Tag Archives: Randy Brodehl

GUEST POST: When Democracy Blocks the Will of Oligarchs

by Secret Squirrel

The dynamics of rules committee decisions, motions on the floor, and other assorted parliamentary maneuverings (and tantrums) this past week have roots in last year’s elections. They also suggest what will happen and be at stake in the 2016 cycle. The common denominator in both the future and past is the money that flows into the GOP primaries and generals.

A good portion of funding in 2014 from everyone’s favorite Montana oligarch, Greg Gianforte, who has every reason to see this session accomplish nothing as he plans his 2016 gubernatorial run. Lending their own bottomless wallets to numerous candidates were Ray Thompson,  computer millionaire from Kalispell, and Texas fracking billionaires from the Wilks family. And adding a little extra darkness to the wheelbarrows of money that went to Montana GOP legislators last election cycle was what we do not know came from groups like American (Western) Tradition Partnership (ATP), Americans for Prosperity, and assorted other gun and rightwing groups who financed many legislators from the shadows.

This money started flowing a year ago in the GOP primaries of 2014 where those assorted oligarchs and groups attempted to unseat many of the moderates who formed today’s working majority. In retrospect, the oligarchs’ and party’s understanding of the dynamics of the races and potential for the 2015 session was right on target. However, despite deep contributions to candidates running against the likes of Rep. Christy Clark, Dan Salomon, Frank Garner, and the other assorted 10 “Responsibles” these moneyed interests achieved nothing. The “Responsibles” ran with local money and ran clean campaigns. May that be the message from here on out. The races were not even close and one has to wonder if those to their right had just left these Republicans alone that the tide may not have gone as far out this session. You can always count on them overplay their hand.

One so-called moderate, Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, played the GOP’s game in 2014 and received $340 from Mr. and Mrs. Gianforte. He also doled out donations to other connected Republicans and appeared to be a team player. Then during the 2015 session, he stood up against party votes like “Agenda 21” and brought a bill forward to keep open primaries. Then after getting slammed on the floor and at home, he seemed to come back to the fold and went against the Ankney bill. But then, oddly, he seems to have returned to helping the working majority by voting for Medicaid and made the motion to put the CSKT compact on the floor. Is he back? The jury is out until the end of the session but he could be a powerful figure in a future moderate-led legislator.

But back to the 2014 primaries. Rep. Art Wittich and Randy Brodehl helped to finance many of these insurgents against the moderate Republicans. Now, Wittich has been the leading voice on the floor against the working majority Republicans bucking the party line to get things done, in many cases for the interest of their rural hospitals and constituents. During his spasm over the rules of the “silver bullets” Wittich said he wanted them to realize he did not want “Republican fingerprints” on Medicaid expansion. That comment was out of order but revealing for reasons that will play out below.

The money continued to flow into the general elections of fall 2014 and most of them meant nothing despite the cash that kept flowing as if they would be close elections. Money to Wittich, Jeff Essmann, Matt Monforton, and others who won their elections by three to four times their opponents. But a quick $340 here or $680 there sends a message to the party and the candidates about where their support comes from and what expectations there will be.

After the general elections, the session leadership took shape and, again, it is in the money that you can see how it formed. Some of the House floor leaders did not receive much from the oligarchs but most received a good portion from assorted PACs, like Thompson’s Excellence in Voting PAC. Many from PACs outside the state like OneOK or Denbury Resources. financed others and they are oil and gas interests who gave equally to House leadership and members, including some moderates but mostly it went to legislators who would pull the strings.

In all, the Wilks spent more than $16,000 on primaries and general elections and the Gianfortes around $12,000. These are numbers from the candidates C5 filings on the Commissioner of Political Practices raw data filings so those numbers are compiled from numerous forms and could still be amended. But at this point, even if I did miss some donations here or there, it is probably pretty close to what went out. None of this counts what was probably a good deal of mailers and calls to constituents in those districts from dark money fringe groups. My guess is a lot of time and money went into that.

In return for the effort, House committees are stacked with legislators who received oligarch money. For that relative small amount of money, they bought control these committees intended to crush major bills this session. In some ways, you could call it a coup.

