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.