Archive for the ‘2007 Legislative Session’ Category

by jhwygirl

A friend of mine told me it was unfair to say “conservatives” when talking about the…well…conservative side. “No one’s in control anymore,” she said. “They’re not ‘the GOP’, they’re not ‘the Tea Party’ and they’re not ‘conservatives’, she said – “I don’t know what they are.”

Realizing I’m not an expert on the GOP, I’m still quite a bit peeved at the hypocrisy of the GOP or whomever, exhibited in Sen. Kyl’s appearances on the Sunday talkies saying that the payroll tax cut (to the middle class) would not be extended, wherein the Bush tax cuts to the top 1 or 2% would remain because they were the job creators and we shouldn’t be increasing their taxes”. If you have the patience, I recommend watching the video, especially where Wallace cuts in there (as if he wants to muddy up Kyl’s comments, but then realizes how crystal clear Kyl was, as in no-turning-back crystal clear) with “If I may, Senator Kyl, just to cut this short, are you saying no deal on extending payroll tax cuts?”

Kyl was proud to say he was all for increasing taxes on the middle class, while the honorable Sen. Dick Durbin patiently explained the impact of a tax increase on the middle class would have on the economy.

On another show Norquist – to whom all Republicans kow, even though Chris Wallace tried to dispel that on his show – went on saying that the payroll tax cut was meant to be temporary, and he spent a bit of time emphasizing how those were only supposed to be temporary.

Obviously, to Norquist, those Bush tax cuts are engraved in marble on the White House and the halls of Congress.

How, exactly are those Bush tax cuts to the top 1 or 2% creating jobs? Where are those jobs? Or are those top 1 or 2% just making money on money and not creating any jobs at all?

Seriously – where all those jobs those Bush tax cuts for the top 1 or 2% are supposedly creating?

There are how many millions of people in the middle class? As opposed to the number of people in that 1 or 2%. Isn’t it simple numbers here? If you’re running a business, do you raise the cost of your product by 10% or do you lay off 90% of your workforce?

Ford raised it’s prices…didn’t take a bailout..and look where it is now.

How Kyl or Norquist can sit there and parrot off “no tax increases” while allowing the payroll taxes to expire (which could be paid for if they really wanted to) – and pretend that increasing taxes on the middle class won’t have a deafening affect on the economy is pure malfeasance.

These guys couldn’t run a coffee shop.

I can agree with a little bit here of what Kyl feigns as his concern: The payroll tax cut is borrowed against social security. I’m still surprised by the many that don’t realize that.

Keeping the tax cuts to the middle class can be paid for, though…

Not to mention the Republican’s loved this payroll tax holiday…until now the’re being asked to pay for it.

How odd we only have to pay for the middle class payroll tax holiday, but for some reason the Bush tax cuts to the top 1 or 2% don’t have to be paid for. I just don’t get the Republican logic (or lack thereof), try as I may. It’s their false reality of the ‘job creators’ that screws them all up, if you ask me. Facts clearly don’t get in their way, I suppose.

It seems to me that the politicos- regardless of where their loyalty label lies – need to use some basic math that they should have learned in high school and figure that the middle class isn’t hoarding their money – they’re spending it creating jobs. They need to look at the numbers of the 1 or 2% affected by the loss of a Bush-era tax break and the 98 or 99% that would lose an extra few grand a year.

Simple numbers.

It’s pretty plain and simple. Bush’s secret is out – his bail out of Wall Street took trillions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money and not only ‘saved’ Wall Street, it made those fat cats over $13 billion bucks in profit. I won’t begrudge anyone their profit – but that profit was made in a system that rewarded their bad behavior with our – my – tax dollars.

Banks have NOT been made too big to fail, unfortunately, and where banks used to make money on good investments, these guys nowadays are making money on keeping my money and charging me for accessing my money. They aren’t making money by investing in America and creating jobs here in America – they’re making money by investing in countries like China who think nothing of starving their critics and their citizens who dare to speak in support of basic human rights.

America was a better place when we built our own things which established a baseline for decency the world around. A weak middle class is a weak American.

Simple numbers people…simple numbers.

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by jhwygirl

I got nothing, really, against guns. I don’t want to take anyone’s gun away and I believe people have a right to own guns.

What I also think is that we have a bunch of gun-worshiping advocate freaks in this state that push dangerous legislation. I think if you want to open carry in your walk around the neighborhood (or the Capitol, for that matter) you are a little bat-crap crazy.

Unless, perhaps, you live up Nine Mile, or Red Lodge or Sula. Not carrying a gun under certain conditions might be just plain stupid.

That being said, I’m going out on a limb here and saying that I bet this guy is one of those gun-worshiping advocates.

You know – the Radio Shack Dish Network satellite guy down in Hamilton giving a free gun away with any dish?

So that story hit the paper on Friday…this morning, I see it on CNN. Not only that Mr. Radio Shack is saying the name “Dish Network” on CNN.

Nice

Then, later in the day I read true-blue Irishman Peter McCay on twitter that his sister called him from the land of Eire asking if “the offer was good in Libya.”

Later, got a link for Belfast Telegraph

Sweet, huh?

Later in the day, Whitney Bermes, local government reporter for the Ravalli Republic (and first reporter on the free-gun-with-satellite-dish story) was back interviewing Mr. Radio Shack again, and guess what? The BBC called.

And, just to complete my twitter-as-news research, I put “Montana gun” in the twitter search and came up with so many tweets with so many news stories from around the world, I could only wonder how long the guy is going to continue giving out gun certificates.

There’s a wealth of comments in there with “only in Montana” and “redneck” and references to incest and marrying cousins and stuff. Do make sure to take a read.

by jhwygirl

You can bet the Montana Republican Party is proud of it too.

I read it first this morning, about 6:30 a.m. over at Pogie’s Intelligent Discontent…and later found it on the Missoulian’s web page.

On Monday afternoon, state GOP officials delivered voter registration challenges to Missoula (3,422), Butte-Silverbow (714), Lewis & Clark, Glacier, Deerlodge, Hill, and Roosevelt counties.

So the Montana GOP is challenging 6,000 votes across the state – geared solely at Democratic-leaning and Native American voting areas. Jack Eaton, executive director of the Montana GOP is unapologetic:

The integrity of the voting process is something that has to be above reproach to have faith in the system. We aren’t trying to prevent anyone from voting. We want people to register properly.

Bullshit.

“The integrity of the voting process”? “We aren’t trying to prevent anyone from voting”? I’m sorry – what in the hell does he think is going to happen 30 or so days before a presidential election, when county election offices are extremely busy just getting the basic election stuff prepared?

Vicki Zeier, Missoula County election official tells us:

I’m not very happy, obviously,” said Zeier, who “about freaked” when the request appeared in her office on Monday afternoon.

Why? Because under state law, Ms. Zeier – and all counties facing these challenges – have 5 days to notify challenged voters.

Mary McMahon, Butte-Silverbow County election official said her office is short staffed, and the request comes just as her three (three) employees are getting ready to mail out more than 4,000 absentee ballots while still preparing for the Nov. 4 general election.

We’re slammed. We’ll get them all out, but it is just very frustrating right now to get this kind of reaction from either party and have to deal with it.

Missoula County Attorney’s Office is rejecting part of the Montana GOP challenges, saying that 2,200 of the allegations live in the county – and under state law, they get to vote at their old precinct once providing they update their information.

The Montana GOP is taking Missoula County to court on that rejection.

Timing could not come at a worse time. A record number of people have registered to vote, and small understaffed county offices are busy processing the 1,000’s of registrations.

Executive director of the Montana Democratic Party Art Noonan, too, is fighting mad about the situation. According to Ian Maurquand, of Montana’s News Station, “Art Noonan says this week’s challenges of voter residency by his Republican counterpart Jacob Eaton represent a direct attempt to intimidate and suppress Democratic and Native American voters. He also told me that his party recently conducted a 56-county survey of election supervisors and concluded that there are no concerns about voter lists, the registration process or anything else regarding Montana elections.”