Just take a look at the heavy-hitting committees and consider, pre-session, what bills they would come to host: (the list is by number of GOP representatives in the committee and how many took Gianforte or Wilks money)

Appropriations (financing and backstop): 12 GOP, 9 financed and led by Ballance

Education (school “choice,” Common Core): 9 GOP, 7 financed and led by Laszloffy

Human Services (Medicaid expansion): 10 GOP, 5 financed and led by Wittich

Judiciary (referendums, compact): 12 GOP, 9 financed but chair Bennett not funded

Rules (emergency backstop): 10 GOP, 8 financed and led by Essmann

State Administration (campaign finance): 11 GOP, 8 financed and led by Essmann

Then take a look at what would have been relatively unimportant committees:

Business and Labor: 11 GOP, 2 financed (one is Fitzpatrick)

Fish, Wildlife, and Parks: 12 GOP, 5 financed

As the session started,  the system worked and not much made it into, or out of, those committees. The oligarch-funded legislators and their rightwing friends held strong. Then, with the moderates in the wings, the Democrats started to maneuver at some bills like SB 289 (Sen. Duane Ankney’s shot at ATP and other dark money groups) and move them into different committees to get around the blockade. Republicans took note and did what they could to avoid the motions.

Which brings us to what happened with SB 405, the HELP Act, over the past several days. Wittich held the hearing on it before the session returned, on a day and time he had never held a meeting of his committee before, and voted on it immediately. None of this was surprising.

It turned into a rules fight when it came back to the floor despite his smug obstinacy and was salvaged by “silver bullets.” It is Wittich and others in leadership who are reneging on this deal because they did not think the Democrats could use the rules to their advantage and violate what was supposed to be pre-determined one party rule of the session.

But beyond that, it is leading to more than a fissure between moderates and the 40 or so other Republicans. Remember how they always overplay their hand? The fight over the rules is now causing some differences between oligarch-funded representatives. You can see the ire in Essmann’s eye when Wittch and Mike Miller spout off about the votes that have transpired. Knudsen seems worried that he might lose control of floor but seems content with Wittich’s plays. He did a valiant thing by allowing the ACT to pass on April 11 by moving the vote up in the day’s order. Still, these are just the beginnings of the cracks among those who were financed by the same people and have the same interests. It would follow the likes of Wittich, Miller, even the recently-quiet Monforton would attempt numerous future schemes on the floor to gum up the works and ensure their backers get what they need.

But what is the mutual concern between those bending the rules and their backers? Why so much discontent about Medicaid and tribal compacts? Why would they be willing to go back on their own leadership’s agreements regarding “silver bullets” and “blasting” bills?

For Wittich and Miller, neck deep in the American Tradition Partnership fiasco and funded by Gianforte along with other rightwing donors and groups (to include ATP’s Doug Lair, who personally contributed to their campaigns in 2014), this is about 2016. It’s about ensuring Governor Bullock has no successes to run on. It’s about party purity and enjoying that high of having unadulterated power. What’s most important in that equation is their interests are in no way aligned with the interests of most Montanans, those #MillionsofMontanans. Their interest is in remaining in power and defeating the other side at any cost. In the zero sum game, even their own are fair targets.

In January 2015, the House GOP set up the perfect machine to make sure nothing happened. That machine had a few cogs bust loose as of late and it is venting steam. Important bills are passing this session and it looks good for the governor’s 2016 chances in a turnout-friendly presidential election cycle. For all money and obstacles the oligarchs and their minions threw at the process this year, they accomplished little. There is still much to do and they will do what they can to stop it, but what has passed already is a good on its own. One can hope the message of the 2015 legislative session to be carried into the 2016 elections is that in Montana big money has no power.

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The Cowgirl Blog welcomes guest post submissions.  If you’re interested, email the tipline at mntnacowgirl@gmailcom 


Reforming Gun Laws, Montana Republican Style

by Cowgirl

It might surprise you to hear this, but right-wing Republicans actually agree with President Obama that America needs a radical change in our gun laws.  It’s just that they have a different idea of what those changes should be.

In the Montana Legislature this month, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and a scourge of national gun violence, Montana Republicans have moved quickly to introduce a series of bills to deal with what they believe is society’s most pressing gun problem: it’s not easy enough to shoot someone.

There are dozens of proposals, each one stupider and sillier and more childish than the next. Here are few of my favorites:

First is a bill to change our concealed weapons laws. In Montana, concealed weapons may not be carried in churches, schools, banks, bars, colleges, hospitals and a few other specified areas.  Republicans have proposed a bill to eliminate these restrictions completely.

The author of the bill, House Bill 304, is none other than the state chair of the House Judiciary Committee.  A police officer showed up to a hearing to testify against it, saying he’d “never seen a bar fight that ended well with a concealed weapon.” The Republicans were unfazed by this testimony and are moving forward with the legislation. There’s also a companion bill, House Bill 384, that specifically addresses the injustice suffered by high school students who are denied the right to bring rifles and shotguns onto school grounds. The bill would forbid school officials from punishing such students.

