There is much to be concerned about this session. There’s the rightward shift of legislative leadership, the return of piles of frivolous, unconstitutional bills, and the make up of the house and senate.
But there are also some bright spots. A smart new generation of Democratic legislators has appeared on the scene, of a caliber rarely seen in years past, who are setting the bar higher for what it means to represent Montanans at the legislature.
Word is already getting out about freshman state Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, who’s blowing the doors off pretty much everything that’s been done in the past to keep constituents informed and involved. (You can read even about her innovative outreach in the Billings Gazette.) Once people find out that there are legislators like this, other districts are going to start to demand the same kind of representation–which can only raise the quality of the legislature as a whole. Continue reading →Tweet
In a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, the PBS show Frontline has revealed the seedy underbelly of secret money in elections, with a full-hour expose of Montana politics and a secretive right-wing group known as American Tradition Partnership, or ATP.
Numerous Republican candidates might have worked too closely with ATP, and could be in trouble legally if not electorally. They might be going to the pokey (meaning the clink, the one in Deer Lodge.)
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 Frontline documentary reveals that a secret stash of incriminating documents has been found, showing extensive communications between Republican legislative candidates and the ATP, and showing that the ATP was even preparing campaign material for them.
The Havre Daily News, for example, reported today that GOP legislator Wendy 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.
Files on Mike Miller, Ed Butcher, Bob Wagner, Joel Boniek, Jerry O’Neil and Derek Skees were also featured on Frontline. Again, groups and candidates cannot coordinate on campaign communications.
Candidates might be subjecting themselves to a range of penalties, including removal from office, fines, or worse. The question is whether there is a prosecutor out there who is willing to begin looking into this stuff. Generally, county attorneys stay away from political stuff, leaving it to the Commissioner of Political Practices.
Worse, the ATP’s headquarters is revealed by the documentary to be nothing more than a P.O. Box at a UPS store in Washington DC, even though the group is spending tens of millions of dollars on elections around the country and is the most influential source of money in Montana politics. They were estimated to have spent well over a million bucks on just a handful of state legislative races in 2010. They’d send mail to voters, which looked very much like electioneering material, something that is illegal if you are hiding who your donors are.
And I would say that this documentary, above all, is an outright humiliation for the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who this summer rejected a request by Montana to reconsider the Citizens United ruling in light of the ATP’s shady, unreported, anonymously funded activities in Montana. In rejecting Montana’s plea, Kennedy offered a single paragraph describing why he (the swing vote on the court) was refusing to consider the matter. He wrote that there was nothing that led him to believe that the ATP’s activities could lead to “corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Kennedy, if he watched Frontline this week, probably wishes he could have that one back. Because he is now revealed to be not a brilliant jurist but a stupid old man, who got duped by a bunch of bad actors. Soon, groups like ATP will completely own our state and federal governments, using corporate money, installing candidates into office, from a P.O. Box, never revealing who the donors are. And the Supreme Court believes that this is all perfectly okay.
The birth control debate has now made its way into the Montana Legislature. Predictably, the GOP is now trying to deny it to women. An interim committee of the Montana legislature is trying to deny birth control to women who are state employees.
The 2011 Montana Legislature saw a record number of anti-women bills, globally. Now the target de jour seems to be female state employees.
Under current law, the decisions about what benefits state employees should receive under their insurance plans are made by an advisory committee of employees, unions, lawmakers, and health benefits experts hired by the state. In this video, you can hear the committee staffer assuring the legislators that yes, this would give them the authority to remove:
“contraception other things that could be very controversial..like..I don’t know, health and wellness for women.”
Sen. Lewis explained the bill was perfectly appropriate because “there’s discussions of women’s health and those things” in the legislature related to Medicaid.
The bill passed out of interim committee, and will be up for consideration in the 2013 legislature. The current bill draft number is LCsa03.
The bill draft was supported by Joanne Blyton (R-Red Lodge), Ron Arthun (R-Wilsall), Pat Ingraham (R-Thompson Falls), and (shockingly)Larry Jent (D-Bozeman). Democrats Kathy Swanson, Bryce Bennett, and Kendall Van Dyk all voted no.
I just learned this a few days ago, but Koch industries is listed as one Max Baucus’s largest donors. The company is listed as having contributed $40,000 to Baucus since 2005. That puts him in an exclusive club: with Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachmann, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor–who have all taken more than $30,000 from the Kochs during the last four campaign cycles.
And it’s eight times what the Koch’s have given to Denny Rehberg, according to FEC reports.
This is a highly disturbing state of affairs and Baucus should promptly return the money. The Koch brothers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to persuade the American public that climate change is a hoax. Generally, they fund much of the racist and inciteful enterprise known as the Tea Party, from grassroots (or astroturf) organizing to TV ads. They also bankroll anti-union candidates in dozens of states, including major support for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
When the 2012 election is over, the Kochs, whose combined fortune is estimated to be as high as $50 billion (exceeded only by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett), will have spent at least a billion dollars to try to oust Obama and Biden and other democrats across the nation.