Marquand goes on:

Noonan told me the party is reviewing legal options and might try to halt the challenges of some 6,000 voters in seven counties. However, time is running out since county election officials have until Monday to mail notification letters to affected voters. Noonan also said Democrats might offer to help voters cope with the challenges. In Missoula County, voters who have been challenged must fill out a residency affidavit, get it notarized (which some associates have told me is the most challenging part of the process) and send it back to the county. Then, voters who have changed their residence must re-register in the precinct, county, or state to which they’ve moved.

The Montana GOP is desperate. They see their numbers slipping – whether it is the gubernatoral race or the state senate or house races. They’re losing serious ground in rural areas of the state – the Montana League of Rural Voters recently took the rare step of endorsing not one, but two Democratic candidates for the state senate – Lane Larson (SD-22) and Shirley Baumgartner (SD-18). The state GOP made themselves laughing stocks during the 2007 legislature, and now their fighting to maintain.

This ain’t the way to do it.

My guess? This will only pull more Democratic voters out to vote and to register….and when they attempt to take away votes from the young and the Native American voters that have never voted in a presidential election and are excited about participating in the process, they do themselves more harm than any good that ever had a chance of befalling them.

Karma baby, karma.

by jhwygirl

Each morning, we can all get downtown via free shuttle buses being provided by the city for all delegates and press and people in limbo, like me. I still haven’t written about yesterday’s ride – but I thought I might write about today’s.

I mentioned this morning, the delegates are getting pretty comfortable. Some of them are sharing rooms – and it all has the air of a college reunion. Not all are legislatures, so they don’t all work together all the time, but it is clear that they know and like each other quite well.

And No – they aren’t really wearing “regular old t-shirts” – I know I said that earlier – but I certainly don’t want ya’all getting the impression they’re down here on vacation. This stuff really is hard work. There’s important stuff to do for the next 2 1/2 months…and you can tell they mean business.

I didn’t get out of here until about 11 a.m. this morning – which put me on a shuttle with JP Pomnichowski, Michele Reinhart, Julie French and Anthony Jackson.

Anthony is a fine young man from Billings – 26 – who is currently working on Steve Bullock’s race for Attorney General.

Michele is our local HD-97 state house representative – who is running for re-election, BTW. I find her to be very much keyed into understanding the how and why behind things. Hell, I almost feel like she’s interviewing me at times. It’s all good, and I don’t mean that to sound bad – it isn’t. She’s my representative, and she’s very interested in my perspective of things. How could an active voter not like that?

Julie French is really a firecracker. You get the sense, from the get-go, that this is a woman that does not take “no” for an answer. That people – men and women – kinda sit there and nod in agreement when she speaks, and that when she tells you that ‘this is the way this is going to be,’ then, that is the way it is going to be.

I won’t tell you who told me, but I hear they call her Grandma. I assure you, it has nothing to do with her age.

Julie defined what a good legislator is – and she was clear to say that it didn’t matter if it was a city council person, or a state legislator or someone in the federal level. A good legislator is a good listener. “They have to listen to people. They have to want to listen to people,” she said. Julie then cited Jon Tester as an excellent example of someone who exemplifies a good legislator. Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Gary Brown, Democratic primary winner of HD-100’s race has made the tough decision to withdraw his candidacy due to health concerns. He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.

As Pete noted in his most recent post, the Missoula County Democrats Central Committee will be meeting next Tuesday, August 12th (7:00 p.m., City Council Chambers on Pine Street) to select the replacement to run against Bill Nooney. And frequent readers of this site know that we really would love to show Nooney the door – the exit door – from the state legislature.

Curdy’s got the backing of Missoula’s Senators Dave Wanzenried and Carol Williams, along with Representatives Tim Furey and Robin Hamilton. Fine, get-‘er-done Democrats. In their letter to Jim Dayton, Chair of the Missoula County Democrats, they noted that August 19th is the deadline to name a replacement, and announcing Brown’s replacement is important to maintain momentum.

I also liked this (my emphasis added):

As a long-time resident and property-owner in the district who campaigned vigorously during the just-concluded primary, Mr. Curdy knows the district and understands the commitment and resources required to win in November.

Yep, living in your district should be a requirement…shouldn’t it?

I like Curdy – not that I didn’t like Brown – but I liked Curdy because of his wide background: a 30-year high school teacher (who could endure that long?!), a Bitterroot Hotshot and a Missoula Smokejumper (talk about demonstrating both teamwork and leadership!), and (and!) a USFS pilot (stress management, anyone?). There’s more – trustee on both the Missoula Rural Fire District and the Big Flat Irrigation District (ever had to work with irrigators?)…..Lot’s of great qualities in there to help bring the legislature closer to getting done the huge amounts of work it needs to do.

And voters sure need to consider electing candidates that can work together and get stuff done. We certainly don’t need a repeat of 2007, and it is important to ensure a Democratic majority in the state’s House of Representatives.

Don’t believe me? The 2007 legislature was a disaster for the stuff that never even made it out of committee, due to the roadblocks thrown up by the state’s republicans. The list is significantly longer for stuff that didn’t make it out of committee than stuff that did. And then there’s be the party-line vote for the stuff that did…Yoy, what a disaster.

And in reality, it’s sad. Because, in the end, it’s the citizens that suffer.

I mean – stuff like bills to study a problem (example: public access from county bridges) couldn’t even make it. Then there’s the stuff associated with some of my favorite subjects: water quality, water rights, zoning and subdivision, fire protection.

I won’t rehash all the gory details: Go search the 2007 legislative bills and see for yourself.

by jhwygirl

A recent court case in Utah’s Supreme Court found that access to the state’s navigable rivers did, indeed, allow access not only to the water, but to the streambed underneath.

Yep – that one went all the way to the Supreme Court, folks. Private property owners made the case that floaters coming through their property committed criminal trespass every time their raft, paddles, or fishing tackle bumped the bottom of the river.

Consider this: The largest growing economic sector in Montana is tourism and recreation.

Could that come to Montana? The state does lay claim to some navigable waterways, including the streambeds and banks – see the PPL case – so those waters could be ruled out. But for other waters? The state’s Stream Access Law, laid out in 1984 by the Montana Supreme Court held that any river or stream that has the capability to be used for recreation, such as fishing and floating, can be used by the public regardless of whether or not the river is navigable and who is the owner of the streambed property.

Not that there aren’t issues. The 2007 state legislative session saw 3 bills proposed to try and clarify public access to the state’s waterways from bridges which cross such waterways. Trouble is, property owners are attaching fencing to the bridges – the public right-of-way – making stream access impossible.

None of the bills made it out of committee. Two of the bills – one, HJ 58, which was just to study the problem, the other HB 642, which was to define the access on the right-of-way easement and provide access with conditions, failed in committee due to the failure of both to meet deadlines for transmittal. Both of those bills were submitted by Mike Milburn (R-HD19).

The third bill, SB 78, made it a little further, but still died in committee after a 50-47 vote on the initial reading. Proposed by Lane Larson (D-SD22), the bill would have provided for public access from public rights-of-way, and would have reimbursed the owners of fences for alternations that would have been required to be made. If I recall correctly, $15,000 would have been put in an FWP fund to satisfy private property owners.

SB 78 failed to get to its second reading due to a party line vote.

Come now to July 2009. The Public Lands Access Association is now in court, and has sued Madison County for failing to remove encroachments (i.e., fences) attached to and on its public right-of-way.

The judge has said that he has some sense of how this should be resolved, but has not disclosed his position.

I wonder how the judge is going to rule? Who is going to have to remove the encroachment to the public right-of-way? Who is going to be burdened with that cost?

In some way it’d be a shame if it’s the local taxpayers, when a nominal funding to the FWP would have taken care of it. And it’d be a shame, too, if it’s shouldered on the private property owners who fought against all three of the bills.

Then again – maybe that is what you call poetic justice.

by jhwygirl

Frequent commenter problembear wrote a piece detailing his (or her) experience in ‘experiencing’ the payday loan industry. It was good. It illustrated the desperate situation many people are in when they go there and the lack of understanding some people have in obtaining the loans.

He laid out the math on these loans, having sat in the offices and read the fine print. These guys are criminals. Or should be.

