Archive for May 13th, 2008

by Bill Vaughn

Bill Vaughn is a contributing editor to Outside Magazine, and has written articles for a number of national publications including Men’s Journal, Ski, and Salon. He has graciously allowed me to repost some of his political thoughts, including those on Rep. Bill Nooney. Nooney, a Republican, represents the Grass Valley/Mullan Road area of Missoula, and is challenged by Democrats Willis Curdy and Gary Brown. He aptly titled these thoughts “Dump Nooney.” ~Thanks Bill.

The main reason I want Nooney thrown out of office is because he voted for HB557. This scheme, which the Missoula County Attorney’s Office called “pernicious,” would have stripped Montana’s County Commissioners of the power to regulate where gravel pits, asphalt plants and cement factories could be sited. Nooney was the only one of eight Missoula County representatives to vote for this cynical piece of corporate welfare.

HB555 was written by the Montana Contractor’s Association after Riverside Contracting, one of its corporate members, failed to coerce the Missoula County Commissioners into rezoning a parcel of land on the Trout Meadows Ranch downstream from the city—and next door to Dark Acres. Riverside yearned to build a massive industrial park there that would ruin our rural residential neighborhood with at least a decade of air and water pollution, noise, and massive dump trucks clogging narrow country lanes. The values of our properties would plummet.

This land belongs to a local grocer, attempted real estate developer, and failed GOP candidate for Missoula County Commissioner named Jim Edwards. But people in HD100 organized against Riverside and Edwards. A petition with more than 2,000 names was submitted to the Commissioners, who ruled in December, 2006 against the scheme.

Nooney knew full well what was at stake, and voted for the bill anyway. Of course, he’d taken campaign money from the Montana Contractor’s Association (and the Montana Petroleum Association, as well). Although HB557 passed the House by a narrow margin, it died a lingering death in a Senate committee dominated by Missoula lawmakers.

After the Legislature adjourned I sent Nooney this message: “What do have to say in your defense after voting for HB557 against the wishes of the majority of your constituents? Did you push the wrong button? Did you misunderstand the bill?”

Here was his reply: “You seem to be looking at the dark side of HB557. As I remember Edwards was not allowed to continue with his idea based on a county commissioner actions. Is that correct?”

Huh?

In another email to me Nooney responded again to charges that he ignored the wishes of his constituents. “Let me ask you a few questions,” he wrote back. “Do you believe that government should grow bigger or be reduced? Do you believe in individual property rights as is stated in our constitution? Why do you think that Mr. Edwards did not get his deal done? Do you think that the fact that the bill was tabled stopped Mr. Edwards or was it some other factor? Do you think that this bill would have affected others in Montana and not just your situation? What is your definition [of] ‘reasonably condition’? What do you think this part of the bill means ‘as defined by the board of county commissioners?’”

Huh?

Like lots of Republicans, Nooney is fond of pontificating about the venality of “big government.” But what he really means is that he wants to strip local governments of their minimal power over corporations so corporations can prey on people who have no one except their local governments to defend them. In the case of HB557 Nooney believes the property rights of big landowners and contracting firms are more important than the property rights of the neighbors such as Dark Acres, where everything we own is tied up in our house and our ten acres of land.

But not everyone thinks Nooney’s job performance sucks. He was awarded an A+ by Montana Family Action, a marginal organization of religious extremists based in Laurel, Montana, that refuses to reveal the size of its membership. Among the eight bills they supported, only one of which became law, was HB597, a measure to toughen obscenity laws (although unconstitutional, maybe it would have put the muzzle on Mike Lang). HB312, the so-called “Parental Bill of Rights” would have made parents, and not the state’s schools, responsible for the education of children. And HB403 would have coerced the government into “recognizing” that human life begins at conception. (Nooney and the religious right like to complain about the intervention of government into the private affairs of citizens, unless it’s telling women what to do with their bodies, or couples what to do in the bedroom.

So in the end what did Bill Nooney think about his freshman term in the Montana Legislature? “I lose money being here,” he wrote me. “Maybe you should try it sometime.”

by jhwygirl

Yesterday, gubernatorial candidate Don Pogreba had a guest op-ed in the Billings Gazette, explaining what quality education means for Montana, and what it means to him. Shane Mason over at Montana Netroots does an excellent assessment of Pogreba’s piece, and along the way adds his own thought on what education means in in his own hometown of Helena.

