Closing Range

Huffin’ and Puffin’

I-90 is nuts, ranking right up there with other bald-faced attempts at political special interest “rent-seeking” inflicted on Montana voters

By Dave Skinner

I’m really enjoying the fireworks pinwheeling out of Montana’s 67th Legislature. Sixteen years of unbroken Democratic vetoes in a state with many good reasons for trending Republican got a little old.

Lots of good legislation was sacrificed to the national pandering of both Brian Schweitzer and Steve Bullock. I’m interested to see if Greg Gianforte can sign needed legislation, while still vetoing overreaching clunkers. There are some. 

Now is when the legislative noise and smoke gets thickest. I suppose the biggest cloud of burnt rope and cow flop will hit our sensibilities when the adult-written revision of laws governing “adult-use recreational marijuana” hits the blower blades. Are you ready? I am.

After four months, a legislative revision draft was finally released, and it’s generally pretty good. You can follow a link from NBC News for the entire whopper, or, for short attention spans, the Weed Blog (yes, it’s still okay to call “cannabis medicine” weed) has a shortish summary from the pro-pot of view. If you want to see the original, outrageous I-190, dig out that Voter Information Pamphlet you obviously didn’t read before you voted, OK?

I actually read I-190. It’s nuts, ranking right up there with other bald-faced attempts at political special interest “rent-seeking” (defined by Oxford as “the fact or practice of manipulating public policy or economic conditions as a strategy for increasing profits”) inflicted on Montana voters, and there have been too many. I’m embarrassed by how consistently Montana voters have approved ballot issues our elected legislators wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

I mean, if a huckster you’ve never met marches up to you at a street fair and asks you to sign a binding 60-page contract of fine print, do you? I sure wouldn’t, you might not, but out of Montana’s million, 50,000 gullibles did. Hoodwinking those gullibles was expensive, too: Ballotpedia did a nifty study on 2020 ballot issue spending, which set a national record, a lot of it being “dark money,” which real Montanans hate, especially when it comes from “out of state?” Right?

Guess what? On a signature basis, New Approach Montana’s twinned CI-118 and I-190 campaigns were, on a per-signature basis, America’s most expensive by far, fully three times the already-record national average, a ridiculous $24 or so each, $1.83 million just for signatures.  

How much of that dough came from Montana? Well, the Political Practices website database is a tab-barfing disaster, but in one report, New Approach Montana took in $5.067 million from the North Fund, a two-year-old shell nonprofit that laundered $50 million-plus of dark money in several different states during 2020, cutting fat checks out of a $35-per-month “shared workspace” in Washington, D.C. Yep, true, I have government paper proving it. I can also prove it’s a subsidiary operation of a half-billion-a-year-plus “progressive” dark-money operation run by a really smart (and rich) relative of a former state senator from Whitefish (D). Really.

How about grassroots Montana money? Four people, three unemployed, gave a total of $335. The only Montanan donating (unemployed) gave a hundred bucks. Again, I can’t make this stuff up. Bottom line is, with enough dark-as-bongwater money and enough huffin’ and puffin’ about “public lands” and “veterans,” you too can fool voters into approving a shamefully self-serving, self-enriching bonanza for you and your secret political pals.

I’ve also read the adult draft. I’m left thinking, if we legalize weed, which most Montanans are willing to honestly try, the legislative version might leave Montana better off down the road. Anything would be an improvement over an unchanged I-190, and this draft is exactly that. It’s the kind of legislation a decent citizen should support.

Yes, weed has medical use, but recreational ganja isn’t harmless. Same as booze and smokes, both heavily taxed and regulated for dang good reason, recreational weed carries social consequences that cost money, maybe a lot of money. So, until legalization proves itself, funding frills while leaving only a token amount for what might be very real needs is crazy. Yet that’s what I-190s backers set us up for, with malice aforethought. Montana deserves better, and I expect we’ll get it. 

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