Political Gossip, Satire, and Analysis from MT's Capital City "...an uncanny knack for sharp insider information..."--AP "...amazingly accurate inside info..."--Politico.com "...a viral sensation..."--Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos "Among the best state-based political blogs in the nation."--Washington Post
Governor Steve Bullock allowed an unconstitutional bill to become law today solely so that the bill can be struck down in Montana’s courts before it can reach the ballot. The bill, House Bill 391, requires parental consent before a teen – even a teen in danger – can access a safe and legal abortion.
As John Adams at The Lowdown reports, the move allows women to immediately challenge the measure in court long before an identical referenda passed by the legislature gets to the ballot in 2014.
The Dark Lord Sauron’s index finger was conspicuously bare as he stabbed at a Billings Gazette article about Gov. Steve Bullock’s plan to fight dark money in Montana politics.
“What do we need to do to better spread our cold grip across the state?” he bellowed as the savage roar of Republican legislators rose all around him. His thunderous words were well-received, with those in attendance firing assault rifles into the air, beating their foreheads with Bibles and knocking back shot after shot of Roughstock Montana Whiskey.
Speaking from behind the Black Gate, the Dark Lord led Republican legislators during their annual strategy retreat in Mordor. Throughout the weeklong event, Republicans from across the state looked at ways to move their party forward into the 19th century, from resisting any federal attempts to enforce gun control to fighting for lower taxes.
The retreat to their barren stronghold came at an embarrassing time for the party as they stagger to recover from a humiliating defeat in the recent War of Female Aggression. This March, an all-male extremist faction of the GOP failed to overthrow MSU President Waded Cruzado.
The weekend was kicked off with a rousing speech from former congressman Denny Rehberg, who recently took the position of Lord of the Nazgûl following his 2012 election loss to Sen. Jon Tester. He encouraged the party to never give up on their goal of complete and utter subjugation of all Montanans.
“Even Gov. Bullock is nothing more than an afternoon snack to a hungry Nazgûl,” he proclaimed while sensually stroking the neck of his winged mount.
Rep. James Crow, R-Justus Township, unveiled his proposal for mobilizing Uruk-Hai fighters as Election Day volunteers. He noted that they seem particularly effective at keeping young people and non-native Montanans away from polls.
Among the priorities outlined for the coming years were defeating Gov. Bullock’s health care overhaul for low-income Montanans, expanding natural resource development and recovering the One Ring so the Dark Lord may return to full power.
“We believe it is hidden somewhere near Missoula,” Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, said as he rallied a battalion of orcs. “Trashing a liberal stronghold will just be a bonus.”
Additional workshops included a social media engagement presentation held by guest speaker Lord Voldemort — who informed the party that hashtags have no function on Facebook and make them look like they just learned how to check their emails — and a speech on effective voter suppression delivered by Benito Mussolini’s head-in-a-jar.
The Dark Lord Sauron told reporters he remains optimistic about the future of the party: “Weekends like these are just what we need to refocus and define our direction. Plus, nothing brings a party together like hunting endangered whooping cranes.”
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.
The Havre Daily Newsreported 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.
PANDEMONIUM IN MONTANA SENATE; Constitutional Crisis could arise
There was chaos in the Montana Senate today, with shouting, jumping, chanting and jeering. Some observers said it seemed for a while like a riot might break out.
The fun started when democrats made a motion for what is called a “Call of the Senate,” which is a demand that all 50 senators be present if any further senate business is to be conducted. At the time, Shannon Augare, a democrat, was far away on an Indian reservation.
To enforce a call of the senate, the rules allow the Senate Sergeant at Arms or other law enforcement to arrest any absent legislators and haul them back to the chamber. But an Indian reservation is a sovereign nation and state law enforcement has no jurisdiction, so Augare was seemingly beyond the long arm of senate enforcement powers.
By legal right, therefore, Democrats could make a Call of the Senate and, with fewer than 50 senators present, could suspend senate business until he returned.
Is it a good thing that a “call of the senate” rule exists? It’s of the same class of parliamentary maneuvers as a filibuster in the US Senate.
But it’s the law. And that’s a real problem because republican senate president Jeff Essmann ignored the democrats’ Call of the Senate motion when they made it. He acted as if he didn’t hear it, and continued on with Senate business even though he had no right to do so. Democrats protested, and refused to vote on a series of measures that Essmann brought to a vote and then announced as having passed even though half the senate (the democrats) didn’t even vote. Things got raucous. Democrats started shouting down Essmann, banging on their desks, chanting, even standing on the desks at one point, demanding to be heard and demanding that Essmann obey the rules of order that any parliamentary leader must honor.
