Tag Archives: Steve Bullock

Governor-wannabe bankrolls pro-hate, anti-Halloween crusade

As the GOP-dominated Montana Legislature narrowly defeated an Indiana-style bill to legalize discrimination, it has come to light that Bozeman billionaire Greg Gianforte has been bankrolling a crusade in favor of such laws.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which was previously called the Alliance Defense Fund, has been the recipient of tens of thousands of dollars from the Gianforte Family Foundation – tax-exempt political arm of Gianforte’s dark money leviathan.  According to Right Wing Watch, the ADF is, “particularly persistent in attacking attempts by [LBGT citizens] to have families, establish domestic partnerships or civil unions, or to be protected from discrimination in employment or housing.”

Gianforte – a billionaire transplant from New Jersey– has personally bankrolled the legal efforts of a Colorado baker who got into hot water for refusing to serve a same-sex couple.  But it’s not just the LGBT community that Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakes in Lakewood, Colorado is crusading against.  He’s also believes Halloween is a among the problems facing our times. Gianforte is his patron.

From a document Gianforte sent to Bozeman City Commissioners promoting the effort he bankrolled:

In addition to being a baker, Jack is a committed Christian who believes that he should live consistently with what he believes to be true.  As a consequence, Jack seeks to operate his business in accordance with his faith, even when it costs him.

For instance, he will not bake any Halloween-themed goods, event though Halloween typically provides bakeries increased revenue-making opportunities, because he believes that Christians should not promote Halloween.

Halloween – costumes, pumpkins and trick-or-treating – has long been a big celebration at the Montana Governor’s Residence, with every Governor in recent memory getting into the spirit.  Steve Bullock and his family dressed as characters from Peter Pan, Brian and Nancy Schweitzer were Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty in 2012, even Judy Martz had some fun, dressing as “Tigger.” These bipartisan festivities have featured full-size candy bars and thousands of trick-or-treaters.

In order to rid the world of this demonic holiday, is Greg Gianforte one of those guys who pass out religious pamphlets on Halloween?  Or does he simply turn the lights off and pretend he’s not home?  Either way, it looks like no candy – not even Smartees or “fun sized” bars.


GUEST POST: When ideology trumps fact, citizens become the victims

by Steve Muth, of Red Lodge. Muth recently retired as Red Lodge City Judge.

Several prominent Republican legislators, most all of whom are steeped in the tea party,  oppose Governor Bullock’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage for poor and disabled Montanans. Recently, all 10 Republican members of the Montana House Human Services Committee voted a “do not pass” recommendation on Medicaid expansion, meaning that the tea party Republicans will force a supermajority, or 60 Representatives, to bring the measure to the full house for a vote.  A supermajority would require that Democrats along with several moderate, independent-thinking Republicans vote to bring the measure before the House for a vote.  Tea partiers hope that they can keep the rest of the Republican legislators in line with the kind of threats and intimidation they and their out-of-state political pressure groups have made in the past against moderate Republicans in the Montana legislature.

It is believed by many that a majority of legislators favor the Governor’s proposal, but  conservative, tea party Republicans will do all they can to prevent an honest up or down vote in the legislature.

The arguments of the tea party Republicans against Medicaid expansion are in three broad categories:  that the private marketplace, without any interference from hated Big Government, can be relied upon to solve our health care problems; that the refusal to expand Medicare is proof of their own hatred of Obamacare and thus their standing within their own party; and that Medicaid expansion is a free government handout to underserving able-bodied Montanans who refuse to work.

None of these ideological arguments hold water.  In order for Medicaid expansion to receive the consideration it deserves in our legislature, it will be necessary for some Republicans to stand up to this narrow-minded thinking of tea partiers and insist that there be a full house vote on this important issue.

The argument that the marketplace can and will solve all our problems has been made again and again by members of the tea party, but offers no solution to a great variety of social problems, chief among them access to health care.  In 1997 the Montana legislature refused to expand coverage to poor, uninsured Montana children.  Some coverage was expanded by the 1999 legislature, and then Montana voters in the 2008 general election, after further legislative refusal to act, overwhelmingly passed I-155 which effectively established the Health Montana Kids Plan, which has achieved considerable success in bringing accessible health care to poor children in Montana.