The payday loan industry is loathsome. The ’07 legislature attempted to cap the fees and interest, but the guys that run 5 or 6 of these so called businesses here in Missoula – I call them nothing more than glorified loan sharks that work in buildings instead of back alleys and use courts to do their collection instead of baseball bats – went crying to the finance committee that “they’d have to close shop” and other pathetic excuses that should have been received with a “so what”, but instead the whiny legislature went running and closed up the legislation in an attempt to stay “pro business.”

Many states regulate that crap. Nope, not Montana – gotta stay “pro business,” regardless of the business. Hell with the citizens, it’s all about a handful of ‘business’ owners bank accounts.

Pathetic.

Anyways, shockingly, there’s a commenter to the post, named “paydaylendingrep” (who links to CFSA.net) who defends this loathsome industry.

Ugh.

problembear? Your brave to deal with such scum. God Bless Ya…..

by jhwygirl

Last week I wrote about the multiple permitting agencies doing the circular finger-pointing blame of who should be protecting private property rights (i.e., water rights). The state blamed it on the lack of zoning, local county officials blaming it on the state. That left my friend out, still, with both agencies continuing their permitting process and subdivision approval without any analysis to the impact that a proposed adjacent-to-his-property 45-lot subdivision would have on his private property (i.e., water) rights.

I mentioned that, in helping my friend review the subdivision proposal, that there were 3 troubling property rights issues. I mentioned another one of the three – mixing zones – but today’s post is about the “well isolation zones” required for those exempt 35 gpm wells mentioned in the previous post.

Each exempt 35 gpm well is required to have a “well isolation zone” of 100 feet around the well – a 200 foot circle that is created, with the well in the center of it – that is required to be maintained free of the septic tank mixing zones (more on that later).

The well isolation zone is not required to be within the perimeter of the private property that the well serves, nor is it required to have any permit or easement from any private property that it impinges, nor is the developer or well owner required – either through local zoning or state regulations – to notify the impacted private property owner of a well that is closer than 100 feet to his/her property.

Because a well, on adjacent property, closer than 100 feet, impacts the adjacent property owner.

A well, adjacent to your private property, that is closer than 100 feet, means that their well isolation zone impacts your ability to put a septic tank on your private property. As a private property owner, you will be required to keep your septic tank, and its accompanying mixing zone, out of the neighbor’s well isolation zone.

In my friends case, with several of the proposed 45-lot subdivision’s well isolation zones located on his private property, it is clear that a redesign of the subdivision would result in a reduction to the number of lots. It is clear that redesigning the subdivision so that the lots keep both the well isolation zone and the mixing zones (which, in this particular case which is somewhat unique, are required to be maintained within lot lines) off of his private property, will require larger lots, thereby reducing the overall number of lots on the developer’s proposed 45-lot subdivision.

Poor poor developer, right? At least that is, apparently, what both the state and the local zoning authority is telling my friend, as they refuse to take actions to keep those well isolation zones off of his property.

Instead, if this proposed 45-lot subdivision is approved as proposed, what will occur is that when and if my friend considers subdivision – he is now surrounded on 3 sides by 2-6 acre lots, and water, surface and subsurface, is becoming harder and harder to get for his crops and his cattle – he will have to limit his design by those choices now being made by the adjacent developer and sanctioned by the local governing body.

Some time in the future, some planner, some state official, is going to tell him that he won’t be able to do exactly what the developer to his north did – because those neighboring well isolation zones will determine what he is able to do.

As an aside here, and referencing back to my previous post concerning senior property/water rights – do you see how Montana’s rules and regulations, whether state or local, are geared towards promoting development at the cost of agriculture?

While researching something else, I came across this letter to the editor that succinctly addresses this issue. Lewis & Clark County is apparently considering rules that would require both the mixing zones and the well isolation zone to be located entirely within the developing property. Hurray for Lewis & Clark County, but, unfortunately, this does not help my friend, nor does it address most private property owners in the state.

As long as local officials are unwilling to zone, private property rights will continue to be subjugated to developers across the state. The lack of action puts individual property owners in the tenuous positions of having to sue other private property owners, on a case-by-case basis, for impinging on their private property.

Zoning isn’t the only answer – the state is well within its authority to regulate this issue as well.

Who has more of any obligation to protect private property rights? Does it fall on local authorities more than state? Or is it just the opposite? Someone, surely has the obligation, no? Isn’t protecting private property rights one of the basic roles of government?

Maybe some of those impacted private property owners should get together and sue the entities that are enabling these actions.

Sadly, frankly, that is probably exactly what those entities are banking on – banking on the inability of the private property owners to band together and take legal actions against them for what is effectively a taking of private property rights – an action by a governing body which reduces private property rights by permitting actions on another private (developer’s) property.

You know the saying, “You can’t fight city hall?” What that really means is “You can’t afford to fight city hall,” – they’ve got their own pool of attorneys, who can out maneuver you until you are broke paying your own attorney.

Believe it. Because that is exactly what they are banking on.

The State Legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee is considering exactly these rules and regulations. I urge you to contact them – there is a link on that page I’ve linked to above listing the members of the committee. It’s hard to get anywhere framing issues in a “let’s do what is best for our environment” way of thinking (though, lord knows why considering our Montana Constitution and the Montana Environmental Protection Act) – this is a private property rights issue, and one that needs to be addressed.

Representative Jill Cohenour (Helena HD-78 ) expressed some frustration to her fellow committee members at this week’s meeting, criticizing some of the member’s attempts at moving away at what the original goals were of the committee – to examine surface and ground water interaction, water quality and quantity, and exempt wells – and moving towards personal agendas geared towards pro-development stances. I don’t know Ms. Cohenour, but a huge kudos to her for speaking out instead of sitting by in frustration, biting her tongue and not saying what others might view as not politically correct.

Something needs to be done on these issues, and it is clear that Representative Jill Cohenour is leading that battle.

by jhwygirl

NewWest recently published a piece, Understanding the Basics of Water Law in Montana, which reminded me of a few thoughts I had been mulling on that topic (for some time), and how it relates to sprawl and unregulated growth and development in Montana.

Also helping it along was a friend who contacted me a few weeks ago, asking me to look at the “adjacent property owner” notice he received from a local planning department – a notice of a proposed 45-lot subdivision. The notice brought to light 3 troubling issues – all of which several agencies all pointed to the other for blame – that subjugated his private property rights to that of the neighboring developer.

Today I mull the exemption under the Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM) for wells pumping no more than 35 gallons per minute (gpm), and how they impinge upon senior water rights holders and possibly even violate the Montana Environmental Protection Act.

Couple that with a few weeks back when I saw Tim Davis, Executive Director of the Montana Smart Growth Coalition speak. The 35 gpm well exemption was, he said, one of the bigger contributors to sprawl. To paraphrase Mr. Davis: “Developers do what they do because that is what our state and local laws tell them to do,” he said, addressing two main issues he saw as needing to be addressed the the state legislature (the other being septic tank mixing zones).

Now, Tim is an obviously smart guy. He had the room mesmerized, as if capturing everyone with an “ah-ha” moment. Many of us complain about sprawl, but the easy blame is upon the developer and the property owner that subdivides, anywhere and everywhere. But what drives that? Easy and cheap subdivision – no need for public or private community water systems and sewer. A lack of zoning doesn’t help the matter, and the 35 gpm well exemption makes it real easy. Create some lots, meet some basic conditions – more often than not in unzoned areas of the state – build some roads and file a plat. Wa-la. Instant sprawl.

As the NewWest article points out, water rights are property rights that can be leased or sold. State law guarantees water rights based on seniority of filing. Yet Montana has several closed basins – the Teton River basin, the Upper Clark Fork River basin, the Jefferson River basin, the Upper Missouri River basin and a temporary subbasin closure of the Bitterroot River subbasin. Basins were closed because the state has realized that there were significantly more water legitimate water rights claims (ajudicated and unadjudicated) than there was water available.

Let this be said clearly – there are more water rights granted than there is water available.

Now, let’s think about that for a moment: What is Montana without its rivers? Without water for its streams and wildlife? Sections of the Bitterroot often run dry – and I’ve heard many an irrigator, when asked about how much water they have a right to, explain that “we’ve got to have water to move our water,” – so is there any guarantee to the citizens of the state that there will be enough water for recreating? For our fisheries and wildlife? (Recreation, BTW, is the largest growing industry in the west.)

