Uncommon Ground

Put Kids First

As I talk to locals in the Flathead, they seem mad as hell about what happened at the state Capitol over the past few years

By Mike Jopek

The rain fell hard over several days and the lawn turned greener by the hour. I’d just mowed last weekend but the wet spring was eager to grow. The yard-frequenting deer sported fresh groomed coats. They looked good, lean like it wasn’t a tough winter.

I finally gave in. The leafless pear trees weren’t late bloomers rather winter kills. The 35-below enduring cold of winter ended decades of growth. Those early pears were luscious, so crip. I’d save some cold-hardy rootstocks, graft a whip to alive ones.

Gray blue clouds matted the sky. The sun peeked occasionally. Still timid, the summer heat wasn’t here yet. I hoped it would be kind.

Hope remains, I mused. It’s not like Congress will do much this year. Surely, they’ve read the same national stories about sea levels rising 8 inches in Texas while Louisiana lands slowly vanish under seawater.

Stories of sudden, freakishly unpredictable storms now appeared in newspapers, whirling away homes and lives. Pictures of baseball-sized hail made news as far north as Finland, as far south Texas. How dreadful, I thought.

Werner Peak suddenly opened in the swirling clouds. Standing nearly 7,000 feet, a lush multi-green mountain appeared from clouds of gray. My eyes rode the ridgeline of Whitefish Range toward Teakettle, which was also green, not as rock-faced looking like when the aluminum company ran full speed.

What could I do about weather except pray for rain? Farmer know the climate got tougher. Ignorance was bliss, I mocked myself. How sad a time, how disgraceful the national politics.

The primary was over. Let those buffoon politicians fix it, I thought, knowing there’s no easy solutions left in America and only a handful of statesmen willing to work together.

We’d burned through the easy days. And what a great time it was. No wonder politicians want to go back. Memory lives vividly feeling real as life; the fast cars, cheap gas, and wages that could pay bills and buy a home.

Today politicians obsess about how people live, whether they marry, who gets kids when, what kind of clothes they’ll wear, which eyes are right-colored. It’s more about purity than people to state lawmakers. Kitchen-table issues that really matter like healthcare, public education, or worker housing don’t much matter to Helena.

Helena weaves rich tales about how good life is recently. A miracle they call it. Yet as I talk to locals in the Flathead, they seem mad as hell about what happened at the state Capitol over the past few years. Ever-increasing housing costs, a historic state property tax increase targeting everyday homes, and big losses to that independent way of life that is really important to rural Montanans.

Whatever lawmakers did over the past few years in Helena drove up housing prices, increased state property taxes bigtime, shot insurance bills through the roof, and booted thousands of Flathead kids off healthcare. All Montanans suddenly pay extra.

Train cars banged at the railyard. The sharp hammer bounced off Big Mountain, as fast as thunder which was too close to reverberate. I wondered how old-timers would handle it.

They’d been through hell-on-earth many times. Experience, kindness and supplication matter, I reminded myself. Put people first. People before party, was what old-timers told me when I listened at the state Capitol.

Montana enjoys good days ahead, I reassured myself, the next generation has a chance with good leadership. Get outdoors, I told myself.

Spring makes everything feel possible, fresh, alluring. Spring hasn’t yet been burned by a relentlessly hot or parched dry summertime. Gosh, I liked rain. How it made it work possible. How it made the chard look vibrant, alive, and just plain tasty. Focus on the good, on the possible. Take action, be bold, I hoped of primary-winning candidates. Run toward political sanity. Focus on people, place, community. Many good politicians remain, people who put kids first. Let them lead. That was the answer, I knew deep inside, put the kids first.