Closing Range

To Hel(ena) and Back

I think Montana citizens enjoy a pretty cool set-up at the state Legislature

In a few days, Montana’s Legislature will be in session again. If you’re planning on being a “citizen lobbyist,” good, especially considering the real lobbyists will be there every day (and every evening, in every Helena watering hole), pushing things you might not like.

Interested? Then read my archived column from 2015 on the Beacon website (“I’ll See You In Hel”). And don’t forget your copy of the legislative guide from Flathead Electric when they come off the press, a useful gift from all Montana Co-ops.

I think Montana citizens enjoy a pretty cool set-up, for two reasons:

One, Montana legislators are part-time. They therefore must “keep their oar in” real Montana problems, or suffer the consequences.

Second, the open access to leadership that average Montanans enjoy is pretty amazing. Want some face time? In D.C., you need a staff “inside connection” at least. In Helena, there’s no staff! Just show up and lurk a little; your legislator might actually be happy to see a familiar face from home.

So what about the session?

Well, I was happy to learn that Bob Keenan of Bigfork won a Republican leadership slot in the state Senate. But Keenan’s elevation also signals what we can expect in general. Keenan tied Llew Jones of Conrad, who is in his last session, 16 votes each, with a coin flip being the tiebreaker.

Clearly, the three-way split between RINOs, real Republicans and oh-so-real Democrats will again be a factor in 2017, at least in the Senate. Expect some fireworks.

Now, there is a need to “get things done” in the Legislature in order for government to function, but there is a big difference between right and wrong “things.” So fireworks can be helpful.

In terms of wrong, Gov. Steve Bullock’s budget proposes to cut Highway Patrol funding by $7.7 million, sacking 27 officers where the rubber literally meets the road. Now, I should like that, because fewer units on the road means fewer chances for a speeding ticket.

However, if Bullock wants to cut any transportation money, perhaps the funds could be better saved from the budget for magnesium chloride, or whatever the heck goes into that corrosive, bolt-rusting, wiring-killing, stripe-darkening “road slime.”

Then there’s the seemingly separate issues of “local-option sales tax” or gas taxes.

The “popular,” but dishonest argument in favor of local option seems to be that the “tourists” who jam up town streets should pay for town infrastructure. Sorry – tourists, drat them, are here maybe one week out of the year, or perhaps only a couple of days. They’re here, then gone.

Really, who should pay? Us. Period. Through a gas tax.

See, although I’m a conservative and hate taxes, I’m logical enough to understand that appropriate and fair taxes are sometimes best. The “best” taxes are paid by those who generate the cost. Or, those who reap the benefits, pay those benefits. Tourists? No, those of us (yes, you too) who drive and enjoy these roads year-around, right here in Montana.

If Montanans had the willingness to tax themselves for stuff they want, guess what, it wouldn’t have taken eighty bazillion years to fund and build the west side bypass – or even the east side Willow Glen route that could have made more impact at less cost, based on actual traffic flows and needs.

So, I’ll be watching to see which (gas or option), gets picked in Helena.

Finally, please pardon this digression, but Dec. 7, 2016 was the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. I was shocked to realize that those who were fresh-faced teenagers when the Japanese attacked are now age 93, older, or gone to their reward.

My “Navy Dad,” Leland Spoon Oberholser, was one. Lee graduated in 1940 from Roosevelt High School in Honolulu and joined the Merchant Marine Academy officer cadet program. He was assigned to the President Coolidge, which hit a mine and sank at Espiritu Santo in October 1942. That was just the beginning of an experience which Lee had the good sense to put down on paper, capturing his legacy while there was still time.

Have you captured yours?