I suggest that they only action being taken to protect fisheries is being done by volunteers – water rights holders that voluntarily restrict water use in an attempt to maintain water in streams. The Blackfoot Challenge’s Drought & Water Conservation Committee and The Big Hole Watershed Committee are two such examples.

Even those actions are a struggle. Last summer, the remaining 4% population of the arctic grayling dwindled under record low flows of the Big Hole, and FWP struggled with users who assert their rights to water under Montana Code, for beneficial use, along with their senior rights. A fine article in NewWest, last year, details that struggle.

I contacted FWP last year upon hearing of the impending death of North America’s arctic grayling and asked the biologist “who is ensuring that people aren’t using water they shouldn’t?,” and was told that it was all voluntary. That there isn’t anyone verifying whether water rights holders are taking more water than they have claim.

Ahh, self-regulation – cheap and easy. The unfunded mandate.

Is it any wonder that senior water rights holders might have some bad feelings over being asked to voluntarily restrict water usage – usage that they rely on to make a living and to ensure that their cattle and livestock survives – when subdivisions fed by exempt 35 gpm wells crop up faster than knapweed in some areas?

Don’t fool yourself, either, to think that there is no interconnectivity of surface water and ground water. While the state had fought to keep the two from being viewed as inter-related, the Montana Supreme Court has said differently. Witness the Montana Supreme Court’s decision in the Smith River case. Still, though, the exempt 35 gpm wells continue.

While we champion open spaces and agricultural uses, think about that as you drive down the road and see the thousands of 1-acre and 5-acre lots dotting the hillside, surrounding those agricultural lands. Think about that as, this summer, you dip your ankles in the waters of the Clark’s Fork or the Bitterroot and the water is piss warm. Think about how many exempt 35 gpm wells are pumping water out of the ground, depleting both surface and ground water at the expense of our state’s wildlife and fisheries and agricultural uses.

In 2007, House Bill No. 304 was passed, authorizing an interim study of water related issues, including exempt 35 gpm wells. The Water Policy Committee now hard at work. This is a list of the committee members. Also gathering comments is jkolman@mt.gov.

Kevin Furey, representative for Missoula’s HD-91, sponsored HB 304. While the committee members are overwhelmingly eastern staters, this whole issue of water rights is something that effects all of us, statewide.

Water rights might seem more of a hugely agricultural issue – but I hope you all realize how the 35 gpm well exemption plays upon each of our lives. How it contributes to sprawl and impinges on senior water rights holders. How it impinges upon our right to a clean and healthful environment, and how, with closed basins which acknowledge the fact that water has already been over-allocated, the largest single economic growth that this state has – the recreational economy – suffers. All of this is driven by the 1,000’s of exempt 35 gpm wells drilled each year.

One of the most powerful anti-sprawl things you could do is to contact Joe Kolman and the members of the Water Policy Committee (along with your state representatives and Rep. Kevin Furey – contact information can be found via Project Vote Smart) and let them know how you feel about protection of senior water rights. Along the way you could be protecting both the fisheries and the largest single economic growth industry in the state, along with your rights to a clean and healthful environment.

by Rebecca Schmitz

Once again, one of the nicest people in Montana politics has been treated shabbily–by his own party. Even though he’s currently on his honeymoon in China, I hope someone told Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger about this latest snub before it occurred.

John McCain unexpectedly gave chairmanship of his Montana campaign to former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., Saturday. The position had belonged to Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger for four weeks.

There’s something ironic about the Republican champion of campaign finance reform handing the reins of his Montana campaign to a lobbyist who, in the past, was one of the biggest recipients of K Street’s largesse. Huh. I guess that old saying is true: opposites attract. Nevertheless, the Governor’s office is taking the high road on this one.

“John is honored to support McCain and is also happy to see former senator Burns jump on board,” said Sarah Elliott, a spokeswoman for the governor.

It’s nice to see someone rising about the tawdry pettiness that has characterized Montana–and party–politics over the past year. The spectacle of our state’s Republicans treating Bohlinger so ungenerously over the past several months is the perfect follow-up to the childish behavior of the the 2007 Legislature (for which Legislators would like to blame everyone but themselves). When Executive Director Chris Wilcox refused to allow him to attend the party’s convention last summer, pretending tickets weren’t available, it was a pathetic nadir in Montana partisan politics. Because Wilcox, Erik Iverson and other GOP officials are determined to engage in a kind of behavior not seen since high school, I have some advice for our Lieutenant Governor straight out of those tedious four years: find another clique, Mr. Bohlinger. The jocks don’t want you to eat lunch at their cafeteria table anymore.

***UPDATE***

Our liberal and conservative friends agree: the level of discourse between Bohlinger and the GOP is getting increasingly bizarre. The party’s behavior has regressed from high school to second grade. Now the message isn’t “f*ck you” so much as “neener neener neener”.

by Montana Firefighter

Good to know my work is for naught. (Hat tip to bfunk!)

Thanks Representative Sinrud. Thanks Montana Republicans.

I’m sure the communities of Frenchtown, Arlee, Seeley Lake, Rock Creek, Darby, Billings, Plains, Livingston, etc. would love to have you come visit and present your point of view.

As for me, I’ll be supporting the good Governor Brian Schweitzer, who didn’t cover his ears and sing “la la la la la” when he presented his budget last November 2006.

That is, of course, in contrast to Montana Republicans who chose to play partisan politics with the realities of not only Montana wildfires but Montana firefighters – by trashing the good gov’s budget proposal for wildfire funding and then having the nerve to accuse him of not supporting firefighters because he didn’t support individual taxcuts for firefighters.

Lordy Lord.

by Pete Talbot

Usually the folks at the WGM group can be seen at council meetings or at the Office of Planning and Grants. They’re there to mitigate regulations for subdivisions and other developments – things like siting of homes, allotment of open space, density, streets and curbs and gutters, etc. WGM is also often involved with the city and county on major road projects and other infrastructure issues.

Apparently they’re interested in bike paths, too, and have advanced a plan for city trails. I quote:

“We have a lot of folks in our office who bike to work from all parts of the valley. We have brainstormed on where Missoula’s bicycle network could be expanded and have prepared a map for discussion purposes. If you’re interested, you may view it at: http://www.wgmgroup.com/Bicycle_Network_11x17.pdf. Since the Transportation Plan is up for revisions, this is a good time for the community to think about where new bike routes could be added.
Best,
WGM Group”

It looks like lots of lanes and paths and trails, which is a good thing. There were a few comments that some of the existing paths on the map don’t really exist but most everyone responding thought it was a good starting point for the Transportation Plan update.

As mentioned before at 4&20, if you want to be a part of this conversation you need to go to: Missoulagov.org.

A little house cleaning and unrelated to the above topic:

Yesterday I was complaining about the need to call a special session of the legislature to address firefighting budget shortcomings. It seemed like an inefficient use of time and money, and an inconvenience for legislators. It has since been pointed out to me that Republicans in the regular legislative session blocked attempts to make the firefighting budget more flexible. So now all the senators and members of the house get to trek back to Helena for what looks like a one-day session. You reap what you sow.

by Pete Talbot

Some local and regional tidbits that I found interesting. Three of the four items below were gleaned from the daily Missoulian (Tuesday, August 28).

Governor Schweitzer has called a special session to deal with the extraordinary fire costs from the summer of 2007 (and it ain’t over yet). This seems like an inefficient way to deal with the state’s firefighting budget. Can’t this be done by emails or phone calls or even snail mail? Or maybe give the governor the power to shift money around in budgetary emergencies like this? (It’s not like the money isn’t there; there was $180 million left over from the last session.) Think of the wasted time and money, and the inconvenience, of getting 100 house members and 50 senators back to Helena for a day. There has to be a better way.

Urban chickens are going back to committee for some detailing. City council heard from the public last night but didn’t vote on the new ordinance to allow six hens (no roosters) within the city limits. It sounded like the pro-chicken advocates outnumbered the anti-chicken forces at Monday night’s hearing.