During discussions in 2007 at the time of earlier legislative attempts to extend coverage to poor children, I recall then-Representative Scott Sales,  Republican legislative leader, saying that he  opposed spending one more penny on children’s’ healthcare, refusing to acknowledge that there even was a problem with health care for poor, sick and uninsured children.  He said that “if” there was a problem, he trusteed that the corporate ”marketplace” would take care of it.  What he left unsaid was that there is no profit incentive for the “marketplace” alone to offer health coverage to poor children, so that the reliance on the “marketplace” to address the needs of those more vulnerable in our society is an illusion. Today, Representative Sales remains a leader in the Montana legislature, still promoting hatred of Big Government and Obamacare, the political excuse for avoiding honest consideration of the proper role of government in our society .

Even today, children’ health care is still under attack in the Montana legislature.  In this current 2015 legislature, Representative Art Wittich, chairman of the House Human Services Committee and who, with impeccable tea party credentials forced throughhis committee the “do not pass” recommendation for the Governor’s Medicaid expansion proposal, introduced a bill to prohibit government supported health care for poor children whose entire family assets are more than $20,000, an amount apparently considered to be the threshold of wealth.   It would make as much sense to require each legislator to pay out of his own pocket all of his own childrens’ health care bills until his family assets drop below $20,000.  Fortunately, this bill was tabled in committee.  But members of the legislature, of course, keep their own government subsidized health insurance.

Ideological arguments are dogma to the tea party Republicans, and are made to avoid a fact-based debate about government’s responsibility to assist and grow a healthy Montana workforce. The Republican legislators who invoke a visceral hatred of Obamacare do not have to engage in a truthful debate about the benefits to the state of Montana from expanded Medicaid.

Conservative Republican legislators tell us that Medicaid expansion fosters Big Government so that not one penny of federal money will be accepted back into Montana to pay for the expansion.  So instead of accepting back into Montana money that we pay out in federal taxes, Republican Representative Nancy Ballance has sponsored legislation that is a half-hearted expansion of Medicaid, extending coverage to a limited number of deserving Montanans.  This legislation proposes to pay for limited Medicaid expansion by spending Montana’s own state tax dollars.  Should this alternative to Governor Bullock’s plan become law, it would cost as much or more to the state treasury to insure 10,000-15,000 needy Montanans than the Governor’s plan which would cover over 60,000-70,000 Montanans by accepting our fair share of our federal tax dollars.

Although under the Governor’s plan Medicaid expansion would be paid for initially by 100% federal dollars and no more than 90% thereafter, with the match on a sliding scale and the 90/10 level reached not reached until 2020, we are told that we must refuse this support because the federal government cannot be trusted to make its promised payments. This ideological argument ignores the provision in the Governor’s plan which would terminate expanded coverage when and if the federal government failed to make transfers to Montana as promised.  When ideology trumps fact, citizens become the victims.   All we hear from the tea party Republicans and their “American prosperity” backers is that expanding Medicaid with cost money to the state of Montana.   Aside from their attacks on accessible health care for the poor, never have any of these politicos advanced any positive idea to serve the needy in our state and never have they admitted what the real cost to the state will be by failing to expand Medicaid.

Instead of invoking Big Government to avoid its legitimate responsibilities, the question we should ask is “What are the responsibilities of government and how can we satisfy these responsibilities?”.  Do we or do we not have a responsibility to provide access to health care to poor, uninsured children?  Do we or do we not have a responsibility to provide better access to healthcare to veterans, the disabled, the working poor.  Providing reasonable access to health care should be a moral imperative shouldered by responsible government, and which promises to strengthen the overall Montana economy.

The tea partiers unrelentingly pursue a war against the poor in Montana.  In 2013, another Republican legislative leader, Billings Representative David Hagstrom, who makes a living from Section 8 and other government housing subsidies for his low income renters, told his tenants, as reported by the Billings Gazette, that they don’t need “to live as long as they currently do, or as ‘comfortably’ as they currently do.”  He reportedly told his low-income renters “to accept the fact that you and your neighbor are going to have to work harder than ever, maybe take take a second or third job and live on less….”  Representative Hagstrom is still in the legislature and is appointed to the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, responsible for setting the state budget for Montanans in need.

