Tag Archives: Steve Bullock

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.

Montana Democrats, Your Presence Is Requested…

by Cowgirl

A rare, intimate variety of democracy will take its course Saturday morning at the county fairgrounds in Helena, Montana, when the Democratic Party chooses a nominee to replace John Walsh.

Nobody in Montana politics can recall anything quite like this event, so it should make for good theater. Oddly, the proceedings will be both less and more democratic than a normal primary. A small group of party officers from around the state–no more than 175 delegates and possibly as few as 50– will choose the nominee in a caucus. That’s a lot of power in a small group. However, the two most powerful figures in the party–the sitting Democratic senator and governor–don’t appear at this point to have expressed a preference. Which means that Saturday might be, for lack of a better term, a free-for-all. And that’s a good thing, and for bloggers especially.

A candidate that breaks through and excite voters is urgently required. The Governor vetoed 71 bills last session, each bill more idiotic than the next, but if we lose seats he might be unable to sustain his vetoes. Thus the Senate race is perhaps less important than the state legislature in my opinion. Please consult this list of what they’ve proposed in recent years. Greatest hits include House Bill 549, “A Bill To declare that Global Warming is Good for Montana.” This season they are proposing a law that will let sheriffs arrest anyone who tries to implement the Affordable Care Act. There is also a Tea Party-generated ballot measure this year to make voter registration more difficult. Democrats need a showing at the polls to kill it.

Three types of candidates could in theory present themselves on Saturday–big, medium and small. The “big” category, unfortunately, is an empty set. It consists only of two people who could immediately put Daines on the run–Bullock and Schweitzer–both very popular, but both of whom have said they won’t be running.

“Medium” includes politicians whose names many Montana voters are familiar with. But since every current statewide office-holder already sent their regrets (as has Nancy Keenan, former NARAL Pro-Choice America chief and former state superintendent of Montana schools), there’s only one medium sized candidate: John Bohlinger, the former Lt. Governor under Schweitzer. Bohlinger ran and lost to Walsh in the primary but he blames the loss on Harry Reid for having anointed Walsh and sent resources his way (Reid called Bohlinger earlier this year and tried to push him out of the race). There are many party activists who enjoy Bohlinger, but a few who must be persuaded that he no longer harbors any affiliation to Republican causes.

The remainder of the candidates have small followings even if they have big potential. They largely unknown to most Montana voters and include three state legislators–Dave Wanzenried (trucking company employee from Missoula) and Amanda Curtis (teacher from Butte)–as well as Dirk Adams (Wilsall), a former mortgage banker and now rancher who ran against Bohlinger and Walsh in the democratic Party but got only 15% to Bohlinger’s 25% and Walsh’s 60%.

Others have made oblique statements that fall short of committing to a candidacy, or have tried to get surrogates to tweet things like “I’m hearing that so and so is getting into the race.” But this does not count. If you want it, stand up and say so.

Senate Candidate will be chosen next week

With the announcement that John Walsh has departed the Senate race, the Democratic party is planning a date TBD next week as the nominating convention for Walsh’s replacement. The “central committee” will decide the matter. This group is composed of 175 or so party officers such as county chairs and vice chairs, all members of the executive board, presidents of each chartered Democratic organization, and the elected positions of Lt. Gov, Clerk of the Supreme Court, and Public Service Commissioner. They will descend upon Helena and convene at a TBD location and time probably in the next week to choose a replacement candidate.

Lots of rumors so far as to who will show up to make their case to the delegates, but so far only three candidates have actually said publicly that they will try for the nomination: Dirk Adams, Franke Wilmer and Dave Wanzenried. Two of them, Wilmer and Wanzenried, have excellent legislative careers and Dirk Adams was one of the few who stepped up to run in the primary.

Brian Schweitzer sent his regrets today; Nancy Keenan, widely speculated as the leading replacement candidate, is on record saying that she is not interested. Monica Lindeen also declined as has Denise Juneau.

One name not recently discussed in any great length, but which bears consideration or at least musing because he is one of only two people who could start out in the lead against Daines, is Steve Bullock. He’s 20 points more popular than Daines and even if he lost he’d still be employed.  But alas Bullock poured water on this idea today.  He’s not in the mix.

Many tips have come in today to my tip line about other names, and there has been rampant twitter speculation about many others. These include John Bohlinger, Linda McCulloch, Carl Borgquist (Bozeman), Ed Smith (Helena), Pam Bucy (Helena) Amanda Curtis (Butte), Mike Phillips (Bozeman), former Schweitzer staffers Dan Villa (Anaconda) and Eric Stern (Helena), Carol Williams (Missoula), Anna Whiting Sorrell (St. Ignatius), Diane Smith (Whitefish), Jacquie Helt (Helena), Elizabeth Best (Great Falls), Casey Schreiner (Great Falls), Kim Abbott (Helena), and Mike Cooney (Helena).

This as you can see is a wide open contest, and the convention promises to be a unique day in Montana political history. So stay tuned and enjoy the theater.  Let me know what you’re hearing about who is running in the comments.

 

 

 

Montana Governor: Discrimination is Bad for Business

Urges other Montana Communities to Get on with it and Do the Right Thing by Ending Legalized Discrimination

Great news.  The City of Bozeman tonight finally passed a local ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Here’s what Montana Governor Steve Bullock had to say:

“Tonight, Bozeman has shown important leadership in protecting their residents and visitors from discrimination. Discrimination is bad for the state’s economy and businesses, as well as contrary to the freedoms we expect as Montanans. I encourage other Montana communities to follow suit in the near future.”

(The imbeciles on the Billings City Council should take note.)

Helena, Butte, and Missoula have already passed non-discrimination ordinances.