The Bozeman City Commission said “no” to buying any power from Electric City Power, following similar decisions from Helena and Missoula. The sticking point, again, was the proposed Highwood coal-fired generating plant. Apparently, the commission refused to even put the matter on any future agendas. (A tip o’ the hat to Noodly Appendage for bringing this to my attention.)

Finally, a small item at the bottom of a display ad for the Missoula Osprey baseball team, and I quote: “FREE Mayor John Engen Bobblehead Doll to the 1st 750 fans through the gates. Sure to be a collectible!” I had no idea these were available. If I can’t make the game, can someone tell me where I can pick one of these up? A bobblehead would sure look sweet in the back window of my car.

by Pete Talbot

Writer John Adams has a side bar in the Missoula Independent (May 24-May 31 issue) on Missoula’s Republican Representative Bill Nooney. It paints him as a consensus building, moderate sort of fellow. If you look at his voting record, he definitely is not.

He voted lock step with the most radical elements of the Republican (and Constitution) Party – folks like Jore, Koopman and Sales. On the last day of the regular session, he voted against the Children’s Health Insurance Program and against a trust fund for Aging Services.

He voted against a bill that would have lessened Montana’s impact on global warming. He voted to recruit more conservative professors for Montana colleges. He voted not to go after tax cheats. He voted to strip money from mental health and at-risk student programs. And on and on and on…

Here’s another gem. The Independent article mentions Nooney as being one of the 13 Republicans invited to the famous “log cabin meeting,” held between the regular and special sessions, to meet with the governor’s staff and hammer out compromises. He went, he negotiated, then he voted against the compromise budget package (HB 2).

He basically voted the way the far right leadership told him to vote.

This is interesting because one of the reasons Nooney got to the legislature at all was because he was perceived as a moderate. John Balyeat was the incumbent legislator in Nooney’s district. John was a lot like his brother, Joe Balyeat, the Republican state senator out of Gallatin County – that is to say way, way to the right. Nooney handily beat John Balyeat in the 2006 Republican primary. He went on to defeat Democrat Marge Zaveta, by a smaller percentage, in the general election.

Before the election, folks I talked to in Missoula said Nooney was a reasonable guy. He’d represent business interests for sure, but wasn’t out in right field like his predecessor. I guess they were wrong. Missoula area legislators I’ve chatted with say the same thing. They went into the session thinking that Nooney was someone they might be able to work with. With a couple of minor exceptions, this just wasn’t the case.

In defense of Nooney, area legislators said he was civil and didn’t throw tantrums like others in his party.

“He wasn’t a jerk,” said one, “he just voted with the jerks.”

Bill Nooney did not serve his constituency well. In 2008, let’s hope voters in House District 100 do to Nooney what they did to John Balyeat in 2006. In the words of the Who, “we won’t get fooled again.”

by Jay Stevens

The bill that would close the tax loopholes for out-of-staters was scuttled by the House Republicans. In response, the equipment tax reductions for businesses was scrapped.

That’s not terribly surprising. The GOP has been against the tax-collection bill since day one. What’s interesting about this particular report is what Sales has to say about the bill:

House Speaker Scott Sales sent a clear signal to Democrats on Tuesday that the “revenue enhancements” would not get through the House.

“Hell no,” he told Senate President Mike Cooney after Cooney asked him in a morning meeting to reconsider the issue.

“I’m not raising taxes on someone to cut taxes for someone else,” Sales said.

Got that? First, Sales acknowledged the bill would have meant more revenue from the state. Second, the Speaker also considers tax collection to be a form of “tax increase.”

It appears that Speaker Sales is saying that poor tax collection is a known form of tax cut for big business. It’s an interesting moment of truthfulness from the House Speaker, isn’t it? He apparently would undermine the laws and government agencies of the state in the name of ideology. Classy.

by Jay Stevens

Oops!

The House adjourned after passing its tax and budget bills without waiting around to see if the Senate will pass them. If the Senate rejects any of the bills, the Governor will have to call another special session…

As ID’s Jason says, “I am beginning to think that Mr. Sales really just doesn’t get how the Montana Legislative system works.”

The first casualty in the brouhaha is now former House majority leader, Michael Lange, who was stripped of his position, largely over his obscenity-laden tirade.

A couple of things. First, I told you so!

Second, I actually feel bad for the guy. Apparently having learned his lesson from the fallout of the angry rant, he was one of the 13 House Republicans to reach out to the Good Guv and rescue the state’s budget.

I suspect there will be other casualties from the 2007 legislative session. I suspect we won’t ever see another Sales Speakership, for one. Or another Constitution party member in the body (Jore terms out after this session). Or Sinrud given the reigns of the Appropriations Committee.

Whether Schweitzer has suffered any damage this session remains to be seen, but despite some institutional criticism in the papers, some critics in the blogosphere (myself included), and general disgruntlement in political circles, I suspect it may be Schweitzer who may emerge from this session as the “winner.” Certainly it could be – and likely will be – spun that Schweitzer stepped in and saved the day.

Update: It’s over

by Jay Stevens

Dagnabit! Just when I was going to sit down and write a post about how the special session was hummin’ along for budget issues, but foundering on tax issues – and not over the substance or amount of relief – but on the collection of taxes, I see David Sirota beat me to the punch:

…the Republican leadership in the Montana legislature has no problem with resident taxpayers paying higher taxes because out-of-state landowners and corporations are being allowed to get away with not paying what they owe. This, folks, is the war on the middle class at work.

The Great Falls Tribune gives us more details, reporting that Republicans offered “amendments rang[ing] from reducing the number of lawyers in the state Department of Revenue to cutting funding for a tax-gap analysis.” And the Billings Gazette and the Daily Interlake gives us some details on exactly who is pulling the strings – it’s Republican Reps. Scott “My Vote’s For” Sales, Bob Lake and John Sonju.

From the Daily Interlake’s piece, Bigfork’s Bill Jones sums up the current session’s logjam:

Rep. Bill Jones, R-Bigfork, said he’s not aware of the details, but he is “disturbed that we’re talking about revenue enhancements when we have a surplus.”

Jones was not among the Republicans who met with Schweitzer’s staff last weekend, but he often votes with that group. He voted in the Republican bloc to pass the major education bill Friday and the governor’s energy bill Saturday.

“There’s two steps that I’ve supported them on right there,” he said.

Looks like Republican corporatists are caving on the budget, on the composition and amount of tax relief (Interlake: “Sonju and Sales, R-Bozeman, both said the bill is laden with so much harmful tax policy that they would not support it even though it also contains tax relief provisions”…), but are trying to derail the process over collecting taxes. That is, they don’t want big business to have to pony up.

And while the Governor is not winning any friends this session and has made a lot of bonehead blunders, it’s quickly becoming evident that this whole Legislature crash has been about protecting out-of-state big business from their tax responsibilities.

I’m not as quick as Sirota to accuse Sales of being bought. After all, Sales and the gang may actually believe it’s in the best interest of the state to relieve business of their tax obligations. It makes for a “business friendly” state! Unfortunately for the rest of us, being “business friendly” means having to pony up and pay a disproportionate amount of taxes.

Sirota calls it a “war on the middle class.” As much as I often chafe at Sirota’s demagoguery, I have to agree.

by Jay Stevens

There’s a nice story in today’s Gazette on how 13 Republican legislators met over last weekend with members of Governor Schweitzer’s staff to come with a broad agreement on spending and taxation for the legislative special session.

First, the thirteen. Revile or praise them, as is your wont:

–Llew Jones (Conrad)
–Alan Olson (Roundup)
–Michael Lange (Billings)
–John Ward (Billings)
–Edith Clark (Sweetgrass)
–Tom McGillvray (Billings)
–Elsie Arntzen (Billings)
–Gary Maclaren (Victor)
–Wayne Stahl (Saco)
–Jesse O’Hara (Great Falls)
–Carol Lambert (Broadus)
–Bill Nooney (Missoula)
–Walter McNutt (Sidney)

Nooney, for one, had to know his voting record this legislative session won’t play well in this town, even in the conservative neck of Missoula he represents. That’s the downside of marching lockstep with your caucus, especially if it’s on the extremist side. No doubt he’s anticipating a reelection battle; compromise now will help him appear to be a moderate.

