A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

26 April 2015

Legislature’s last days, cop cams, oil trains, Johnny Reb Day

Tomorrow is Confederate Memorial Day, a state holiday in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. Will Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio join the festivities? Will Hillary denounce the event? Will Ted Cruz strut down the street waving the stars and bars and singing Dixie?

The Montana Legislature may finish its business and adjourn sine die tomorrow. That’s probably the plan, but legislative sessions have a habit of expanding to fill the time allotted for them. The final sticking point is how to pay for statewide infrastructure improvements. Democrats, noting interest rates are low, want to issue bonds, which is the smart move. Some Republicans, enough to deny the two-thirds majority needed for approving bonds, want to take the surplus out of the state’s piggy bank. Austin Knudsen now knows how John Boehner feels.

Police cameras are being purchased by Kalispell’s cops and the Flathead County Sheriff’s department. Police cameras aren’t a panacea for police brutality, or false accusations thereof, but they’re a credible deterrent to such misbehavior, and will provide valuable information for law enforcers and citizens alike. But there are yet unresolved issues over access to cop camera videos and protection of privacy. That’s why the legislature made a mistake when it tabled in committee HJ-22, which would have authorized an interim study of these issues.

Oil trains from the Bakken fields will be under close scrutiny in the state of Washington thanks to legislation just approved in the WA legislature. The refineries at Anacortes and Cherry Point are more and more relying on Bakken crude, which means more and more crude cars cruising down the canyon of the Middle Fork Flathead and through Whitefish. There also are plans to build a new refinery in Longview, and a huge oil terminal in Vancouver, on the Columbia River. Oil would be carried down the Columbia in barges, then transferred to ocean going ships bound for west coast ports. Barging oil down the Columbia is asking for trouble.

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25 April 2015

Is Callie Langohr too ambitious, too snobbish, for FVCC?

Updated. Langohr’s running for a seat on the board of trustees for Flathead Valley Community College, and also seeks a promotion from principal at Glacier High to the assistant superintendency of School District 5.

…read the rest

Ever hear a song protesting Irish water meters?

Not all who write protest songs have a sense of humor. Sometimes, I think the phrase should be “not any” instead of “not all,” but then I remember the MTA Song that the Kingston Trio made famous. There’s nothing, alas, comparable for the environmental movement, which is very green, and very, very serious.

So next, three very, very serious songs followed by two rollicking protest songs.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

John Prine, Paradise. He has a dark memory of coal mining.

…read & hear the rest

 

24 April 2015

MT Senate confirms Motl as political practices chief

Jonathan Motl was confirmed today as Montana’s commissioner of political practices by a 29–21 vote in the MT Senate.

All 21 Democrats voted to confirm Motl, as did eight Republicans: Duane Ankney, John Brenden, Taylor Brown, Edward Buttrey, Pat Connell, Llew Jones, Rick Ripley, and Kalispell’s Bruce Tutvedt. They also voted to rid Montana politics of dark money.

Motl’s done a good job. He’s been a smart, no-nonsense commissioner who doesn’t play favorites, rules quickly and fairly, and has worked hard to reduce the backlog of complaints.

Some Republicans think he’s a Democratic partisan who puts his thumb on the scales, but that’s just the grousing of hacks who got their knuckles rapped for violating laws designed to ensure fair elections.

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23 April 2015

Recommended reads for discerning Democrats

Yesterday was Earth Day, but some events are scheduled for the weekend, which may bring April showers. Bring your umbrella.

Late April is bringing blog posts that will make some Democrats madder than wet hens. Here are a few:

Social insurance and sharing the wealth. At the New York Times, Thomas Edsall asks Has Obamacare Turned Voters Against Sharing the Wealth? The answer might be, “yes.” That was last week. Yesterday’s follow-up, Obamacare, Hands Off My Medicare, doubles a liberal’s heartburn. At the Political Animal, Ed Kilgore offers some commentary on the subject, The Resource War and Social Security Expansion.

