Oh, thank goodness it’s finally over! Montana’s Legislature has adjourned early – they’ve done enough damage for now.
Back in November, Republicans “won” a 29-21 majority in the Senate and 59-41 majority in the House. As a nice Republican fellow, I hoped my party would limit the growth of state government, reduce some taxes, lay down some needed bricks and mortar and show some fiscal restraint – if the RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) didn’t stampede. Silly hope, that.
It seems the fix was in from the beginning, with the RINOs joining early on with Democrats to set rules for a packet of six “silver bullets” – a nuclear option for getting really important, definitive bills out of committees and before the main bodies for a vote. These bills exemplified the difference between the Republican and Democratic view of Montana governance.
What were those?
K-12 high school expansion: Elementary school districts would have been allowed to create independent high schools if they so choose. The bill was supported by conservatives, not a single Democrat supported final passage in the House.
Medicaid expansion: This fight was about a fundamental question – whether a state government is obligated to provide free or subsidized medical care to able-bodied citizens (or, for that matter, non-citizens). Along with almost all the RINOs, every single Democrat legislator supported the final “compromise.”
Dark money: Sponsored by a RINO, this bill was a re-hash of failed legislation that later bombed as a 2014 ballot initiative. Supported by Gov. Steve Bullock’s office, almost all Democrats and a cadre of “responsible” Republicans, it passed.
It supposedly implements stricter and more timely reporting of state campaign expenditures by “dark money” groups. But this “reform” doesn’t touch the dysfunctional federal campaign finance system. Count on seeing an avalanche of lousy political advertising from outside Montana this next campaign season, both federal (fully in compliance with federal law) and state-campaign materials produced outside Montana and out of reach of Montana’s picayune enforcement.
Another silver bullet was fired on the “dark money” front, this time to confirm attorney Jonathan Motl as political practices commissioner. In a nutshell, Mr. Motl first moved to Montana to work on Ralph Nader’s behalf. By the time of his appointment as commissioner after the Senate rejected Bullock’s then-nominee in 2013, Mr. Motl was ranked the fifth most important liberal political activist in Montana.
Democrats and RINOs love Mr. Motl. Conservative Republicans do not – and the vote total to affirm Mr. Motl had Montana RINOs again joining a solid mass of unified Democrats to confirm the esteemed gentleman.
Still, the RINOs might be forgiven. Mr. Motl’s tenure will officially end in 2017, while gosh only knows whom Bullock had waiting in the wings to replace Motl had he been “fired” by the Senate State Administration Committee – better the devil you know than the one you don’t?
Finally, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes water compact “agreement:” One may argue it was “responsible” or “pragmatic” to accept this profoundly unfair and vengeful package.
I have to give grudging credit to CSKT. They took full advantage of every legal and political weapon at their disposal, stubbornly grinding out a stunningly lopsided victory. It was their right to try, and they won.
So – Western Montana is a closed basin. The realities of a new, expensive water market will require some tough and scary adaptations. Time, more than I have left, will tell if non-tribal Flathead Reservation irrigators will be able to stay in business with their “farm turnout allowances” under “unitary management.” I know, another of those silly hopes.
The best way I can think of to characterize the vote to accept the compact is as a least-worst option – basically surrender now, or get hurt later – a terrible path to take. For many reasons, legal and political, there were no good options open to non-tribal interests.
On the bright side, with their pragmatic votes in favor, Montana RINO’s left their “fellow Republicans” the option of voting on principle – ironically, only when it didn’t affect the final outcome.
Better luck next time!
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