Skyrocketing property taxes. Astronomical energy rate increases. Thousands of homes that are unaffordable to most Montanans. And yet more big tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy, while the rest of us are left to foot the bill. When we look back on the last year, all these changes and more were brought you by one party and its supermajority: Montana Republicans.
And so, as 2023 ends, let’s take a look back over the last 12 months to see where Republicans really took us as a state. Hold on to your hats, because we’re about to get up close and personal with the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of 2023.
The Good. Montana Democrats at every level are speaking out, standing strong, and demanding accountability from the Republican administration for making Montana unaffordable for the rest of us. First, Montana Democrats pulled off the impossible in the 2023 Legislative Session, defeating, one by one, dozens of ill-conceived constitutional amendments.
Everything from manipulating Supreme Court elections to upending long-standing laws governing Montana’s institutions of higher education. Democrats held strong and fought back against every single attack on Montana’s most important pillars in our community. And they won, defeating every single constitutional amendment the extreme right tried to throw against the wall.
At every turn, Democrats stood up for our communities and their most pressing challenges, from defending your privacy rights under the Constitution to affordable housing and access to health services we all need. Democrats successfully led hard-fought healthcare provider rate increases that will prevent long-term care and community mental health from disappearing in towns across our state. While the Governor’s budget failed communities, Democrats stepped up to the plate and spoke out. They fought hard and succeeded in amending the Governor’s budget to add $15 million to providers rates to ensure places like nursing homes and local mental health providers don’t have to shut their doors.
If you see your local Democrat legislator, central committee member, or citizen advocate around town, thank them. They spent more than four months defending every part of the communities we love.
The list of “Good” goes on. After the legislative session, Democrats continue to walk the walk of Montana values – from advocating for meaningful long-term tax relief to holding the Gianforte administration accountable for policies that serve only the extremely rich and harm the rest of us. Every step of the way, Democrats prioritized regular Montanans. One example of this was the Gianforte Administration’s decision to reject $10 million that would have fed around 50,000 Montana children over the summer, a time when kids are at the highest risk of hunger. A team of Montana Democrats rightfully pushed back on this decision that harmed so many kids, holding a widely covered rally for hungry children. Within a matter of weeks, the Governor switched course, agreeing to accept the funds in 2024. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
And more good news is on the horizon for Montana Democrats. Following redistricting, the number of practical and thoughtful Democrat lawmakers in office will continue to grow. And with it, an even greater ability to fight and win for working Montanans. We see this growing force across the state, where Democratic central committees are organized and ready for the work ahead. The proof is in the pudding. The recent committee dinner in Kalispell had more than 250 attendees and Sanders County had north of 70. Montana Democrats are entering 2024 strong, committed, and ready to fight.
The Bad. Did you skip right to this section? Well, go back and read the Good section because it’s really good. But onto the bad. We knew all along that Republicans never had the best interests of regular Montanans in mind. But it became painfully apparent in the last 12 months that Republicans not only didn’t have our best interests in mind, but that the ultra-rich were in the driver’s seat, manipulating the game to serve their own narrow interests. We saw this time and again in the bills they brought. Republicans passed tax breaks for themselves and changed the rules to favor big out-of-state corporations in court against the average Joe. They worked to strip public schools of needed funding and made voting harder for people who stood in their way. Among many other threats on our freedom, they tried to dismantle our right to bodily autonomy and attacked our transgender friends and neighbors for political gain. It just didn’t stop.
And the downward spiral continued when we recently received our property tax bills in the mail. The Republican supermajority had the chance to fix this pressing issue during the session. Montana Democrats were the only ones to bring bills to address it. Republicans killed that legislation and stuck you with the bill. To keep our communities safe and functional, there is no doubt that we should all contribute our fair share. It is an unfortunate reality that until there are more Democrats in the Legislature, regular people will just keep getting the short end of the stick when it comes to fair taxes.
The Ugly. It’s hard to say what the ugliest aspect of the last year has been. There are too many to choose from, but I’ll give it a try. There is a story from Mr. Rogers that I continuously thought of during the session. His mother said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The most disturbing aspect of the last year was witnessing Republicans attacking our community’s helpers – from librarians and teachers to doctors and nurses. The extremist Republicans not only bully their own, but they bully anyone who might stand in their way, even the helpers.
But, to end on a good note, we all know that’s not who we are as Montanans, and folks from across the state joined level-headed Democratic legislators to push back against extremism at every turn. The tide is turning against those bullies. Between redistricting and the hard work of Democrats across the state, 2024 brings a very different story: A return to real Montana values, where we help our neighbors, not hurt them. And we stand with the helpers, not tear them down.
That’s the Montana I know, and the Montana Democrats won’t stop fighting for.
Sheila Hogan was born and raised in Butte and is the Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party.
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