In 2013, I travelled to Helena to testify before a Senate committee in favor of expanded Medicaid coverage and I heard comments made about “deadbeats” who want something for nothing through expanded Medicaid coverage.  This attitudes still guides some Republicans in the 2015 legislature where we hear continuing references to alleged fraud in the “system” and allegations about able-bodied people who refuse to work but who nevertheless want government supported health care.  Some Montana Republican legislators are content to group poor Montanans into an  underclass unworthy of Medicaid expansion.

Who are these low income Montanans who would be covered under the Governor’s plan for expanded Medicaid?  Are they deadbeats looking for a government handout, or are they working and disabled citizens caught in the net of expensive and unaffordable health care and health insurance costs?

According to information provided by the Montana Budget and Policy Center, those who would be covered under the Governor’s plan include over 9,000 veterans, thousands of American Indians, nearly 40,000 other working Montana adults.  These include the many thousands of able-bodied Montanans who do work and whose income is too low to afford insurance coverage.  These workers are waitresses, day care providers, hospitality workers, farm and ranch laborers, and thousands of others who hold down a jobs that we all rely on to our  benefit.  These workers are not deadbeats and do not deserve to be treated that way.  It is no answer to hector them that they should get a second or third job, or that they should expect to live a harder, shorter and less comfortable life.

The alternative plan introduced by a select group of Republican legislators, would cover perhaps 15,000 Montanans who surely deserve assistance with health coverage, but would exclude many thousands more who also merit this assistance.  Data recently released by the Corporation for Enterprise Development shows that Montana ranked 49th in the country for average annual pay, 42nd in the number of low-wage jobs and last for employers offering health insurance.  Montana has also been said to be at or near the bottom for uninsured or underinsured veterans and Native Americans.

It could not be more clear that good government should act to expand Medicaid to the working poor and disabled in our state.   The Governor’s plan is the right place to start.

Steve Muth, Red Lodge

Montana Astroturf Strategy Backfires on Koch Brothers

This was a bad week for the Koch Brothers in Montana.

Their astroturf “group,” Americans for Prosperity, is fighting Medicaid Expansion.  That’s right–the Koch Brothers, who are worth $50 Billion – each,  are trying to ensure that someone who makes $15,000 is not able to afford health insurance or medical care.

Zach Lahn, a young GOP operative who was once a Steve Daines campaign aide, is now the head of AFP’s Montana chapter.   Lahn has thus been targeting pro-Medicaid Republican legislators, sending mailers comparing them to Obama, demanding that they sign anti-Medicaid “pledges,” and showing up in a suit holding astroturf “town meetings” in their districts designed to intimidate them.

None of it is working, and the town hall meetings have blown up altogether.  In Dillon this weekend, the legislator being targeted, Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon, actually showed up like an adult at the AFP meeting and naturally wanted to speak.  Lahn would not allow him to.  Wellborn walked out, as did a number of attendees.  You can see a video of this on the Great Falls Tribune website here-- the crowd was not pleased with AFP’s action.

Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell), the former police chief and now a pro-Medicaid Republican legislator from Kalispell, drove eight hours to be at the town hall meeting in his district this weekend and muscled his way to the podium.   That meeting, too, blew up in Lahn’s face.   A Flathead Beacon reporter covered the event:  You can also see some of the Flathead Beacon’s video coverage on the Great Falls Tribune site.

Garner’s mere presence had a chilling effect on the AFP presentation, which was frequently derailed by laughter, booing and shouting from audience members who overwhelmingly expressed support for Garner.

Following a hasty exchange with AFP State Director Zach Lahn minutes before Thursday’s meeting commenced, Garner took the podium to defend his record before the crowd of mostly supporters, who cheered the lawmaker on.

“I promised the people here when I ran that I would listen to you and not out-of-town special interests,” Garner said to raucous applause. “If every time they want me to sign a pledge card and I don’t do it they are going to rent a room and have a meeting, then this is going to get real expensive. Cause I’m not signing the pledge card.”

This is an example of a Tea Party event gone terribly wrong.  And it indicates to me that the Medicaid expansion battle will likely be won.  The moderates will break away and support some version of the Governor’s proposal.

