of  the peoples business with less than diligent oversight is a good thing.)  No wonder it needs a few last minute line-item fixes.