Keep in mind that these are the same lawmakers who proposed Senate Bill 279 which was a bill to allow legislators to carry guns–both concealed and open–in the state capitol building last session.  Apparently they think that this will make the capitol a safer place.  I’m sure the many government employees who work in the Capitol will feel secure in knowing that a few crusty old Republican men–who start drinking at 10 am and spend the rest of the day snoozing at hearings or ogling high school pages–will serve as a security force in the event the building is attacked.

And if you think Republicans do not believe in guaranteed access to healthcare, think again.  A few GOP legislators have just introduced House Bill 459, a bill to guarantee the provision of medical care–to anyone who is armed.  The bill makes it a felony to deny someone health care if the denial is based in any way on the fact that the person is in possession of a weapon, and refuses to answer the doctor’s question about said possession.  Said another way, this bill ensures that you can bring a weapon to your doctors office, and the doctor may not ask you to leave the premises if you refuse to answer the doctor when you are asked “is that bulge under you clothing a concealed weapon?” It also forbids pediatricians from asking other questions about guns that they routinely ask, about whether the parent owns weapons and, if so, whether the parent is safely storing them in the house, out of reach of the child.

These legislators should themselves seek out a pediatrician, because they are overgrown children who somehow became legislators.

There are many more such bills, including:

HB 302 by Rep. Krayton Kerns would prohibit state enforcement of any federal ban on semi-auto firearms/magazines

 HB 215 by Rep. Edward Greef declares the Winchester rifle “The gun that won the west.”

HJ 5 by Rep. Jerry O’Neil amends the U.S. Constitution to prevent President from entering into any arms treaties that infringe on gun rights.

LC1639 by Rep. Scott Reichner would prevent local governments from restricting firearms.

HB 27 by Rep. Ted Washburn would allow the use of silencers when hunting “large predators,” while

HB 205 by Krayton Kerns would eliminate the prohibition on firearm sound reduction devices in the field altogether.

HB 240 by Rep. Cary Smith seeks to allow guns on college campuses.

HB 468 by Rep. Alan Doane would encourage manufacture of ammunition in Montana to ensure availability.

HJ 3 by Rep. Jerry O’Neil calls for an amendment to the US Constitution which “gives the states the right to make whatever guns they want so long as [firearms] stay inside the[sic] own borders.”

SB 304 by Rep. Roger Webb would establish a “firearm protection act.”

HB 292 by Rep. Randy Brodehl would revise laws related to pawn shop stolen gun procedures


The Foul 57

Republican candidates across the county have tried to distance themselves from Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who believes that rape victims should be forced to give birth and said that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

That’s been much more difficult for GOPers in Montana.

A whopping 57 candidates for the Montana legislature actually voted for an amendment to the Montana Constitution to ban abortion, under all circumstances, with no exception for rape or incest.  Sen. Debby Barrett (R-Dillon) was one of them, as democratic challenger Richard Turner of Dillan smartly points out in a mail piece (pictured).

The forced birth for rape victims amendment  cleared the house and the senate with 96 votes. All Republicans voted for it except Lila Evans.  However, because it takes a 2/3 vote of 150 legislators to amend the constitution,  the amendment failed by only four votes.

Below the fold is the list of current legislative candidates who voted in favor of forced births for victims of rape and incest.  Check it out to see if your legislator is on it–I’ve alphabetized the list by town.

Shamefully, Jonathan Windy Boy and Gene Vuckovich also made the list. To be sure, there are many more GOP candidates for legislature who share these beliefs but weren’t in the 2011 session–like Scott Sales. There are also many more Republican legislators who voted for this but aren’t up for re-election this year.

 Rick Hill, Steve Daines, and Tim Fox all support Akin’s position.  Rehberg was an early major donor to Akin.

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Political Quick Hits

New Political Blog

I’ve recently added a new blog to the blogroll here. Check it out.  The Bitterroot Wire

One of Only 12 Coast to Coast

An interesting email is making the rounds this morning.  Apparently there are 7,382 state legislators in the country. That makes for a lot of legislative races each cycle. One Alaska state senator found that in 2010, there were only 12 Democratic state legislative candidates that beat an incumbent Republican in the entire nation. One of them was the race of State Senator Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings), who ousted incumbent Roy Brown.

Skees, Jackson, Blasdel, Brodehl Angry

During a presentation to one of the Flathead Valley’s most extreme-right groups, TEA Party Republican legislators blamed everyone but themselves for their legislative failures including the fact that, “fewer bills were drafted this year” and that “the legislature only meets every two years.”  In other words, they claimed if they had been allowed more nutjobbery, they would have had more success.