This debacle in Kalispell (which played out in several other districts as well) is part of a larger emerging trend in the country in which classic Tea Party hooligan tactics are not working out like they used to.  A few years back, Tea Party town hall meetings were places where a moderate Republican would overwhelmed by a Tea Party mob.  Now the opposite is happening. This means that the Tea Party is in retreat. Even AFP’s own employees know how terrible their reputation is.


Perhaps the person who has best summed this all up is GOP Sen. Llew Jones, who penned an op-ed in the Fairfield Sun Times today:

Irrespective of your stance on this, or any issue, these intruders need to get out of Montana politics.   I know that I now consider any issue or individual that AFP advocates for or against as highly suspect.   To me these folks are on the same level as the predator who called my 89 year old mother last week, pretending to be her Grandson, supposedly trapped in a “bad situation” in New York, desperately needing her help, which was defined as $900.00 on her credit card.  “Please Grandma, don’t tell anyone…..!!”   How despicable.. It took my son calling, and me talking to her, to finally calm her down, but she is still very upset and confused.

Predators: get out of Montana, we do not want you here.  We can take care of our own.

The problem AFP is running into is that these districts have rural hospitals that need the medicaid expansion because they currently provide health services to poor people who can’t pay the bills.  Plus Medicaid expansion helps all Montanans – without it, we are all are subsidizing the cost of the uninsured through our insurance bills.  So while Lahn and his pals are making angry speeches at these Munich Beer Hall-type gatherings, Governor Bullock and Lt. Governor McClean are touring the hospital down the street, meeting with workers and even the Republican legislators being targeted, and getting the majority of the community behind them, such as chambers of commerce, as well as local media such as editorial boards. The major newspapers have all turned against AFP and are supporting Medicaid expansion, as has the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

It might seem natural for Steve Bullock to be supporting this but keep in mind that he has taken on a herculean task.  Bullock stands alone as the only Democratic Governor in America who both presides over a Red state and is actively pushing Medicaid expansion.


New Report Finds Montana is WORST in Nation for Employers Offering Health Insurance

New data released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) shows Montana ranked among the worst in the country for average annual pay (49th) and number of low-wage jobs (42nd), and dead last for employers offering health insurance (51st – report counts DC as an entity).

The data show that extending health coverage to the working poor is an even greater imperative in Montana than in surrounding states.  Wyoming, North Dakota, and Utah are moving forward with Medicaid expansion or in the case of Utah a non-Obamacare alternative like Governor Bullock has proposed.

“The overall economic wellness of our state will always be contingent on the financial health of all Montana families,” said Rep. Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls) executive director of Rural Dynamics, Inc., an Assets & Opportunity Network lead organization in a press release. “We urgently need legislation that builds and protects the wealth of Montana’s working-class families.”

Previous reports have found that Montana is also the worst in the nation for Veterans that are uninsured or undersinsured and for uninsured Native Americans. 

To be sure, Montana does well in many categories – we are ranked first in the nation for small business creation rate.  Montana also leads the nation when it comes to the small business ownership rate. Montana ranks in the middle or better half of states in Housing & Homeownership outcomes, earning the state an “A” grade. The state also receives an “A” in the Businesses & Jobs category, which speaks to why the state’s economy is doing so well under Bullock’s leadership.  The report also notes that “Montana is one of a handful of states whose homogenous population and low cost of living have made it possible for residents to fare relatively well without significant government support,”  which further counters the myth that extreme-right legislators are attempting to perpetrate as a cover to gut assistance for the neediest Montanans.

But the report also recommended the need for policies in Montana that can build a better economic foundation for the state’s current and future workforce. Montana should adopt a state Earned Income Tax Credit and raise its minimum wage to make work pay for low-income households. For those in jobs that do not offer health care benefits, the report also recommended that Montana ensure coverage for the most vulnerable families.

Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, has introduced a bill to the Montana Legislature that would raise the hourly minimum wage in Montana by about $2, with SB 2. Sen. Mary Caferro (D-Helena) has a bill draft request in for an earned income tax credit, LC615.  And Rep. Pat Noonan (D-Ramsay) is carrying Gov. Bullock’s Healthy Montana Plan, HB 249, which is an alternative to Medicaid expansion that would cover 70,000 working poor Montanans by 2021.