Is Obama going too far by weakening Medicaid? That's a good question, considering SB-405 in Montana, what’s happened in Indiana and Arkansas, and what Gov. Scott in Florida wants to do. At Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer takes a look, Obama Has a Plan to Expand Medicaid in Red States—by Weakening It, at how the White House panders to Republicans. My 13 April 2015 post on this angered some Montana Democrats who lovingly embraced SB-405, which may be crueler than Indiana’s approach. But I was right.

Net metering wars. Yesterday, the MT House approved SJ-12, Sen. Pat Connell’s (R-Hamilton) bill ordering an interim legislative study on net metering in Montana. The vote on the third reading was 69–31, but the day before it failed 50–50 on the second reading before being revived on a reconsideration motion. It passed the MT Senate 42–6, and was reported out of the House’s energy committee 12–3, so political games were being played in the House. Speaker Austin Knudsen voted for it (by proxy) in committee, but against it on third reading. Go figure…that junior high school political games were played.

All bills to expand net metering were shot down in the legislature because of opposition from electric utilities, especially the 900-pound gorilla of Montana’s utilities, Northwestern Energy. Once viewed as a concession to wealthy energy hobbyists, net metering is now viewed by electric utilities as an existential threat to their traditional business model, and is encountering heels-dug-in opposition in Hawaii and other sun-blessed areas such as Arizona and southern California. These utilities want to shovel coal and stiffarm solar forever.

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22 April 2015

Maddow Blog spreads MT Medicaid expansion misinformation

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People and institutions that should know better continue to report that SB-405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s kick-the-poor-while-they’re-down bill, expands Medicaid to 70,000 Montanans.

As Flathead Memo noted for Sen. J.P. Pomnichowski’s benefit, that’s just not so. According to SB-405’s fiscal note, which Pomnichowski either didn’t read or quickly forgot, Medicaid is expected to be expanded to 46,000 by fiscal 2019.

Now the Rachael Maddow Blog is spreading the same misinformation. The Maddow Blog’s source is an 18 April 2015 wire service story in the Missoulian:

ap_medicaid_lie

Why did the Associated Press use the wrong number? Because its reporter didn’t read SB-405’s fiscal note — and because a lot of the bill’s backers (Democrats, mostly) were so enthralled with the 70,000 Can’t Wait slogan that they just couldn’t stop themselves from chanting something that was wrong but sounded so good.

I strongly suspect that a lot of the bill’s supporters read neither the bill nor its fiscal note. Instead, they believed what they were told by the bill’s drumbeaters, who shamelessly hyped the legislation as the greatest thing since pop-top beer cans.

When Gov. Steve Bullock signs the bill, pay close attention to what he says. Will he speak the truth? Will he he condemn the paucity and price of the coverage for 46,000? Or will he sing high praises of bipartisanship, compromise, and Sen. Buttrey’s wisdom and compassion? Will — can — Democrats be honest about legislation that they know, or should know, betrays the poorest of the poor?

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21 April 2015

SB-334 not likely to be vetoed

Sen. Jennifer Fielder’s (R-Thompson Falls) bill, SB-334, that defines fur bearing animals as game animals, thus giving taking them by trapping a protected status under the Montana Constitution, passed the MT Senate 31–19 yesterday. It’s headed for Gov. Bullock’s desk. Although he’s being lobbied hard to veto the bill, I think he’ll sign it and let the courts decide whether it prevents Trap Free Montana from running a citizens initiative to ban trapping.

A similar measure, HB-212, passed the legislature earlier, was not vetoed, and now is part of the Montana Codes Annotated.

The days of Jim Bridger and Jeremiah Johnson ended a century and a half ago. Beaver and other furs are not necessities today. There are better materials for making hats, warm coats, and such. Sure, there’s a market for furs, but the existence of a market for a product does not justify the product. If it did, the market for slaves would justify slavery.

The trappers implicitly concede there’s no economic necessity argument for trapping. Their case for keeping it legal is that what they assert is Montana’s cultural heritage, a way of life, must be protected from the ruralward creep of urban softness that’s eviscerating the manly virtues that settled the frontier and made this nation great. It’s sentimental claptrap, but it enjoys more political support than it deserves because it allows Montanans to imagine themselves as special, as the last and best, as the last custodians of frontier virtues and ethic.