These two gentlemen, who inherited their chemical and paper products company from their father (they make Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups, so shop for some alternatives), have stated that their political activity stems from a few core beliefs. According to a New Yorker profile, they believe that taxes are too high, that corporations are regulated too heavily, and that too much money is spent on the poor and the needy.
The voters of Wisconsin go to the polls today to vote on the recall of six TEA Party Republican legislators who helped with Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on unions. One of the leaders in recalling these legislators is Montana native Stephanie Shriock, who grew up in Butte and ran Senator Jon Tester’s successful 2006 campaign.
Now Shriock, CEO of EMILY’s List, is among the national players leading the charge to oust the Republicans responsible and replacing them with democratic women candidates. Says Shriock in a column in the Huffington Post today:
The public employees who Republicans are targeting are unionized fields with primarily female memberships. Teachers are 75% female. Nurses are 95%. Groups exempt from Walker’s attacks such as firefighters and police officers are predominantly male — but our brothers and sisters in labor are out there together because they understand the stakes.
We know these candidates are bad for unions. They’re bad on other issues women care about too. Really bad. Kudos to Schriock and the women of Emily’s List for getting involved. Here’s wishing them good luck from the home crowd.Tweet
For those following the Wisconsin saga, some interesting developments in the Wisconsin recall election this week with the first official foray by a national group into the recall races with this hard-hitting TV ad. The spot shines a harsh light on legal issues surrounding one Republican recall candidate for the state senate, David VanderLeest.
As you’ll remember, the recall elections are in order because of Governor Scott Walker’s bill to strip state unions of the right bargain for their wages and other benefits. Democrats, a small but feisty minority, fled the state so the GOP wouldn’t have a quorum to pass the bill. Walker got around the necessity of a quorum by stripping the collective bargain elements out of the state’s budget plan to allow for a separate vote on the matter. Wisconsin voters have organized a recall election to hold legislators accountable for the debacle and put the state back on course after the 2010 which were seen around the U.S. as a referendum on Obama and his policies rather than a choice between the local candidates and parties.Tweet
James Knox is not known for his grasp of the facts, but his latest missive in favor of eliminating unions and against a 1 percent pay increase for state employees who have gone without for years is just plain wrong. In an email sent to his supporters, Republican James Knox (R-Billings) makes several ludicrous statements. A couple of them really stand out.
Now that the Legislature has taken a stand that they will not just blanket spend your tax dollars through illegally mandated pay increases,
FACT: First of all, the state pay plan would cost a pittance of the $300 million Montana has in the bank in its savings account. Thanks to smart fiscal management by Governor Schweitzer and the dems, no taxes would be raised.
I feel safe in stating that the republican majority felt that with the current economic struggles the private sector faces, we could not in good conscious give a raise to public employees that currently receive higher pay and benefits then the private sector.
FACT: Most state workers earn less than their private sector counterparts when similar jobs and education levels are compared. A nationwide 20-year study found that state government workers earn an average of 11.4 percent less than private-sector workers of similar education and work experience and local government workers earn 12.0 percent less.
Knox is trying to pull the wool over our eyes, hoping that we won’t realize that he’s comparing all state worker wages with all private sector wages rather than comparing similar jobs and employees with similar education. State government requires more education than burger flipping. A nurse needs more education and receives more pay than an oil changer.Tweet
A few months ago, the Montana Tea Party organized a rally on the steps of the Montana Capitol, for “patriots” to “take back America.” Organizers encouraged people to bring their guns with them. The rally drew about 20 or so angry men and women (minus some teeth) and one or two rifles. And that was it. Little has been seen or heard of the Montana Tea Party since.
Last Friday, working folks from around Montana tried their hand at a Capitol rally (without guns). They drew about 1500 people. It was a festive and positive day, and a stark comparison to the theater that has played out in Midwestern states where union bashing is lately all the rage. In Helena, there was folk music and constant chanting of the mantra “courage, not cuts.” The crowd comprised firefighters, police, teachers, health-care workers, home-care workers, state workers, and others who make very a modest living (a starting teacher makes about $17K in rural Montana) but do important work for society.
To the delight of the crowd, Governor Brian Schweitzer, who is a rancher by trade, did a Charlton Heston imitation, lifting not a gun over his head but a “VETO” cattle-branding iron, which he promised to use for branding “stinking, bad bills” like the current budget that the GOP legislature is trying to send to his desk, which attempts to balance the budget on the backs of the working class. KXLH has the raw video of the speech.
In his short speech, Schweitzer told the crowd that the difference between Montana on the one hand, and Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana on the other, is that “those states don’t have Governors that appreciate a partnership.”
That’s for sure. Republican Governors Christie (NJ), Daniels (IN), Kasich (OH) and Walker (WI)–who at night have been having recurring wet dreams about running in a GOP presidential primary–saw an opportunity to get some cheap political mileage by getting citizens as angry as possible against public employees. In essence, these spineless four governors were drawn to public opinion polls which showed that a certain sector of voters was amenable to being incited with angry rhetoric, and that society in general is concerned about spending.
So these guys painted by the numbers. They trashed public workers, engaged in artificial standoffs, bashed anyone who is in a labor union, and then downloaded videos of themselves to Youtube and hit the FOXNews scene to try cement their reputation as conservative national heroes.