To read an analysis of key findings from the 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, click here. To access the complete Scorecard, visit http://assetsandopportunity.org/scorecard. They have some neat interactive data tools, including an asset poverty calculator, downloadable infographics, customizable charts and maps, and interesting data visuals that are worth checking out.

To do something about this – the Montana AARP has a nice, simple action page up.  All you need to do is click here.


Bullock Speaks, Democrats Celebrate, Republicans Cringe

Tonight, Steve Bullock gave us another installment in what has become a biennial tradition in Montana spanning almost ten years: the State of the State Address, the night when a Democratic Governor gets to tell the public that the state’s economy is strong and getting stronger, that the government in great fiscal shape, and that democratic executive leadership is working quite well.  The tradition includes a scene in which Democratic legislators cheer and Republican legislators stare at their shoes, their faces resembling the way a baby looks when he has gas, each one cringing from from the sound of applause and the unbearable good news about our state.

Steve Bullock delivered the news in a big, upbeat and wide-ranging speech, which combined boosterism, a big vision for road ahead, and a deserved bit of gloating.  The news is this: the state of the state is strong and getting stronger.  Montana has some of the lowest unemployment in the nation, record amounts of cash in the bank, record high graduation, record low dropout rates, and some of the highest achieving students in America in middle and high school.  Add to it one of the best tax and regulatory climates in the country and a bulletproof credit rating from Wall Street.  In other words, irrefutable news that the state is strong on all fronts.  Bullock struck on the theme that he has employed common sense management policies to get the job done.  And all of the canards that the GOP try to peddle about the state’s problems, such as “too much regulation” and other such rot, were roundly refuted.

I can understand how GOP legislators have come to rue this event.  I don’t envy them, politically speaking.  But the GOP deserves it all.  For one of the reasons we have had an air-tight ten-year monopoly on the Governor’s office is that Montanans have no use for the GOP when it comes to choosing a statewide leader.  Voters see the Republican party, especially its Tea Party segment, for what it is: an immature bunch of know-nothing reactionaries, who purvey their manchild antics and think that they can do so without cost.  But the cost is very clear: a man like Steve Bullock will always be chosen over a Republican alternative, including in 2016 in all likelihood.  As he has hit his stride, so has the GOP been dragged further down by lunatic extremists.  The day of his speech, for example, the big news from the GOP was that they are trying introduce legislation to allow the teaching of creationism in public schools, which the bill euphemistically refers to as “critical thinking in the classroom.”

The ultra-religious might do better to consider Bullock’s focus, outlined in his speech, about how we should fulfill our deep moral obligations to give healthcare to the working poor, to care for the mentally ill, to treat our troops right, and to invest big in a statewide preschool program so that we can prepare our next generation.  In other words, rather than the small, selfish parochialism that is generally what we get from Republicans, let’s be bigger.  That included a plea from Bullock to support him in fixing our campaign finance system, to makes sure that expenditures are made public, a plan that Republican Duane Ankney is co-authoring with the Governor.

The highlight was when Bullock offered to give GOP legislators the cellphones of the directors of rural hospitals, to see what those hospital directors think of whether we should accept federal funds being offered for health coverage for the working poor, funds which would go toward these rural centers as well as many other facilities in the state. Republicans are currently trying to oppose taking this money.

Most of the time, not a single Republican politician in the chamber could be seen applauding.  This included when Bullock said that on his watch, there will be no selling off of public lands.

As democrats rose to their feet and cheered and whooped, Republicans (with the exception of one or two moderates) just sat there staring into space, probably thinking about what for them is a most dismal prospect–that Bullock will very likely be delivering two more of these speeches, through 2019.  I hope the GOP enjoys them.

Ohio GOP Governor Blasts MT TEA Partiers’ Ridiculous Stance on Medicaid Expansion

John Adams of the Great Falls Tribune has once again obtained some very interesting video from a closed-door Republican meeting.