Then there’s this little nugget:

Conspicuously absent was House Speaker Scott Sales, the highest-ranking Republican in the House.

Sales said later he wasn’t invited. Those at the meeting said they wanted people there who were willing to negotiate. Sales, an outspoken conservative, has been adamant in his call for deeper spending reductions and longer-term tax cuts.

Even his own party views him as an obstructionist.

There was some talk to rehabilitate Sales’ image – Lange, notably, said that Sales intransigence gave the 13 Mutineers some advantage in their negotiations with the Good Guv’s people. In other words, the GOP went along with obstructionism and helped scuttled the general session for…a bargaining chip?

I know how much the Speaker enjoys his manly war analogies, so I’ll offer this one up: when you surrender, you offer up your sword with the hilt given to you enemy. Don’t stick him with the point.

by Jay Stevens

So far and so good: nothing unusual or unexpected has yet occurred in the special session of the legislature. It looks like the education bill will leave the Senate tonight for the House tomorrow – where it’s likely some sparks will fly. The budget bill is still being hashed out.

Matt Gouras filed a story about this morning’s Republican caucus, in which Scott Sales confronted his mutiny:

House Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, called a meeting of House Republicans and told them he was not in on the compromise, didn’t authorize members of the caucus to cut a deal and won’t support it.

A Republican moderate then stood up in front of his GOP colleagues, many of whom didn’t look pleased, and explained why he has decided to go along with a package being put together by Schweitzer’s office.

“This common ground is something I can accept,” said Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad. “Is this common ground acceptable to everyone? I don’t know.”

[snip]

Jones, in talking about his decision to be among the dozen or so Republicans who took it upon themselves to negotiate with the governor, said he believes “folks on the extremes are part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

[snip]

Right afterward, conservative Republican Rep. Ed Butcher of Winifred, stood up to take issue with the package.

He said Republicans supporting it are “rolling over to give the governor what he wants.”

[snip]

Sales told the House Republicans at their meeting that he would not tell anyone how to vote over the next three days of the special session.

“You are accountable to yourselves,” Sales said.

Me? I’m just glad some Republican moderates stepped up and made the deal, putting the interest of their state over their political party.

by Jay Stevens

We got ourselves a humdinger this legislative session.

Governor Schweitzer called the special session of the Legislature this weekend – starting Thursday — and has declared it will meet for three days, through Saturday.

Here’s what we know from the news reports. Schweitzer and his administration have met with “a dozen Republican legislators,” including House Majority Leader Mike Lange. Apparently the Governor and the rogue Republicans have struck some sort of deal.

My thoughts, and things to look for:

— It appears that John Sinrud, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Scott Sales, Speaker of the House, were excluded from the deal.

That’s huge, and means that the Governor has to line up more than just a couple of Republicans to his tax and budget plans. Sinrud can table any appropriations bill – such as, say, a budget bill – that passes through his committee. Sales can tweak procedures to sit on bills. He can use “pocket vetos” – simply putting passed bills into a desk drawer or refuse to sign them. Both men have this past legislative session used those procedural tactics to deal with legislation or legislators they don’t like. (Yes, a lot of bills vanished.)

In order to bypass these procedural difficulties, the Governor needs 60 House votes to “blast” bills out of committee. That means he needs at least eleven Republicans to vote with a unified Democratic bloc to get bills past the Sales/Sinrud bottleneck.

— If Schweitzer does have his “dozen” Republican legislators, we’ll see some internecine sparks fly on the House floor. Maybe even more angry speeches from Sales again questioning the morality of his opponents and no doubt some of his one-time allies.

If Schweitzer does have his “dirty dozen,” then we may be witnessing the beginning of an internal struggle for the Republican party. Scott Sales won the House speakership over the more moderate wing of his party by a single vote; is this the first sign of a moderate versus radical struggle in Republican electoral politics, we’ll see intensify in 2008? Are state party leaders and donors pulling the party back to the center?

— Schweitzer’s plans and call for a special session caught the Democratic leadership completely off guard.

That doesn’t bode well for some of his pet projects, notably the “green” energy bill he tried to pawn off on the Legislature this session. A complete mess, possibly illegal as it’s written, only one Democrat voted against it the last time around – Jim Elliot, a Senator who’s facing term limits, and who had nothing to lose politically by opposing the Governor. You can bet more Democrats step up against this dog when the bill threatens to become reality. Does the Governor have enough Republican votes to overturn his own party’s defection on questionable legislation?

— Right now, this is the Governor’s game. By most accounts, his leadership – or lack of it – was a major reason why the 2007 Legislature’s regular session failed so spectacularly. (The other major contributor, of course, was demagoguery from the House leadership.)

 I’m really beginning to hear a lot of negative comments about the Governor’s communication style, and a lot of internal, muffled disgruntlement with policies and politeness stemming out of Helena.

The bottom line is this: if Schweitzer pulls this special session off – and there’s a lot of reasons why this session could crash and burn – it’ll be a major political coup for the Governor. If so, it’ll be seen as a validation for Schweitzer’s diplomacy and policy-making. That’s not a good thing, but I’ll take it if it comes with a budget and the public humiliation of right-wing extremists Sales and Sinrud.

(I know the Good Guv reads the blogs, so let me make a personal appeal: a crash is coming. Poor policy and poor manners will catch up to you. It may not happen now, it may not happen before your re-election; but if you’re thinking bigger and beyond, you need energy policy that’s well written and effective. And you need friends.)

So there’s my views on the special session. Your thoughts?

by Jay Stevens

Everybody’s angry that the Legislature adjourned without a budget. Partisan gridlock is to blame, they say, Democrats, Republicans, ptui! They’re all the same!

Yeah? Read over the transcript from Scott Sales speech after the Legislature adjourned:

…we’ve met a brick at every stage of the way. There was absolutely no compromise with the Democrats. They wanted to spend it all, and then some. We took the historic step of breaking the budget into eight…er…initially six bills became eight…we did it for one reason, and one reason only: we wanted to bring forward a sustainable, accountable budget for the people of Montana, so that we could then offer the tax, uh, tax cuts that they deserve!…and we received not one bit of help from the Democrats. In unison on 49 votes, they fought us tooth and nail and refused to participate in the budgeting process.

The bills went over to the Senate, and they blew the budget up way beyond the subcommittee work…I believe about a hundred seventy-five million, if the — correct me if I’m wrong – about 27 million above the Governor’s budget…they were horribly irresponsible! They spent money that…uh…uh…nobody could even imagine! I think it was obscene and immoral how they bloated that budget up. Without giving any concern to the taxpayers of Montana again!

Um, it’s unfortunate the way this thing turned out. We came in here this morning, and…uh…what the intention and every, uh, uh, effort, to try to come some sort of resolve with the Democrats, and come up with a sustainable, accountable budget and tax relief, and in fact, a couple of our guys – Representative Lange and Representative Glazier – were in the midst of a negotiation with the Senate to provide some sort of tax relief, and they were called out of that meeting, it was adjourned abruptly so they could sine die and run away.

Now yesterday…we have repeatedly made offers to the Governor and to the Senate, ah, what we wanted to get accomplished. Uh, yesterday we got an ultimatum from the Democrats, I don’t know if anybody brought it here, but I’d sure like the press to get it in their hands. Basically it was an ultimatum, you do it our way or the highway. They demanded unilateral surrender from us yesterday, if we wanted to adjourn. Um, we held firm, on the belief that the money belongs to the people, we turned down that offer, and they decided to unilaterally surrender against us.

And somehow we’re to blame. Somehow we’re to blame because we are fighting for the citizens and hardworking people of Montana.

I disagree. I think we’re very unified in this. I hope when we come back in the next session the Governor is willing to work with us. He’s called, I’m sure he’ll call a special session. And when he does I hope he decides to attend that one instead of being gone, like he was so much of this one. And, uh, that’s my challenge to the Governor. If you’re going to call a special session, please attend it. And please come to the bargaining table with House leadership, so we can work out a compromise.

It’s all the Democrats’ fault, they’re immoral and obscene, they refused to compromise, and by golly! The House Republicans preserved their collective manhood by standing firm and forced the opposition to “unilaterally surrender”!