As long as so many Montanans and their representatives in the legislature embrace this mythology, they’ll regard trapping as something to be protected instead of what it is: a cruel and unnecessary practice that demeans humankind.

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20 April 2015

I’m not going to read Krakauer’s Missoula or comment on it

It will be released tomorrow — the Kindle version is $10.99 — but the book’s not high on my reading list. Not having read the book is not stopping some in Missoula from wringing their hands and experiencing palpitations at just the thought that a nationally known author of excellent nonfiction books might not have penned chamber of commerce paeans to Missoula’s assumed superior virtues. But, so what if that’s the case? No book ever ruined a city. People will buy it, read it, praise or denounce it, and move on to other things. I’m not going to buy, read, praise, or denounce it. I’ve already moved on.

 

18-19 April 2015

Raw milk bill fails on 25–25 vote on 2nd reading in MT Senate

Rewritten, 19 April. Selling raw milk in Montana will be illegal for at least another two years. On Saturday, 18 April, three Democrats (Mary Caffero, Robyn Driscoll, and Cynthia Wolken) and 22 Republicans voted Aye, 18 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted Nay, on the second reading of Rep. Nancy Ballance’s bill, HB-245. A subsequent motion to indefinitely postpone the second reading passed 31–19. The legislature’s website lists the bill as “probably dead.”

The bill’s supporters are hopping mad, writing on Facebook that the cause of the bill’s death was “…false scaremongering tactics from opponents,” and are lobbying the naysayers to reconsider the bill. I don’t think that will happen, but no bill should be considered stone cold, stake through the heart dead until the legislature adjourns sine die.

Raw milk legalization legislation almost passed in the 2013 legislative session, getting whooped through the MT House 96–3 before dying in the Senate. In this session, the legislation passed the House again, but by a narrower margin. Interestingly, in both 2013 and 2015, victory eluded the raw milkers by just one vote in the Senate.

In the 2013 session, public health officials were caught by surprise. In this session, the public health community waged an effective campaign against the bill. That community must not let down its guard, for the raw milkers, while wrong, are persistent, and will be back with another raw milk legalization bill in the 2017 session.

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Sen. J.P., the Buttrey Medicaid number is 46k, not 70k

Always read the fine print. This morning, SB-405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s (R-Great Falls) bill to expand Medicaid — and slap a de facto income tax increase on the poorest of the poor — passed 28–21 on its third reading in the MT Senate today. It now goes to Gov. Bullock, who will sign it, possibly with considerable fanfare.

Some Democratic legislators were jubilant. Among them was Sen. J.P. Pomnichowski (Bozeman), who posted this exultation on her Facebook page:

…read the rest

Saturday roundup

Canceling school trustee elections undermines democracy. Once again, most of the Flathead’s school districts did not have competitive elections, so, as per state law, the elections were canceled, and the candidates declared elected, to save money. It also saves candidates the costs of running campaigns, as well as the bother of asking people for their votes. That can’t possibly be a good thing for democracy in general and our schools in particular. School boards are becoming self-perpetuating.

My solution:

  1. Put school elections on the general election ballot in even numbered years.
  2. Go to overlapping four-year terms.
  3. Repeal the no contest, no election law.

Properly proctoring tests eliminates cheating scandals. Several “educators” in Atlanta are going to jail because they falsified the scores of the standardized tests they administered to their students. Now critics of standardized testing and performance based pay for teachers are using the Atlanta cheating scandal to bash standardized tests and performance based pay.

Too much already. This never would have happened if an independent organization had administered, proctored, and scored Atlanta’s tests. Don’t trust teachers who stand to gain if their students receive high scores: put a firewall between the teachers and the tests.

Nancy Ballance’s raw milk legalization bill is still alive. HB-245 goes to its second reading in the MT Senate today. Because HB-245 was amended in the Senate, it must clear the Senate no later than Monday, 20 April, so that the House can consider the amended bill, which is now racing against the clock.

It’s just as irresponsible a bill as it was when the House approved it. Producers of pasteurized milk are required to carry a $3 million liability policy. Producers of raw milk are not. HB-245 places the risk of drinking so dangerous a liquid on the consumer.