In the video,  TEA Party Republican Scott Sales appears to have attempted some chest thumping in front of the press after Adams discovered the meeting.  He launched into an attack on the visiting Republican governor, who was the leading proponent of expanding medicaid in Ohio, only to get immediately and somewhat embarrassingly schooled.

You can click here to watch the raw video John Adams recorded from the meeting Montana GOP legislators had with GOP Governor John Kasich yesterday. 

Sales launches his attack with:

You recently approved Medicaid expansion – if you have this extra money at the state level why not use state dollars instead of federal dollars?  By your own admission you are reenforcing this idea that you want someone else to do the heavy lift. You could have said no to federal dollars. You as the governor–and we as the legislature–we can say no to all the federal dollars.  And quite frankly under section [unintelligible] of the constitution, you know as well as I do that the federal government is way out of bounds in a lot of areas where it has no authority. I’d be singing your praises and probably support you for president if you had cut the apron strings and said no to federal dollars  – especially since you had a surplus and not enabling this thing to go on and on and frankly, I find you to be somewhat hypocritical.

Sales apparently was referring to the TEA Party GOP-ers scheme they say they are concocting, which, I kid you not, would turn away the money available to pay for Medicaid expansion in Montana, and ask Montanans to spend more state money to cover a small fraction of those actually eligible for Medicaid expansion.

Kasich, apparently realizing straight off that he was dealing with .22 caliber minds in a .357 magnum world, quickly shot down this TEA Partier:

There’s no money in Washington, it’s my money. I brought my money back to Ohio. And what did we do with it? We treat the mentally ill.  We treat the drug addicted.  And we help the working poor stop going to emergency rooms and forcing me to pay for their medical bills because they go there sicker.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever read Matthew 25, but I’d commend it to you- the end of it. It’s about do you feed the homeless and do you clothe the poor. I’m a believer that it is in the conservative tradition to make sure we help people get on their feet so they then are not dependent…

Now do I think that it is appropriate for the federal government to in some ways  be a partner and provide some resources to and help solve problems in the states?  I do.

Kasich continued by pointing out that:

Ronald Reagan expanded medicaid.  I don’t know if you know that or no,t but he expanded medicaid and he’s the patron saint of all the conservatives I know.

Kasich did not add the other GOP president who expanded Medicaid, George Bush senior, so I’ll do it here.   Bush’s Medicaid expansion initiative, which he called the Health Insurance Flexibility and Accountability (HIFA) initiative or HIFA Waiver program, was created in 2001 to allow states to cover able-bodied adults.  It’s something that the majority of states now do, but Montana is far behind in this area.

Kasich then asked Rep. Sales “how fast has your Medicaid program grown in Montana?”

Sales tried to shrug off the question and said “I don’t know.”

But Kasich again pushed back, “No you’re asking me so I’m asking you – how fast has it grown in Montana.”

Sales started to make excuses for his cluelessness like “Oh, well I’m not on appropriations”

“So you don’t know…” Kasich shot back.

When I came into office state share medicaid grew at 9% my first budget it grew at 3% and we didn’t cut anybody off and we didn’t reduce any benefits. Now what we’ve been able to do is keep the promises we made to the mentally ill.

Kasich is highlighting the mentally ill because one of the best ways to help address the problem Montanans face with untreated mental illness is Medicaid expansion. In fact, in Montana, 42% of uninsured adults with mental health conditions would be eligible for coverage when Bullock’s Healthy Montana Plan, which uses a private contract to provide health coverage for working poor Montanans, passes.

Kasich continued by pointing out that:

Turning down your money back to Montana on an ideological basis–when people can lose their lives becauses they get no help–that makes no sense to me. So I read in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday about the doctor in MT who is treating all these people after a guy froze to death. I read that and I thought – we gotta help those people…

I’ve been in all these places – and if I thought expanding medicaid would keep us from being able to have a balanced budget or from having fiscal responsibility or was going to create dependence, I wouldn’t be for it.  In my state, its working…

Your position is based on strict ideology its not based on the practicalities of what happens in the street.

I can’t tell from the video if TEA Partier Art Wittich, public enemy number one of working poor Montanans, is in the closed-door meeting.  He may have been busy dealing with his upcoming jury trial in the political practices case against him, where he faces removal from office. 


