As a freshman legislator at the 65th Montana legislative session, I learned a great deal about state politics. It was a crash course in the legislative process but also on how “insider politics” are played. To my surprise there were some unexpected positives and negatives.
As expected, the Democrat and Republican parties have very opposite ideologies. Yet, there were still common goals we all agreed on. One example is suicide prevention. Montana has the third highest suicide rate per capita in the nation. Legislators from both sides of the aisle wanted to address the problem. The difference came in proposed solutions by each party. Democrats continually looked at government or more money to solve the problem. I, as a Republican, believe when government creates an environment where each individual has the freedom to thrive, they will, and consequently will be less likely to commit suicide. It became then a matter of debate on which road to take to achieve the outcome we all wanted. It was positive to have some shared goals.
A negative I didn’t expect to see was the coercion of those in leadership by individual legislators. I believe that an idea should live or die by its merits. There were many times I had to present an idea to the whole House to explain and convince members of both parties that it was a good idea for Montana. That is what I expected state politics to be. Unfortunately, there were members of the Republican caucus that had to create “deals” to elevate their personal agenda above the rest. Kalispell Rep. Frank Garner and Conrad Rep. Rob Cook, along with a handful of compromising Republicans, went to House leadership last December and threatened to side with the Democrats if leadership did not give them politically what they wanted (committee assignments and support for personal bills for example). This gave the Democratic agenda the majority in multiple instances.
I have had conversations with both Rep. Garner and Rep. Cook and they both have a good sense of humor and are personable. However, I do not understand anyone, either a Democrat or a Republican, who would throw their own caucus under the bus to get their way. Who does that? Why would they not let their ideas stand on their own and see if the rest of the legislators agree? Politicians do not have the best reputation in the eye of the public. Scandals, dishonestly, and a lack of transparency have riddled the history of politics at all levels. To see any politician use the Republican Party platform to get elected, yet legislate against the party goals for a personal agenda is disappointing. This is your state government. You deserve to know why after this session you will be paying more taxes. There should not be backroom deals to create law. It should be a transparent process. Sharing the insider politics is part of that transparency. In my mind all policy should be put on the table for the public to see. After all, once again, this is your government and it will succeed only with an informed electorate.