Legalizing the sale of raw milk will weaken our public health system. If HB-245 comes to his desk, let’s hope Gov. Bullock vetoes it

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17 April 2015

CSKT compact clears MT House, but road ahead may be long

The CSKT water compact bill, SB-262, passed the MT House on a 54–46 vote late yesterday, with 13 Republicans joining all 41 Democrats to form the majority. In the Flathead, Democrats Ed Lieser and Zac Perry voted Aye, while Republicans Keith Regier, Carl Glimm, Frank Garner, Steve Lavin, Randy Brodehl, Mark Noland, and Albert Olszewski voted Nay.

After Gov. Steve Bullock signs the bill, which he will do, possibly with considerable ceremony, the compact must be approved by Congress.

That could take some time, and the road to approval could be long and rocky if the Blackfeet Tribe Compact’s journey through Congress is any indication. When S.434, Sen. Jon Tester’s bill to approve the Blackfeet compact, was heard by the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs on 8 May 2013 (transcript), Kevin Washburn, the U.S. Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said in his prepared statement, “At this point, we are unable to support S. 434 as introduced,” citing several problems including a conflict between the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations:

…read the rest

 

16 April 2015

Legislators still trying to inflict an 80-mph speed limit on us

warp_2

SB-375, Sen. Scott Sales’ (R-Bozeman) bill to raise the speed limit to 80 mph on some sections of Montana’s interstate highways, was approved 54–46 on its second reading in the MT House today. The bill also doubles the maximum fine for speeding.

Seven Democrats voted for the bill. Twelve Republicans voted against it. In the Flathead, Democrats Lieser and Perry voted Nay, while Republicans Regier, Glimm, Garner, Lavin, Brodhel, Noland, and Olszewski voted Aye.

This is not a bill to increase highway safety. It's a bill to indulge the leadfooted libertarians who want to tool down the turnpike at tire smoking speeds, perhaps sipping a red beer, while listening to Six Days on the Road at eardrum splitting sound levels. For these people, freedom is a fast car and no cop in sight.

 

15 April 2015

CSKT compact passes 53–47 on 2nd reading in House
Once again, all Flathead Republican Representatives vote Nay

Twelve Republicans voted for the compact. Among them was Rep. Greg Hertz of Polson, who had voted against the motion to blast the bill from committee. His vote for the compact was a bit of a surprise, but a welcome one.

Once again, all of the Flathead’s Republican representatives voted Nay.

The extended debate was at times emotional. Absurd claims were made. Rep. Zac Perry (D-Hungry Horse, HD-3) used Twitter to identify one whopper:

perry_cskt_tweet

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Nancy Keenan’s a wise choice for Montana Democrats ExecDir

Nancy Keenan, former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction and state legislator, is an excellent choice for executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.

She brings to the position:

Those skills and qualities will be tested to the utmost. Montana’s rightward lean that began in the mid-1990s continues. Her party’s an unruly beast that keeps losing elections at the legislative and local level, especially in midterm years, in part because it’s frightened that clearly differentiating itself from the GOP will alienate voters. She needs to exorcise that culture of defeat. That won’t be easy.

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14 April 2015

All Flathead GOP Reps. oppose blasting CSKT compact to floor

Today was a good day for majority rule in the Montana Legislature. Eleven Republicans (below) joined with all Democrats to blast SB-262, Sen. Chas Vincent’s bill to approve the water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, to the floor of the MT House for its second reading, which will occur tomorrow. The final vote: 52 Ayes, 48 Nays.

All Republican legislators from the Flathead — Keith Regier, Carl Glimm, Frank Garner, Steve Lavin, Randy Brodehl, Mark Noland, and Albert Olszewski — voted against the blast. Or putting it another way, they voted to kill the bill, to deny approval of the compact, and to condemn Montana to years of costly and divisive litigation that the CSKT most likely will win.

It’s possible that one or two of these men know that approving the compact is the smart policy decision, but if so, none had the courage to defy the local Republican machine and risk excommunication from the party. That was why the Flathead Republican Party censured Sen. Bruce Tutvedt (SD-3) for supporting the compact: to keep the rest of the local delegation in line.

