Why Prioritize Political Theater Over Political Action?

There are too many examples of our governor choosing style over substance and headlines over the hard work of governing

By Austin Knudsen

Montana’s system of government, as well as the application of our state’s laws, is designed in a very deliberate way – and with one core goal: to improve the lives of as many Montanans as possible. Unfortunately, our governor’s actions suggest that his vision is far narrower.

Almost a year ago, Governor Steve Bullock and our state Legislature became aware of a significant state budget problem. While the governor never really stopped campaigning to collaboratively confront the challenge, it was the state Legislature that went to work and delivered a responsible, balanced budget. The one person who could have taken action back then to prevent further loss of both revenue and services – Governor Bullock – chose instead to politicize certain economic projects to his benefit.

Instead of looking for thoughtful places to reduce unnecessary spending and invest in Montana’s workforce, Bullock targeted our most vulnerable citizens. Instead of cutting waste, 46 percent of his proposed cuts came from the Department of Public Health and Human Services. Instead of targeting the bureaucracy at the DPHSS, he chose to weaken our ability to help our least fortunate Montanans.

So while much of Montana continues to suffer from serious economic problems – like families faced with record-low agriculture and cattle prices – our governor is expanding his government by creating the Office of Outdoor Recreation. And despite the reality of our situation, out of the 21,500 state employees here in Montana, our governor did not cut a single job from his executive office. More bureaucracy is not the answer, especially when bureaucracy is being used to promote the governor’s personal agenda.

The answer is clear to nearly everyone else: Bullock needs to join with elected representatives in the state Legislature to prevent further budget crises. This is truly the hard work of governing, and this is why we were all elected. But as long as our governor chooses political theater over political action, like helping to create jobs and make Montana increasingly attractive to outside companies, the rest of Montana will continue to lose the crucial services we rely on.

For example, the $35.7 million private prison owner CoreCivic offered Montanans to renew its contract with the state would have gone a long way toward helping to fund those critical services. And the money was already there, paid to the state by taxpayers. It’s our money –  your money – and our state badly needs the revenue the prison system would create.

Another example is the classification of Hecla Mining’s CEO as a “bad actor” when, in fact, Hecla is one of the “best actors” in the mining industry. They are an award-winning environmental steward that would also help to create good-paying and long-term jobs. In addition to jobs, the two mines would create state taxes and fees of over $10 million a year. We need the governor to remember that these mines would help an area that has some of the highest unemployment in our state. But by playing politics and using our well-intentioned environmental laws to stop the responsible mining of minerals, our governor is turning away the kind of investment in Montana that will create opportunities now and into our future.

There are many examples, too many examples, of our governor choosing style over substance and headlines over the hard work of governing. And it’s pretty clear that our governor is doing just fine. But what is he really doing for the rest of Montana?

Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, is the Montana Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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