UPDATE:5:10 pm In case you missed it, here’s a video posted by Rep. Bryce Bennett. Here’s a link to Lee Newspapers video and ongoing coverage as well.
Why did the Democrats make this motion to require the attendance of all 50 Senators or else cease business?
Today was the deadline for ballot measures to be approved by the senate, a big date for republicans. Governor Bullock has been vetoing their nutty bills, and so they are now going to try to bypass the governor altogether and place these proposed laws directly on the ballot.
They do this all the time, with things like proposed bans on abortion or gay marriage, or changes to electoral law that will give the GOP an advantage at the polls such as closing down voting locations in the week before election day. Standard GOP crap has been effectively barred from becoming law via the traditional route, because we have a Democratic governor and because the GOP does not have enough votes to override his vetoes. Thus the GOP takes its crazy proposals directly to voters and dresses them up in seemingly neutral language, hoping to deceive them into voting for bad ideas.
And today was the deadline for the legislature to get these measures voted up so that they can be put on the ballot. So with one Senator far away in the sticks, Democrats made a smart move to run the clock out. They had every right to do so and Essmann, the senate president, had no legal right to continue business. But he did anyway, and the senate voted up a bunch of referenda with only 27 total votes, the Democrats abstaining.
UPDATE: 5:38 pmThe bills that the dems are seeking to keep off the ballot are SB 405, which repeals the right to register to vote on election day, and SB 408, the GOP’s move to keep third party candidates off the ballot. For a good summary of this issue head over to http://mtjungleprimary.com/
So the big question now is, do we have a constitutional crisis? Could Essmann be arrested for what he did? And what will be the legal status of the items that the Senate voted for today? This is not likely to be decided by the legislature, but by a court of law. If the democrats prevail in court they’ll have succeeded in keeping these referenda off the ballot. For now, its a win.
Stay tuned. This post will be periodically updated.
UPDATE: 8:13 pm Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison have the best print story out right now on how this all works. Read it in the Missoulian.They report that:
[A legislative staff attorney] told them a Senate majority could change the rules to sidestep the Democrats’ ploy, but that the House needed to change its rules as well, and that takes a two-thirds majority – and Republicans hold only a 61-39 majority in the House, six votes short.
UDATE: 8:32 pm The Senate will reconvene tomorrow at 7:00am Mountain. You can watch online here.
UPDATE: Sat 10:40 am. Sen. Sesso said on the Senate floor today that the bills Essmann is claiming to have “passed” 3rd reading yesterday actually did not pass. This means they would have missed the transmittal deadline and so are dead. The theory goes that because the law says that during a call of the senate ”no motion is in order except a motion to adjourn or remove the call. The call may be removed by a two-thirds vote of the members present.” Based on this theory, the law did not appear to permit Essmann to send votes to the House, as he has done. Meaning those actions could be invalidated.
A rules committee will meet Monday. The rules committee is chaired by Art Wittich (R-Gallatin County) Priest, Sales, and Essmann are also all on it. Here’s the full list of committee members (page 2).
UPDATE: Sun 12:16 am If you’d like to watch the video of Sen. Sesso’s explanation of why Essmann’s actions were wrong, and Essmann’s response,
Click here. WARNING: Video will autoplay when you click this link.
I had to bury the clip in an old page on the site to get around the autoplay probem. The whole thing lasts about 8 minutes. Video (Note to whomever runs the legislative website – setting all your video clips to autoplay is horrific. No one will clip and use your videos if you keep these settings how they are now. Perhaps that’s what you were going for.)
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.
Right wing blaming anonymous blogs for GOP’s problems
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 Here, Intelligent 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?
The big story in the Montana legislature this coming week will be the showdown over what is known as Medicaid Expansion. There’s a hearing on Monday for HB 590.
Governor Bullock included it in his budget and has been touring the state promoting it, and numerous bills have been introduced to address or defeat it. It’s one of his signature proposals this session. Republicans are trying to oppose it because it is a new federal spending item, which is something Republicans profess to hate (except when it’s in the form of farm subsidies).
There’s also a lot of noise about it, many false arguments, and a good deal of misinformation. So here is an explanation which I hope is helpful to my readers and especially to avocates.