…read the rest

Legislative notes

At this point in the legislative session, citizen input has little if any influence on the decisions of legislators. We’re all spectators now, usually with little to cheer about.

Raw milk legalization, HB-245. The bill was amended and approved 5–2 by the Senate’s health committee late last week. It’s now in the Senate’s finance committee, which I’m sure will report it out with a do pass recommendation. I suspect it will pass the Senate, and then the House if time doesn’t run out. The best hope of stopping it may be a veto by Gov. Bullock. I’m very disappointed, incidentally, that Democratic Sen. Mary Caffero (Helena) is co-sponsoring this anti-public health legislation. How she can do that and still be thought a good person on health care escapes my ken.

CSKT water compact, SB-262. Yesterday the House’s judiciary committee festooned the bill with poison pill amendments, then sent it to the house with a do not pass recommendation. That sets the stage today for another silver bullet debate. A majority of the House supports the bill, but not a supermajority. I think the bill will pass, but if it doesn’t, expect Gov. Bullock to call a special session to get the job done. I find it remarkable that so many Republican members of the House think Montana’s Republican attorney general, Tim Fox, who supports the compact, is in bed with liberal devils on this issue. Perhaps there will be a far right primary challenge to Fox next year.

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An open letter on Iran to Senators Tester and Daines

As you consider the how the U.S. Senate should discharge its Constitutional duty to advise and consent on the multi-lateral executive agreement on nuclear energy and weapons with Iran, please take no step that results in, or makes more likely, war with that nation.

Iran has the materials, tools, and knowhow to build an atomic bomb. It will not renounce the right to do so. If Iran decides to build an atomic bomb, it will. We can’t stop that from happening, not even with the splendid little bombing campaign that Sen. Cotton thinks will be a cakewalk.

What, then, is the best possible outcome of an agreement with Iran? A recognition by Iran that exercising its right to build an atomic bomb is not in its enlightened self-interest. That might take some time. An agreement that gives Iran time to arrive at that realization is in the enlightened self-interest of our nation.

And if Iran builds a bomb anyway? Should we then launch Operation Guncotton to try to blow Iran’s nuclear facilities to Kingdom Come? No. We’ve lived with nuclear armed nations since 29 August 1949. It’s not pleasant, but history proves it’s possible. An uneasy but peaceful standoff with Iran based on the deterrent of mutually assured destruction is a state of affairs much preferable to sending our sons and daughters to die in another war.

Therefore, get behind our President. Support this agreement. Make it work. Do nothing that leads to our men and women in uniform returning home in body bags. Advise restraint. Consent to peace.

—James Conner
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13 April 2015

Blogging note

Flathead Memo is standing down today. We hope to resume posting tomorrow.

 

12 April 2015

Hillary’s dark I’m Running video

As expected, Hillary Clinton announced today, through a 139-second video, Getting Started, that she’s running for President. The back of Clinton’s head appears at the 92-second mark; her face, a second later.

If you think the video’s dark, you’re right. The video’s tonal range is deliberately compressed on the low side. I examined the opening frame using Adobe Photoshop’s densitometric tools. Ninety-nine percent of the lightness values fall below 175 on a 0–255 scale where zero is black and 255 is white. It may be a computer simulation of the bleach-bypass process, but it seems to me to be closer to a straight one-stop reduction in exposure combined with desaturated color.

The dark and fuzzy ambience may be intended to suggest that the demographic groups appearing in the video are in social and economic shadows from which they will be rescued by Hillary — the video is rife with dog whistles — but for me, the darkness suggests what it would be like were I to start losing my eyesight.

The video is available in resolutions as high at 1920 pixels wide, and can be downloaded from YouTube in the MP4 format by applications such as MacX YouTube Downloader, the basic version of which is free. A useful still image of HRC can be easily extracted from the video.

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11 April 2015

Expect contentious CSKT water compact hearing today

Montana’s Republican dominated House of Representatives is where opponents of the CSKT water compact, approval of which depends on the passage of SB-262, hope and plan to kill the agreement. The first round of fireworks commences in the House’s judiciary committee this morning with a hearing beginning at 1000 MDT. The hearing may be televised and video-streamed.