It’s a good discussion to have – there’s lots of talk about it – education funding: more money? enough money? lawsuit? – but little talk of why additional funding might make sense and why it is sorely needed. Pogreba makes some excellent points in the Billings Gazette:

So it is with some dismay, but certainly no surprise, when I read about Sen. Roy Brown and members of the Montana Legislature talking about developing Montana’s resources while giving so little support to our most valuable resource: the students who will one day run our state, create new businesses and volunteer in our communities. Minerals and timber, agriculture and oil are all important for Montana’s economy, but their value is constrained by market forces often beyond our control. Montana certainly relies on its resource economy, and we should be proud of the food and power we’ve provided the nation and world, but that’s not all we can be.Far too many of our state’s political leaders are more concerned about resource extraction than resource development. We need to commit ourselves to developing the resource potential of our poorest students, who need stronger preschool programs to prepare themselves for school.

We need to develop the talent on our reservations, so that a new generation of leaders can ensure the future of Montana’s first peoples.

And we need to make sure that students in rural and high-poverty schools have access to the kind of technology that will ensure the kind of quality jobs that will let them stay in Montana. In short, we need to focus our energy on the one resource that is limitless, inexhaustible, and not bound by market forces: human potential.

Rather than acknowledge funding shortfalls, conservative critics of education would like you believe that Montana is already spending too much on its education programs. Despite laudable increases in the last few years, statistics demonstrate that Montana has failed to keep pace with the spending necessary for quality education. The conservative American Legislative Council just issued some troubling statistics about education spending in Montana. According to their research, we rank dead last in the nation in compensation for education professionals, and 42nd in the rate of growth in education expenditures, from 1986-2005. These figures demonstrate not only how much more remains to be done, but just how much damage 16 years of defunded education under the Stephens, Racicot, and Martz administrations has done.

What I like about that statement above is that he weaves a wealth of issues into that short portion of his guest op-ed: Montana’s youth, natural resources, priorities, and the failures of Montana Republican’s when it comes to addressing all of those issues. It’s not like education funding was a problem Schweitzer created.

I ask you (Big Swede, because I know it’s coming) – is this the voice of a pseudo-candidate?

I say that because all I’ve seen from Schweitzer on the issue of education funding is “no” – meaning ‘no more – you have enough’ – I’ve not seen any reason from him on why he thinks education has been funded adequately (other than the fact that he’s increased it) yet when I read Pogreba on the issue, I’d say he makes a pretty darn good case for increasing it more.

Pogreba, on the other hand, offers other reasons. Take this quote, for example, from today’s front page of the Missoulian:

Despite some additional spending, Montana hasn’t complied with the 2004 and 2005 District and Supreme Court decisions that declared the state funding unconstitutionally inadequate.

There were some increases, but it wasn’t enough to offset some years of underfunding and the difficulty of enrollment problems in small schools.

Or this:

I think more money for education will prevent the need for more money for corrections.

I’ve never understood why we want to send more money for jail cells and not for textbooks.

Sure makes sense to me. A short-term investment in education instead of a long-term investment in jail facilities along with all the other welfare-like amenities (for lack of a better term) that comes with it? Tell me how that doesn’t make sense.

And to be honest, the whole lack of focus on the “why” story behind educational funding has worked – up until now – a pretty successful smokescreen for me. Up until now I was pretty ho-hum about the issue, but Pogreba has me thinking that perhaps there’s a darn good reason for why, perhaps, there should be more.

That’s more than I’ve thought about it before – and disparities between the quality of education that are certainly obvious, across the state, makes me realize how wrong I’ve been to not look beyond the invisible wall I’ve put around Missoula and not look beyond to places like Glendive or Havre or Browning or Hardin. What potential are we, as a state, losing in places like those when we don’t invest in our kids?

I have decided that, for me and my primary vote – which will be for the Democratic ballot, thank you – is going to come down to a pretty large focus on natural resources. All of the candidates are going to say a whole lot of essentially the same stuff. The Democratic ballot is blessed with a wealth of qualified candidates, and in looking at their websites or the stuff you see in the news, it is hard to discern anything that sticks out.

So I will be searching for the differences, which will include their records, of course, but also a search of where they stand on natural resource issues.

In Montana, education – which is obviously important to both Pogreba and Neiffer, as both are teachers – is intrinsically intertwined with natural resources because of the trust lands that help fund any number of educational institutions in the state – all public K-12, the various universities, and all sorts of other things (I think some public buildings are funded as well).

And Pogreba recognizes that not only are natural resources in Montana intertwined with education funding – but that Montana’s children are part of our very basic natural resources.

President Bill Clinton will be at the Adams Center West Auxiliary Gym on the University of Montana campus at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, May 14.

Information on his visit to Kalispell was posted here.




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