It’s actually pretty simple. If the Governor’s proposal is voted up and made law, Montana will receive roughly $750 million a year of new federal money into our healthcare system for the next eight years. It will go into the state Medicaid program, and when it is spent it will not only give medical coverage to 70,000 additional citizens but will also be a huge boon to our economy and to many Montanans who will now have access to medical care–especially people working in agriculture, construction or tourism jobs. And the money will also help business owners avoid a tax under Obamacare that is levied on businesses of a certain size who do not provide health benefits to workers.
If it is defeated, this $750 million will instead go to other states.
And that’s the basic story.
The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, allows states to “opt in” to this new federal Medicaid increase. Medicaid is the program by which the lowest income people (mostly kids and seniors) in Montana get medical care. This new addition of funds to the program, if Montana accepts it, will allow a new class of people–the working poor, such as many dishwashers, farm workers and day care workers–to be eligible for Medicaid. if we so chooseAnd the state will not have to. match these payments at all. Montana currently shares the cost of Medicaid with the Feds, but this expansion will be entirely covered for three years by the annual $800 million. After the first three years, we will be required to match about 7%.
A few right-wing imbeciles, including Governors like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana (who is suffering under the delusion that he might get the GOP nomination for president in 2016), are “making a stand” and refusing this federal cash. This is what some conservative Governors did with the stimulus money back a few years ago. It’s a move that conservatives employ to beef up their Tea Party bona fides. To refuse federal assistance is to prove one’s aversion to Obamacare, and thus one’s manhood.
The problem is that Jindal, by doing this, is not preventing federal tax money from being spent. Instead, it simply goes to the other states who are opting in. They will get a sweeter deal.
And Jindal is royally screwing business owners in his state. Obamacare (which is now the law of the land, whether you like or not), will require large businesses to pay a $2,000 tax for each person the business employs but does not give health benefits to–amounting to a $15 million tax increase in Montana. But if we get the $750 million and thus increase the Medicaid eligibility, these businesses will be spared.
And of course, if we accept this federal money it will heavily boost the Montana economy. It is expected to create 13,000 new jobs, not only in the healthcare industry but in ancillary industries.
For these reasons, many conservative Republican governors have approved the expansion of Medicaid in their states, such as Jan Brewer (AZ), John Kasich (OH), Chris Christie (NJ), Susana Martinez (NM), and even Tea Party poster boy Rick Scott (FL) among several others. Actually, North Dakota governor Jack Darwhimple, also a Republican, has endorsed it too. He’s taking the cash. North Dakota is a state that the Montana GOP is constantly saying we should try to emulate. Nineteen states have already indicated they’re expanding Medicaid – eight are Republican.
In a funny twist, hospitals executives, doctors and nursing home executives–who generally whine about Obamacare and like to support politicians who whine about it–are now hoping that the Medicaid expansion is passed by the Montana legislature, by their Republican pals who control the House and Senate. This is why Bullock has been visiting hospitals and communities with big health industries, including those represented by Republican legislators. He is letting these communities know that their Republican representatives, who claim to care about jobs and the economy in their districts, are not doing their job and are actually considering denying these communities the federal money, which would then go to other states.
And while you would think that these medical industry players would have influence in the Capitol to get a few votes from the GOP, don’t be so sure. The lobbyists for the healthcare industrial complex who hang out at the legislature do little more than drink lattes, go to cocktail parties with their GOP legislator pals, commiserate with them about Obama, and during election season make campaign donations to them. They have so far shown no ability to get votes, which is another way of saying that if Medicaid expansion fails, they should all be fired. Because Democrats are already on board.
And always remember Bob Wagner, may his political career rest in peace. Wagner voted against stimulus money for his district, because he felt it was the Tea Party thing to do. He got primaried by a moderate Republican, who used the vote him, and Wagner was roundly defeated. If Medicaid expansion fails due to similar conservative shenanigans, there will be many more Bob Wagners in 2014.
Montana GOP Rep. Scott Reichner of Big Fork has put forward what can best be described as a Republican solution to the problem of “dark money” in politics. Dark money is the anonymous, unlimited and unregulated money, usually of corporate origin, that has helped the GOP win seats in the legislature in the last two elections and also helped Tim Fox become attorney general. Most of it was funneled by a group called American Tradition Partnership, a group that has been in severe legal trouble in Montana. Dark money is bad because whoever spends a fortune bankrolling a candidate will later demandsomething in return. Its legality, unfortunately, has been partially decreed by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court in its pathetic collection of Citizen United decisions. Steve Bullock has led the fight, in Montana and nationally, against dark money.
Unless I’m missing something, Rep. Reichner’s proposal (HB 229) seems designed to make the problem worse. Continue reading →