Two Flathead representatives, Democrat Zac Perry (HD-3, map) and Republican Keith Regier, (HD-4, map) sit on the panel.

Expect a contentious hearing, with plenty of emotional testimony. I would not be surprised if there are assertions that approval of the compact will give tribal members the right to cross private lands to gain access to rivers on which they have instream flow rights. Nor do I expect opponents of the compact to remain silent about the Flathead Republican Party’s complaint that the CSKT engaged in improper lobbying, although that complaint really has no bearing on the substance of SB-262.

If possible, I’ll watch the hearing and report back later today.

I continue to believe that the compact will, and should, be approved, but I think it will be a close vote given the intensity with which local Republicans and non-Indian irrigators within the reservation oppose the agreement.

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10 April 2015

Hillary Clinton, eternal candidate

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Hillary Clinton will announce Sunday that she’s running for President again, reports the New York Times. That’s no surprise, but for me it’s not good news.

If elected, she’ll be 69 when she takes the oath of office. Only Ronald Reagan was older upon taking the oath of office for the first time. Her face is lined and doughy. She’s visibly a step slower. Yet she remains the politically tone deaf, selfish and self-centered Hillary of yore. She has exactly the wrong personality to be President.

According to many reports, she’ll run a gender identity politics campaign: elect the wise grandmother, benefit from her incomparable life experiences, trust her to do the right thing and not be the toady of the investment bankers who bankroll her and the Clinton Foundation. Oh, and she’ll keep the Big Dawg under control and out of sight.

She probably can beat Jeb Bush, as his candidacy would neutralize the dynasty issue. But if she’s the Democratic candidate, I think the Republican ticket will be Walker-Rubio or Kasich-Rubio, Bill Clinton will be her albatross, and she’ll lose the election.

Update. At Vox, Matt Yglesias provides identifies a think tank’s report (PDF) that may summarize Clinton’s pro-middle class, ignore the poor, don’t be an Elizabeth Warren, Blue Dog economic agenda.

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Democrats really don’t care how Medicaid is expanded

They care only that eligible people are added to the Medicaid rolls; they’re willing the pay almost any price to do that. Ergo, the waivers from the program intended by the ACA that the Obama administration grants to states under Republican control to allow the program to conform to Republican private enterprise theology.

In Montana, Democrats preferred Gov. Bullock’s Medicaid expansion proposal (HB-249), but they’re willing to accept Republican Sen. Ed Buttrey’s bill (SB-405) that covers 20,000 fewer because they believe that’s the only option left. They may not be happy with some of SB-405’s provisions, but they’re willing to swallow them in the belief that doing so will bring the greatest good to the greatest number. Embracing the Steven Stills approach to reducing cognitive dissonance, they’ve become enthusiastic, uncritical, cheerleaders for Buttrey’s bill. Here’s a sampling from the Twitter hashtag #70000cantwait that should convince everyone that Gov. Bullock will sign Buttrey’s bill without asking for changes:

…read the rest

Northern Lights

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Just after 0100 MDT, NW of Kalispell.

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9 April 2015

Buttrey Medicaid bill posts at other blogs

There are must read posts on Sen. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid expansion bill, SB-405, at Montana Cowgirl and 4and20blackbirds today. At 4and20, William Skink discusses the impact of the bill on the poorest of the poor. Cowgirl discusses the overzealous attempts of Republicans to keep the bill from being blasted from the MT House’s health and human services. At one point, 40 Republicans tried to adjourn the House, evidently Sine Die, to avoid the blast. Cowgirl has the vote tally on that student senate maneuver.

Buttrey’s bill, formally known as the HELP act, is less a Medicaid expansion bill than a hospital relief act that also makes pursuing malpractice lawsuits more difficult.

…read the rest

Flathead Electric Co-op trustee election closes tomorrow

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The Flathead Electric Cooperative’s board of trustees is among the most and important non-profit boards in the Flathead Valley. Only the local hospital boards are more prestigious, and arguably no local private board is more important to the day-to-day lives of Flathead residents.