The Democrats offered a tax rebate, and even increased the amount of the rebate after complaints from the Republicans.

The Governor did try to compromise, but was told to “stick it in his *ss.”

While manly Scott Sales “held firm” in the name of saving Montana taxpayers money, he’s also sticking us with $38K a day for the costs of the special session.

Honestly, could you think of a more acerbic, more confrontational speech on exit from a confrontational legislative session, which nearly every Montanan has decried as being too acerbic and confrontational?

No wonder Republican Senator John Cobb had public thoughts about the House leadership:

[House Appropriations Committee chair John] Sinrud continued to cut off comments by [Rep. Eve] Franklin and other Democrats. During a brief recess, Cobb stalked from the room after telling committee member Dave Kasten, R-Brockway, that the Republicans on the committee were “a bunch of idiots.”

“They’re using the rules to abuse people,” said Cobb during the break. “They think they can bully the governor. It’s no different than what goes on in a Third World country.”

If this is the kind of thing Republicans are saying in public, what are they saying behind closed doors?

Let’s hope they’re discussing a change in leadership. Because right now it seems likely as long as Sinrud, Lange, and Sales are in charge, the acrimony will not subside.

by Jay Stevens

This is one of those “I heard it from a friend, who has a friend…” rumors, so it could be completely without merit…but, I heard that the state’s GOP leaders are mighty displeased with Mike Lange’s recent public outburst, and are considering organizing his ouster.

It’s a rumor. I’ve no proof. I’ve no evidence.

But it sure makes a lot of sense! Pretty much everyone in the state is ticked off at the Legislature for failing the one thing they’re mandated to do by the state’s constitution: provide the state a budget for the next two years.

Newspapers, pundits, and bloggers alike have made every effort to include the Governor and the Democratic lawmakers in the list of blame for the legislative mess, but every list ends with Mike Lange’s obscentiy-laden tirade not long after being offered a compromise by Schweitzer.

Lange’s “shove it up your *ss” is the last taste on the tongue for the legislative session. It’s the one moment Montana is guaranteed to remember until November 2008.

And the video of the rant has circulated far and wide, so much so, that Lange is probably now the most recognized Republican officeholder in Montana. (Apologies to Dennis Rehberg, but you don’t want that kind of publicity.)

So even if this rumor isn’t true…it should be.

by Jay Stevens

Montana Headlines pointed out a compromise forged by North Dakota Republicans on providing a tax rebate for its citizens in a fiscal situation similar to Montana’s. The details:

North Dakota property tax payers who also pay income taxes may take a credit on their income tax returns equal to 10 percent of the property taxes they pay. The credit is capped at $500 for individuals, and $1,000 for married couples and companies. Any unused credit can be used to offset future income tax bills, or be rebated as a voucher, which then can be used against a future property tax bill.

Of the North Dakota plan, MH writes, “…[this is] legislation that we imagine could have gained bipartisan support here in Montana.”

Were it only so.

The North Dakota plan actually closely resembles Governor Schweitzer’s one-time tax rebate for Montana households, not the Montana GOP’s “permanent tax relief.” As David Sirota recently pointed out,

Republicans were planning on using the usual conservative movement tactics that America has gotten used to. From the trickle-down playbook, they were readying an even bigger property tax cut – one primarily targeted at large corporations (many of which are based out of state).

That’s because the GOP plan would not have a cap, would redistribute the tax relief proportionally based on property tax. That means the largest property owners – big out-of-state corporations – would get the biggest refund, taking the biggest piece of the surplus pie out of the state and leaving the majority of Montanans with the crumbs.

Which would be okay, if all other things were equal.

But they’re not.

Middle class breadwinners actually shoulder as big or larger tax burden than their financial betters. Plus, the costs that are growing the fastest – health care and housing – unavoidable costs and affect the middle class disproportionately. And that’s not to mention that some of our out-of-state corporations who’d receive the lion’s share of tax refund from the state’s GOP are also some of the biggest tax cheats. Things are not equal, and I think it’s reasonable that Montanans demand a fair slice of the economic pie.

The North Dakota plan would be a slight move away from Schweitzer’s plan, giving corporations and married couples a slightly larger share than their single property-owning brethren. But such a cap would no doubt be completely unacceptable to Montana Republicans, who have scuttled the state budget and the legislative session to prevent such a tax rebate.

It’s funny then, that while Montana Headlines apparently sided with the Governor and Democratic legislators on what kind of tax rebate should be doled out to Montanans, he blames the Democratic party and leadership for failing to compromise:

But Republicans suspected that Democrats weren’t serious about any sort of compromise on long-term property tax relief, and until tax relief is decided on, there was — in their opinion — no point in discussing spending levels, since the process would likely end up with a “whoops, sorry, no money for tax relief!.”

And we’re to believe that the Gazette was politically slanted in its criticism of Republican leadership for hamstringing any potential for compromise? Gazette:

Yet a dissection of this failed session shows that the last clear chance to avoid the train wreck belonged to the House GOP leadership. Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, refused for 10 days to take any action on any of the major spending bills approved by the Senate. The usual process (in our now-outdated textbooks) would have been for the House to accept or reject the Senate’s amendments, and if the House rejected these major amendments, to form a House-Senate conference committee to hammer out a compromise. That’s the way the system is supposed to work.

Yet that’s exactly what happened. By not returning the spending bills, House Republicans ensured that a joint House-Senate committee wouldn’t hammer out compromise spending bills. And when the Governor did approach House leadership with a compromise, Mike Lange responded by suggesting the Governor could put his compromise in Mikey’s rectum.

The Democrats have offered the state a tax refund. As the minority party, the House Republicans should have recognized that they wouldn’t have much input on the substance or form or philosophy of the rebate, but instead have suggested – like the rebate in North Dakota – that the rebate be bigger, aimed at families, included corporations, whatever.

And let’s not kid ourselves, here. The House Republicans are responsible for the session’s derailment. Even before the session started, the Speaker of the House declared war on the Democratic party and promised to obstruct the session. Let’s blame the car crash on the driver, not on the telephone pole he ran into.

by Jay Stevens

As you’ve probably no doubt seen, there’s video of the Mike Lange outburst! What struck me about watching it – and what wasn’t evident from the original reports on Lange’s rant – was that the profanity came in the midst of a speech on the “honor,” “integrity,” and “dignity” of the House Republican caucus!

It only gets worse, of course. Here’s the transcript of a CBS interview with Lange:

Lange: Everything I said in there is exactly what I mean, it’s exactly what I stand on, and I’m not budging off one comment of it, not one word of it. I meant the truth, and that’s not showmanship, that’s called dignity and honor.

Florio: Telling someone to stick it up his ass is called “dignity” and “honor”?

Lange: In the real world, you bet it is. When the shoe fits, wear it. I gotta go back to work, thanks.

And with that quip, the House Majority leader scuttled offstage.

The “real world”?

In the real world, what we’re seeing could be the result of term limits. Simply put, House Republicans are too inexperienced. They don’t understand the process. (Of course that doesn’t explain why House Democrats aren’t exhibiting the same childishness.)

The Governor is the big winner in all of this. In a nice summation of the situation the Legislature finds itself — and sadly a few days too late – George Ochenski prophetically predicted such a car crash might happen:

Montanans had best brace themselves for the end of what is undoubtedly one of the worst legislative sessions in the state’s recent history….But how could we possibly know with no end in sight to the bitter partisan squabbling that turned a deliberative policymaking institution into a locker-room brawl between opposing teams? No matter. One way or another the blame game is about to start big time—and with it will come a political spin cycle that promises to be dizzying.

Ochenski had hard words for all of the players – accusing the Governor specifically of skipping out when he was needed most, of failing to meet and talk with Republican leaders.

But this incident gave his supporters plenty of ammunition. After all, Lange’s tirade happened after Schweitzer tried to hammer out some compromise on key bills. Lange has made it questionable whether House Republicans are capable of discussion, let alone compromise!

But is that a surprise from lawmakers whose supporters say things like this?

“Mike Lange is the only House Republican majority leader we have…” –What’s this “we” stuff? You’re pretending Mike Lange represents you? Whatever you are trying to insinuate, he belongs to my party and not yours, and I am damn proud of him for calling a spade a spade.

