Toning it Down

By Beacon Staff

There were political lessons that Montana voters learned after watching legislators debate laws in Helena during the first part of this year. In five weeks the Flathead will see how that debacle translates for city voters on Election Day.

Most of us get the “taxed enough already” motto preached during the campaigns. But the balance of the fanatical agenda that Montanans witnessed is nothing moderates want anything to do with. The last Legislature acted so extreme that Gov. Brian Schweitzer went on Fox News and called lawmakers out for looking “bat crap crazy.”

About the Legislature’s agenda, Schweitzer told Fox News that, “We’re talking about seceding from the union, or getting people who are getting a divorce to go through six more weeks of counseling before they can get a divorce, creating an 11-person Montana commission that can effectively veto any federal law.”

Old-time legislators like Walter McNutt, R-Sidney, called on the newly elected House firebrands to tone it down by calling on his party to “quit scaring our constituents and quit letting us look like a bunch of buffoons.”

Indeed, the new brand of legislators was fanatically pushing everything from sovereignty to spear hunting. From nuclear power plants for the Flathead to tax increases for windmills. They attempted to nullify everything from the Endangered Species Act to woman’s insurance coverage for contraceptives.

The Legislature pushed bills to create armed citizen militias to repel invaders and allow guns in high schools and bars. Their campaigns may have touted traditional values but the newbies of the last Legislature behaved with a fanatical agenda. But that was partisan state politics.

Today a surprising number of the supporters and funders of past legislative campaigns are themselves running for elected office in municipal races in Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish.

One of the three Kalispell Ward Two council candidates told the Missoulian newspaper in a 2006 legislative campaign interview, that “I’m an objectivist, which is a philosophy developed by Ayn Rand.” Rand became the cult figure for last year’s crop of far-right politicians, with her 1957 fiction novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

Plenty of the Whitefish candidates endorsed and financed the very campaigns that prompted Schweitzer and McNutt to strongly object to the tone and substance of the agenda brought forward in the last Montana Legislature.

There are candidates running in the non-partisan city elections whom could easily be tagged as politically ultra-right. But candidates have figured out the “kooky talk” ends campaigns. Expect these campaigns to remain mostly silent until after the election.

Political gridlock, constant showdowns and perpetual shutdown threats may play well in places like Washington, D.C. But Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish are small towns with a great sense of community.

Elected leaders must listen to the public, not simply base voters. Leaders must serve for the betterment of the community. Elected leaders assure that streets are in good repair and plowed, and that sidewalks are walkable for pedestrians.

Our city leaders work to provide jobs, keep taxes down, maintain clean drinking water, move the sewage, open the trails and parks, and keep the community centers, ice rinks, swimming pools, city beaches, libraries, and sports fields accessible to the public. They use tools like zoning and review subdivisions. They serve the public good.

But ultimately good city councilors and mayors do one thing: they cooperate. Politicians must collaborate with schools and local governments, or state and federal agencies, for local betterment. They must foremost listen to the people.

Montanans live in the Flathead because of the great quality of life. The clean water, great schools, open public lands, and friendly business climate that serves locals well. We love our towns, but will wait to see how that translates to turnout on Election Day.