FEC’s annual trustee election closes tomorrow. Trustees for three districts are will be elected. Two of the positions are contested (see the Flathead Beacon’s story for details). Given the importance of the job, the statements of the candidates are disappointing — with one exception: that of Emery Smith (pictured right), the incumbent secretary-treasurer. Smith set up a website, fectrustee2.com, that (a) explains how he believes FEC should be managed, (b) provides an interesting and useful history of FEC, and (c) lays out his impressive resume in detail.

…read the rest

 

8 April 2015

MT House exhumes Buttrey’s hurt the poorest Medicaid bill

SB-405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid expansion bill that cuts the income of the poorest of the poor, was blasted from the MT House’s health and human services committee today. It goes to the second reading tomorrow. Mike Dennison has the story at the Missoulian.

I thought this bill was dead. I was wrong.

It’s not clear to me which version of SB-405 goes to the second reading. The PDF of the bill that I downloaded at 1800 MDT today is dated 27 March 2015. This is the version of the bill that passed the MT Senate last week.

…read the rest

Buttrey Medicaid bill was not a bipartisan compromise

Democrats who are conflict averse, and many are, worship bipartisanship and compromise as intrinsic goods. Therefore it’s no surprise that many Democrats touted SB-405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s (R-Great Falls) Medicaid expansion bill, as a grand and worthy bipartisan bargain. SB-405 was indeed a compromise — not a very good compromise, in my opinion — but it was not a truly bipartisan bill. On this, Rep. Art Wittich (R-Bozeman) was right (from the Missoulian):

He [Wittich] also rejected the idea that SB405, sponsored by Sen. Ed Buttrey, a Great Falls Republican, is a bipartisan compromise.

“The reality is that 85 percent of the Republican caucus does not support SB405,” he said. “They were never consulted. They were never negotiated with. This idea that somehow when 15 percent of the (Republican) caucus compromises on a bill with the Democrats and that it is the, with a capital T, compromise bill is not persuasive.

SB-405 received 21 of 21 Democratic votes in the MT Senate, but only seven of 29 (24 percent) Republican votes.

In the House, 12 of 59 Republicans — 20 percent of the GOP caucus — are listed as co-sponsors of the bill.

That meets the Democratic definition of bipartisan — at least one Republican supporter — but not mine. As Politifact reports:

Though there is no formal definition for a bipartisan bill, many political scientists defer to the terms defined by Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, the Washington publication group which has long tracked partisan bills as those that receive support from less than 50 percent of both parties, which would be at least 121 votes from Republicans and 85 votes from Democrats.

That actually doesn’t go far enough for me. If a bill isn’t supported by at least a true majority of each political party’s caucus, it’s not bipartisan.

SB-405 has a Republican sponsor, 20 Republican and 4 Democratic co-sponsors, the support of 100 percent of the Democratic caucus, and the support approximately one-fifth of the Republican caucus. It’s best described as a bill with a Republican sponsor and policy, full support of the Democratic caucus, and three to one opposition among Republicans.

Bipartisan? Not by any reasonable definition. A compromise? Yes. A compromise worth supporting? On that, opinion differs.

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7 April 2015

Democrats lost the Medicaid expansion battle on 4 Nov. 2014

Medicaid expansion in Montana probably died today in the MT House’s health and human services committee. There’ll be more maneuvering in the remainder of the session, but I don’t think supporters of expansion can muster the votes to resurrect expansion in any form.

But the battle to expand Medicaid in Montana was really lost on 4 November 2014 when Montana’s voters elected Republican majorities in both chambers of the MT Legislature. There’s even an argument that the battle was lost on 19 January 2010 when Democrat Martha Coakley* lost the special election to replace Ted Kennedy, thus depriving Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate and of the ability to make fixes in the Affordable Care Act.

Forget about public opinion polls that report a majority of the people favor expanding Medicaid. The poll that counts is the election. Republicans campaigned against expanding Medicare. Democrats supported expansion, but not with sufficient vigor and conviction. Republicans prevailed. Yes, some of those Republicans favored what I would call a Nixonian expansion of Medicaid, but they also stuck with the Republican caucus, electing Austin Knudsen speaker of the MT House, and acquiscing in committee compositions that produced today’s result.