Top Ten Good Ideas Both Parties Can Support in the 2015 Legislature

The 2015 legislative session begins Monday, January 5th. Instead of looking backward at memorable events of the past year, let’s look forward with the Cowgirl Blog’s countdown of ten good ideas that members of both parties can support this year.

They are:

  1. Create an 80 MPH speed limit at various places on the interstate, where it’s straight and clear. Nothing wrong with this idea if it’s done right. Automobile technology has moved ahead leaps and bounds, and driving 80 or 85 is not what it use to be. And while it’s true that there might be a few more casualties, that same argument (that an increase in speed equals more fatalities) could just as easily be used to defend setting the speed limit at 55. In other words, Montanans are tend to be in favor of trading a small amount of safety for  a lot of freedom. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just the way of the West. One such proposal LC0768 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Miller (R-Helmville).
  2. Reform the Board of Pardons and Parole. Last week saw Gov. Steve Bullock give the boot to Mike McKee, who wanted to be reappointed as Chair of the BOPP even though his legacy is that he made sure that people were locked up and that the key was thrown away. Earlier this year Bullock publicly stated his desire to commute Barry Beach’s sentence so that he could be eligible for parole. McKee stacked the ­person panel hearing Beach’s case with hearings officers that were anti-Beach, thus assuring that Bullock would not get a chance to issue clemency. Conservatives and liberals can both agree that the Constitution grants the power of clemency to the governor and in such cases he should be able to exercise it without the interference of an unpaid bureaucrat. And after all, in the very unlikely scenario that something goes wrong and Beach misbehaves while out on the street, it would be entirely on Bullock, politically speaking. So the GOP has no reason not to work with the governor here.  Rep. Margie MacDonald (D-Billings),  Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) and others have already been looking at some common sense reforms.
  3. Infrastructure – including for eastern Montana oil-boom towns like those in the Bakken. There are road, bridge, sewer and building projects that Montana needs right now, and interest rates are super-low. Let’s bond for them. Obviously, the GOP will try to tease down the amount that we devote toward these projects but it would be reckless to try to kill all of them, and if Bullock can budget for them and still keep a healthy ending balance, then all or most of what Bullock is proposing can be agreed upon for funding.  Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon) is sponsoring this fix.

  4. Health care for the working poor and veterans. Governor Bullock has come up with an alternative to medicaid expansion. Everyone can get behind it.  It will cover tens of thousands of struggling Montanans with basic health insurance without growing the Medicaid rolls or expanding Obamacare.  Veterans and working poor Montanans are trapped in a coverage gap right now, and have no medical insurance nor can they afford it. The federal government is offering billions of dollars of federal funds that will end up going to other states rather than Montana if we deny it. It’s our money, and we’d be stupid not to bring it home to Montana. Bullock’s solution would satisfy the GOP’s pals in the insurance industry by allowing the program to be privately administered by insurance companies for a small percentage, and be far less costly than the private option proposed by Republicans in other states. It would also satisfy the medical community because it increases provider rates for Montana doctors. Republicans in other states have supported such alternatives, and are expected to do so here. And, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, a rock-ribbed-Republican group,  has endorsed the Governor’s plan. A Chamber of Commerce poll of 800 Montanans found that Montanans support for covering the working poor leads by a 20% margin.
  5. Another health care measure would be to end surprise medical bills. Patients lying on the operating table are often not told that the doctor about to perform all or part of their surgery isn’t actually in their insurance plan’s provider network. The patient finds out about it when she receives a surprise bill, a few months later, for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that the insurance company doesn’t cover.  Rep. Kathleen Williams (D-Bozeman) is sponsoring a law to prohibit this outrageous health industry scam.  It would require that patients be notified up front if the care they are scheduled to receive is covered, so that they may exercise the option to go elsewhere.  And this measure reduces costs throughout the system because if the scammed patient ends up simply not paying the bill because they can’t afford it, the rest of us end up covering it.
  6. Support the Salish-Kootenai Water Compact.  Every federally recognized tribe in Montana has a negotiated water water rights agreement with the state and federal government except one –  the CSKT – and while extreme right-wing legislators, as well as birthers and outright racists have worked to block such an agreement for the tribe in the past, the compact has now been endorsed by Republican AG Tim Fox and even the TEA Party blog PolyMontana.com.
  7. Online voter registration. Half of American states now allow voters to register on the internet, using a drivers license and/or Social Security number.  Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch wants to bring it to Montana, as do all of the county election clerks who are overworked during election season. Nobody can point to a single reason why printing out a form and mailing it in is any more secure than filling out an online form and submitting it electronically.  And unlike many Democratic and Republican election bills, which are often designed to mathematically one party or the other, online nline registration systems can be found in conservative, liberal and battleground states. So it’s a good measure. And conservative Republican Geraldline Custer (R-Forsyth) is sponsoring  the bill, HB 48.

