Back on the Job

Congress is hardly working, which leaves plenty of time for political debates across Montana

By Mike Jopek

Every year, the farming seasons are busier than ever. The pears, apples, sea berries, and hops all need picking. The super harvest moon ushered in cold nights, snow hit the mountains, and the smell of fall is in the air.

The New York Times reported that, “Lawmakers will have as few as seven legislative days before going home for the November midterm elections.” That’s on the heels of Congress’ annual August recess that produced little in the way of political debates or town hall meetings.

Congress is dysfunctional. Congress passed a budget and a Farm Bill. Earlier, Congress had a nonsensical showdown and shut down the government because years prior a law passed that allowed some people get health insurance tax breaks.

The 113th Congress will go down in history as the least productive ever. Not much got done, and less is expected before November. Sadly, Congress is on lockdown, pending more elections.

According to a Brookings Institute ranking, freshman Republican Rep. Steve Daines voted conservative, very similar in ideology to fellow legislator and Tea Party Caucus founder Michelle Bachmann. Sen. Jon Tester voted like a centrist, the 11th most conservative Democrat in the Senate and the 58th overall.

Congress will work a bit over a week from the beginning of August until November elections. That looks like a pretty laid-back work schedule to a farmer like me. But hey, I gave up politics for farming.

Senate candidate Amanda Curtis has been barnstorming the state talking about her jobs plan and reducing student loans. Curtis has grassroots support and adds plenty of enthusiasm to midterm elections for young, women and middle-class voters.

Curtis, the 34-year-old high school math teacher, recently challenged Daines to a series of regional political debates across Montana. Daines has been reluctant to debate and likely with good reason.

Curtis and Daines offer voters a starkly different choice for the U.S. Senate. When was the last time that a young woman with student loans debated a wealthy Congressman for an open seat in the Senate?

Montanans elected the first woman member of Congress nearly a hundred years ago. Many voters are today helping Amanda Curtis get into the Senate.

Earlier, Montana Republicans put onto the November ballot a measure to end same day voter registration. Many states allow voters to register and vote on the same day. It makes sense given the constant purges of voter rolls as people move across town.

Republicans say the reason that people like Jon Tester won the 2006 elections over former Sen. Conrad Burns was because young people stood in line for hours waiting to vote.

Six years late Tester beat former Rep. Denny Rehberg for the Senate – a loss Republicans now wrongly blame on Libertarian candidates. Republicans attempted to place on the November ballot a referendum that allowed only two candidates in general elections. The Montana Supreme Court said no.

Daines also faces a Libertarian opponent in midterm elections. Roger Roots previously ran as a Libertarian in a statewide election and garnered 3.5 percent of the vote for secretary of state. Many expect Roots to beat that performance.

Ravalli County Republicans sued to stop open primary elections in Montana. Closed primaries allow parties to track voters and assure that Independents and Libertarians don’t vote in many statewide elections.

Young voters are figuring out the same thing that women voters and middle-class voters figured out a while ago. These voters see a Congress that doesn’t work much and when it does, it’s not helping.

Curtis, Daines and Roots all square off in the Senate race with voting starting next month. Congress is hardly working, which leaves plenty of time for three-way political debates across Montana.

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