Driving Lessons

Someone has to teach Washington D.C. how to drive; it’s your government

By Mike Jopek

We gave the boys the keys to the F150. We trusted them to drive. Hastily he jammed it into reverse and popped the clutch. The pickup lurched into the ditch. Learning to drive is a painful process.

Congress found that ditch. Right before the football playoff weekend, friendships collapsed. Words flew, members overheated, and political tires spun. No traction. They shut it down.

Not since the Jimmy Carter days has a unified government shut down.

After the Vikings and Jaguars took a beating, Congress passed a funding bill that expires right after the Super Bowl.

Ask anyone who has served how emotional he or she found politics. Most voters are accustomed to governing being sloppy. We’re mistakenly less concerned about how we get stuff done.

I served during the historic state budget battles, a decade ago, when Montana failed to get it done in the 90 days allotted by state Constitution.

There were 49 House Democrats that year. Republicans controlled the House.

The House majority couldn’t enact a state budget. Their process was so wrongheaded, their policies so wicked, not a single Democrat would help the majority fund government that recklessly.

If they wanted to drive that state budget into the ditch, they’d have to go it alone. We’d help tow it out later.

The next month Gov. Brian Schweitzer hauled the Legislature to an extended session. A moderate middle, those Republicans and Democrats, drove a unified state budget straight up the middle aisle of the House.

It was a good budget. The House speaker voted against it.

Montana also enacted $100 million of homeowner property tax relief, big incentives for clean and green power, and invested public infrastructure dollars throughout the state.

It was a good deal. Homeowners were happy. Teachers were happy. I was happy.

The speaker looked mad.

Weeks prior we were mired in a painful process. No Legislature since chose to repeat that flawed process. Colleagues quit politics. It overheated.

Congress now enjoys that turbulence.

It managed to shut down a unified government. Five years ago women members of Congress moved the deal. They led the fix this time around in the Senate. Those boys better smarten up.

Throughout the nation, in rural and urban places across America, hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the Women’s March.

That kind of direct action headed into midterm election season makes Republicans in Congress and state Legislatures nervous.

A year ago voters sent Republicans to control both chambers of the Montana Legislature, both halls of Congress, and the White House.

Voters change our minds all the time. Anyone can see one-party rule isn’t working out great.

That Presidents Carter and Trump both shut down a unified government is weird enough. But this seems to be one thing after another, one crisis to the next. Stumbling toward midterms. Hoping for stability and accountability.

More good candidates need to run for office. That’s no easy thing. Who wants to do that? Trust me, you’ll only get as good a government as the people willing to serve.

Nobody will ask you to run. You’ll know.

Montana Democrats seem hungry to retake the congressional seat lost decades ago. But November’s ballot routinely has plenty of uncontested county and state races.

If Democrats want the keys to the state House again, it will take seats like downtown Kalispell while retaining seats in Whitefish and Columbia Falls. They’re all competitive districts; statewide or local Democrats are winning there routinely.

Candidates can’t do it alone. No way. It’s too big. They need lots of help. If you want change, you’ll have to work for it. Send money or volunteer. Change happens when people make it happen. That’s how it is.

Someone has to teach Washington how to drive. It’s your government.

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