  8. Confirm Jonathan Motl as Commissioner of political practices. The 2013 session saw a bipartisan effort to reform money in politics and provide greater transparency in political donations.  Since then, it has been left to Motl to actually try to enforce the law and by all accounts he has breathed life into an otherwise dormant agency.   He has prosecuted all comers, Ds and Rs. And he’s also been quick to dismiss petty and frivolous complaints that waste everyone’s time.  Moderate Republicans are likely to support him because Motl has prosecuted the criminal money enterprises run by the Tea Party, aimed at bouncing moderate Republicans from office.   The only real loser in a Motl confirmation would be Tea Party leader Art Wittich, whom Motl has taken to court for massive violations of campaign finance law.  A district judge in Helena, Judge Sherlock, issued a decision in which he mocked Wittich’s motion to dismiss the case.  If Motl wins, Wittich could be removed from office.
  9. A ban on e-cigarette sales to kids.  Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says he’s considering it.  Montana has seen bipartisan support for regulating tobacco use – regulating e-cig use by minors will find broad support as well.
  10. Support the microbrewers and microdistillers. A number of bills could address these businesses, and we should get behind whatever legislation helps them and oppose the bills that seek to curtail them. Democrats and Republicans both have an interest in doing everything and anything possible to combat the farce that is much of Montana liquor license law. In a city such as Missoula or Bozeman, a liquor license for a restaurant costs over a million bucks. Neither political party can be very enthusiastic about such laws. In Portland or Seattle, it costs a few thousand at most.


BREAKING: Montana Chamber of Commerce Endorses Bullock’s Alternative to Medicaid Expansion

The Bozeman Chronicle’s Troy Carter has the story, which includes what the notoriously conservative-biased Chamber of Commerce poll found out about Montanans’ views of extending coverage to 70,000 working poor Montanans.  Go read it. 


2016 and the Montana Governor’s Race

A poll was published earlier this week by the Gravis Marketing firm showing Ryan Zinke and Tim Fox edging out Steve Bullock in 2016.  This poll is not to be trusted.

Gravis marketing is like a broken clock that shows the correct time twice a day.  It was a laughable organization for its conservative bias for a number of years up until 2016, when it’s conservative bias enabled it to be accurate because the electorate ended up being more conservative than anyone had envisioned.  That, and also consider that the poll last week did not include a Libertarian in the survey.

No doubt Republicans will be emboldened by this automated push-button phone poll, but take it to the bank: a real pollster’s numbers will look nothing like what Gravis has produced.

On a related subject, I’ve now conversed with several reporters as well as sources high up in Montana democratic politics, who all say that Greg Gianforte is going to take a pass in 2016 and will not be running for governor, although nobody seems to be able to point to a reason.  We can all look forward to hearing more about this.

LEAKED DOCUMENTS: Blue Cross, Aetna, Verizon funded attack ads against Bullock

In 2012 when Steve Bullock was campaigning to become governor, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) raised large amounts of secretive corporate money, to run attack ads against Bullock, smearing him by claiming that he supported Obamacare and opposed coal (neither true).  Last week, the RGA accidentally leaked a document showing who its secretive donors are.  Very few surprises, in general. Oil companies, pharmaceutical companies and the NRA, for example.

But among the the platinum-level donors are Blue Cross Blue Shield, Verizon, and Aetna, all of whom have significant business not only in Montana, but with the state itself.

One wonders whether the executives of these companies will be repentant, or at least embarrassed, about the revelation that they funded nasty ads against Bullock.