And you wonder why Republicans at the state and federal levels have pursued policies that have divided the nation?

The Governor, of course, has played the situation like a fiddle. Check out this response to Lange’s apology:

“I said to Mike Lange, ‘We should never take the measure of a man at his weakest moment,’” the governor said. “I tried to comfort him. I think I gave him some comfort.”

In short, Lange’s outburst has backed the Montana GOP into a corner. If they don’t compromise, and the session runs for weeks during the summer, and there’s a state government shutdown, the video evidence makes it clear who’ll take the fall. If the House Republicans do bend on their demands, then Lange will have violated his own back-alley “principles.” It’ll be a self-defined sign of legislative “weakness.”

And regardless of the outcome of this legislative session, this video clip has iced whatever chance Lange had at a federal-level job. As a Senate candidate, Lange will offer Baucus as much challenge as his upcoming primary contender – i.e., none — promises to be. As a gubernatorial candidate…well…Lange’s already been upstaged and out-maneuvered by the Democratic candidate. It’s not easy to unseat a man who publicly sympathizes with you for your bungling.

But worse still – at least for the Montana GOP – is that Lange promises to become a national laughingstock. Can you imagine how the NRSCC, NCCC, and RNC feel about this clip?

Also, from around the blogosphere, condemnation is near universal.

Montana Headlines doesn’t write much, but you can almost hear his forehead hit the keyboard as the House Republicans continue to ignore his excellent advice.

Sarpy Sam:

Common courtesy and decency are obviously a dying commodity. What I can’t figure out is how the party of “family values” thinks such profanity and vitriol upholds their party standards?

The Montana Misanthrope:

Like it or not, sir, you are in the minority. You can throw a tantrum, point an accusing finger, and hyperventilate all you want, but doing so will not move an agenda, and it does not serve the interests of this state or your party. And just so you know, the former is more important than the latter, because it is apparent that you don’t grasp that.

TMM also finds Lange’s outburst typical of the state’s Republicans and, as a conservative, worries about the party’s future.

Ed Kemmeck probably summed it up best (and his post is worthy of a full read):

…if you haven’t watched the video of Lange’s speech, which is attached to the first two stories mentioned above, do. It shows Lange apparently getting a little teary-eyed toward the end of his tirade, and saying to his colleagues, “You’re ladies and gentlemen with honor and integrity” — and saying it without a hint of irony! He also tells them he would be willing “to go off a cliff with you.” That could prove to be a prophetic remark, as that seems to be exactly where Lange is leading them.

Oh, and that was the reaction from the state’s conservative and independent blogs…

by Jay Stevens

Remember way back when there was a little debate about civility here in the Montana blogosphere? You remember! First there was criticism of the left bloggers’ use of a nickname for the Montana Legislature’s Speaker of the House, in which our antics were compared to racism. Apparently our constant mocking of Sales irked some, despite the Speaker’s bitter partisan rhetoric and promises to obstruct this year’s session. (If nothing else, he at least follows through on his promises, eh?)

And then came Corey Stapleton’s criticism of the blogs, calling us “angry, unaccountable, anonymous media.” Ignoring for a moment how untrue those characterizations are – are any of us left bloggers anonymous or free from libel laws? – and ignoring that Stapleton’s attack was a smoke screen for his racist remarks – the lawmaker’s remarks dislodged some self-introspection from bloggers. We abandoned the nicknames, this blog dropped its “creep” category, and a modicum of civility descended.

And now comes this expletive-laden rant from House Majority Leader Michael Lange, in which he tells Governor Schweitzer to use his ambition as an anal suppository, implies the Governor’s mother is a dog, refuses to offer feces to the Governor, implied the Governor offered Lange financial compensation for his intent to engage in sexual congress with the citizens of Montana, and frequently mentions his urine – all in terms a bit more vulgar, of course. The scene was the Republican Caucus, and Lange’s vituperative obscenities were roundly applauded by House Republicans, who chanted “Stay till May! Stay till May!”

The odd thing is that this outburst came in reaction to Schweitzer’s offer of compromise on some of the spending and tax bills that has bogged down the Legislature:

At the caucus, Lange said Schweitzer asked him at an early morning meeting if he would vote for House Bill 833, a 14-bill Democratic omnibus tax relief and loophole-closing package, in exchange for Democrats supporting a version of Lange’s House Bill 678, a school funding and property tax relief plan.

Such horse-trading over bills is commonplace during the closing days of any Legislature.

“The governor can go straight to h*ll as far as I’m concerned for trying to do that,” Lange told his caucus.

It’s not surprising that this outburst had provoked responses from leftys — we’ve been pointing at the House Republicans’ angry and divisive rhetoric since day one – but it should alarm the state GOP that Lange’s puerile grandstanding has upset some Republican lawmakers, not to mention rightys, like Jack the Blogger:

Is this another embarrassing and political harmful moment for the Republicans? Yes.

My Mom and Dad always said that, “Cursing at someone and calling people names make you sound really stupid and uneducated.”

You know, Mom and Dad were right and this was a classic example.

Apparently, some of Lange’s followers in the caucus applauded him for his speech. They’ve surely been locked up in Helena for too long drinking the partisan Kool-Aid and have lost touch with what they were sent there to do.

It was also supposedly caught on tape by a news crew. I smell a campaign commercial!

As The Western Word (TWW) has contended before, this whole session has been nothing but one big three-ring circus (Governor, Senate, House). Montanans are sick of it. Please just go home on Friday. Pick up your toys and go home. Please.

So let’s put this whole blogs-are-angry-and-uncivil thing to a rest, okay? Apparently we’re the most reasonable and civil folks in Montana politics today.

by Jay Stevens

As I guessed, House Republicans wouldn’t let the bill abolishing the death penalty to reach the floor for debate.

I’m with Bigfork Republican, Bill Jones, who responded to Scott Sales’ implication that considering a death penalty ban would hurt Republicans politically:

“There’s more liability for those who obstruct the legislative process than those who vote their conscience,” Jones said.

The notion that death penalty support or opposition falls purely along party lines is a quaint notion. On one hand, you’ve got Wulfgar!, who supports the death penalty, and on the other you have Montana Headlines, who opposes it. (And by the way, anytime MH starts a sentence off with “liberals think…” you can skip the paragraph. If MH actually knew how liberals think, he’d be one.)

The death penalty is expensive, it’s not an effective deterrent, it’s unfairly applied, and it’s subject to mistakes, as the recent spate of pardons based on DNA evidence attests. Unease about the practice has grown, not just among liberals who are understandably uncomfortable with the idea of a government putting its citizens to death, but among Christians who value life, repentance, and an eternal soul; lawmakers, who hate to see the courts bogged down in endless appeals; prison officials who have to deal with the ugly and difficult mechanics of the process; and citizens of all ideological stripes who are beginning to realize that there are innocent men and women on death row, more than we can be comfortable with.

At the very least, House Republicans should be open to debate. Let the public record show how our representatives feel about the issue. Let them suggest ways that we can fix the obvious and glaring problems with the death penalty. It’s time we address this issue again.

by Jay Stevens

Michael Lange is at it again:

We’ve been nice for weeks,” said House Majority Michael Lange, R-Billings. “Now, we’re not going to be so nice.”

Ed Kemmick:

What does that mean? Is he going to escalate from “hand guns” to using both arms to simulate a Tommy gun? His threat, basically, was that unless the Democratic legislators and Gov. Schweizter follow the Republicans’ lead on tax cuts and education funding, the Republicans will restrict funding increases for all state agencies.

Also yesterday, Lange waxed violent yet again, commenting on the sex-offender bill: “The only place there ought to be reform is at the end of a rope. If that sounds harsh, I don’t care.”

Colby Natale:

I don’t need to point out the specific instances of rancor spouting up in our state government over the past few months, so the notion that such battles have been the ‘nice’ Republicans’ really makes me worry about what the not-so-nice variety looks like.

I don’t know what to add here. Lange and his fellow Montana Republicans came into this legislative session intending to obstruct and bicker. At least, that’s what Scott Sales promised us when he declared war on the Democrats even before the session has started. They’ve delivered on their promise. Now they want to amp up the rancor?
Classy.




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