Frustrated with Montana Politics? Look East

By Beacon Staff

Whether you’re a righty or a lefty, the Legislature can sometimes become a lightning rod for political frustration. Granted, the 2009 session pales in comparison to 2007 in terms of partisan hijinks – so far anyway, but that’s largely because lawmakers have yet to make the biggest decisions on state spending priorities. Still, here’s a little game I like to play, to help me keep my perspective on Montana state government. It goes like this: I read about New York state government. I’m a native New Yorker, and much of my family still lives there. You know, New York? Where the state Senate majority leader is indicted on corruption charges, the former governor was kicked out after a torrid affair with a prostitute, and the current governor was worse than Illinois’ Rod Blagojevich at installing a replacement for Hillary Clinton after she left her Senate seat to become secretary of state? I was reminded of my favorite game when I saw this story in the New York Times about Democrats, taking control of the state Senate after more than 40 years of GOP rule. The story details the incredible waste that festered under a political party that, for much of recent history, enjoyed no danger of falling out of power.

Read on and then compare it to Montana state government. It might make you want to hug your state lawmaker. From the NYT:

They recently realized there are some 75 employees working at the Senate’s own printing plant, a plain brick building on the outskirts of Albany. On Long Island, they found a small television studio, which had been set up — all with public money, with two press aides on hand to help operate it — for the exclusive use of Republican senators to record cable TV shows.

Democrats also came across what they are calling the “Brunomobile,” a $50,000 specially outfitted GMC van, with six leather captain’s chairs (some swiveling), a navigation system, rearview camera and meeting table. Joseph L. Bruno, the former Senate majority leader who was recently indicted on corruption charges, traveled in the van after his use of state helicopters sparked a feud with the Spitzer administration.

Then there are the parking spots, always at a premium near the Capitol. Democrats had been given roughly one spot per senator — there were 30 Democrats last year — and guessed there were perhaps double or even triple that controlled by the majority. Instead, they have learned, there are more than 800.

And Democratic leaders must determine what to do about 45 workers toiling away in a building close to the Capitol who appear to have been engaged in quasi-political research for the Republicans.

“Every time we nail something down, we uncover another rock and there’s another 30 people there — it’s all over the state,” said Angelo J. Aponte, who as the new secretary of the Senate is the top aide to Malcolm A. Smith, the Queens Democrat who became majority leader last month.

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