Worthy Rights

Like many others, I feel the activism burning up my spine

By Mike Jopek

It looks and feels like our president is headed toward another culture war.

After seeing many times the people out on America’s streets the day after our national inauguration, it’s apparent that millions feel they stand to lose big.

Economic chaos or societal shock has been followed by the privatization of public services in other places.

Republicans control Congress and the administration, like they control the state Legislature. Their rhetoric will be hot, but their governing often times not. Talk is cheap but votes count.

People will find personal ways of expressing their political passion toward the direction America is steamrolling. Many will choose to work on national issues like climate change, the pipeline, stopping ideologues from tipping the 4-4 Supreme Court, or simply fight to keep lifesaving health care.

Others will find solace and quench their activism by working on local issues. 2017 is a municipal election year, and progressives could continue moving forward the city councils in places like Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell.

Our thriving Flathead cities frequently make big decisions affecting the lives of locals; anything from affordable housing, to trails and parks, to how our community looks and feels.

I focused some social-media activism on a particularly bad bill in the state Legislature. The chairman of the Republican Party, Jeff Essmann, carries House Bill 29. HB29 pushes significantly higher property taxes onto the smallest of our statewide farmers.

If HB29 becomes law our smallest farmers, who invested in infrastructure like deer-fences or waterlines to grow crops like apples in Whitefish or Flathead cherries, will retroactively see their farms taxed like speculative homes, not productive valuation like the rest of Montana’s farms.

That’s unfair. Why does the state care if farmers grow high-value crops in high-property-valuation areas or low-value crops in acres where property is cheap?

Likewise landowners renting less than 20 acres of farmland to other farmers may not qualify as agricultural land. That’s bad for agriculture and conservation.

I took to Facebook and Twitter, advocating to stop HB29 tax increases. In the House, almost all Democrats voted against the property tax increase while almost all Republicans voted for the tax increase.

Local Republican Reps. Matt Regier, Steve Lavin, Frank Garner and Carl Glimm voted to increase taxes, burdening some farmers maybe out of business. Democratic Reps. Zac Perry and Dave Fern stood with small farmers.

Back in 2009, I sternly and repeatedly warned how a property tax reappraisal law would foist massive tax hikes upon homeowners. My fellow Democrats listened yet Republicans ignored my call. More than 10,000 landowners subsequently protested taxes.

Last session I reminded lawmakers that as they changed the six-year appraisal cycle to a two-year cycle, Flathead homeowners would not appreciate a six-year property tax freeze like eastern Montana enjoyed for decades as their valuations repeatedly fell.

Unless lawmakers do something today, many Flathead homeowners are likely to see yet more double-digit increases in the fall.

It’s easier to just stay on the farm, working.

Like many others, I feel the activism burning up my spine. This doesn’t seem like a time for Montanans to be quiet. It’s a time to stand for justice, equality and the American way.

Find your voice, Flathead. At first it’ll quiver, it’ll feel uncomfortable to speak publicly. Use respect and decorum in dialogue as opinions evolve. Progress is never easy, but our democratic process helps.

People will act on their passions; stop cuts in aging services, fund public school teachers, conservation or parks, or getting innocent people out of jail.

Mostly, be involved and take charge. Stand strong, bring a friend, others will join you. When peaceful people stand together they push truth into power. It’s not easy, and you will never feel more alive.

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