There is no substitute for winning elections. Until Democrats learn how to win midterm elections, and Montana Democrats learn how to win legislative majorities again, something that may no longer be possible, Montana’s legislature will approve Republican policies. We should expect nothing else.

* Incredibly, Massachussetts Democrats forgave Coakley’s 2010 sin and nominated her to run for governor in 2014. She lost again, an entirely predictable outcome.

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Could medicaid expansion become a referendum on the 2016 ballot?

That’s a possibility — and the bill being put on the ballot may have the text of HB-249, Gov. Bullock’s bill, or a modified version thereof, not the text of SB-405, Sen. Buttrey’s right wing bill that desperate for any bill Democrats endorsed.

But it’s not a probability.

The House Human Services committee voted 10–7 to give the bill a do not pass recommendation. Overturning that recommendation evidently requires a 60-vote supermajority (expressed another way, it gives a legislative veto to a 40-member minority), which Democrats and the so-called moderate Republicans likely cannot muster.

During the executive action session, the MT House’s human services committee approved amending SB-405 by substitution of HB-429, a more generous bill that the House killed in March. Another amendment converted SB-405/HB-429, to a referendum.

I’m waiting for a copy of the bill as amended before offering detailed comments because I doubt it’s identical to HB-249.

On the Twitter feeds, progressives are expressing considerable anger at committee chair Art Wittich (R-Bozeman).

Meanwhile, a fierce debate over whether Republicans are welshing on the Silver Bullet deal is developing.

Some observations:

  1. Progressives who want to expand Medicaid in Montana really have only two options: win a majority in each chamber of the MT Legislature, or pass a citizens initiative. And only the first option, winning a legislative majority while keeping a Democrat as governor, ensures that Medicaid will be expanded. A Republican governor and legislature would repeal a citizens initiative without taking a deep breath.

  2. Trying to cut a deal with the self-described Responsible Republicans, who are actually deeply conservative and only appear moderate when compared to the teabaggers in their caucus, probably isn’t going to work, let alone result in a deal that protects the poorest of the poor while expanding Medicaid to those in the 100–138 percent of the poverty level gap. Touted as a compromise, SB-405 is described better as a compromised bill, a capitulation to right wing Republican theology, yet it’s still too much for the teabaggers, who will oppose expanding Medicaid no matter how it’s done.

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6 April 2015

The political resurrection of Jesse Laslovich?

laslovich_100

Former Democratic legislator and current Deputy State Auditor Jesse Laslovich today announced his candidacy for the office of Montana Auditor, which current Auditor Monica Lindeen must vacate after 2016 because of term limits.

In 2012, Laslovich narrowly lost the Democratic primary for attorney general to Pam Bucy. He piled up huge margins in his home base of Silver Bow and Deer Lodge Counties, but lost to Bucy by wide margins in Missoula, Gallatin, and other large counties.

Bucy undoubtedly benefited from a gender identity vote in the primary. She lost to Republican Tim Fox 252,916 to 218,228 in the general election. Laslovich probably would have been a stronger general election candidate than Bucy. Whether he would have been strong enough to beat Fox is a question for which no answer exists.

Montana’s State Auditor is actually Montana’s insurance commissioner, but attempts to amend the state’s constitution to comport with reality have been defeated twice by the voters in the last ten years, most recently in the 2014 general election.

Laslovich, who was born to be a prosecutor, is running for Auditor on a law and order platform, promising to crack down on fraud and white collar crime. That’s consistent with the job description for the office he seeks, and with his history of being tough on crime. He’s also running to keep public lands safe (the Auditor is a member of Montana’s public lands board).

He announced his candidacy now both to start serious fundraising and to try to dissuade a serious challenge to his candidacy. But he’ll welcome a minor primary challenger for fund raising purposes.

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An uncertain future for the greatest game ever invented

There were a couple of games last night, but Major League Baseball really begins today, with dozens of games. At the major league level, the sport is healthy, but at just getting started level, reports the Washington Post, interest in baseball is waning. The reasons for that are fascinating, so be sure to read the full story. Here, to get you started, are some demographic data that may startle:

In a 15-year study of 10,000 youth baseball players, Ogden found that the sport is drawing a more affluent, suburban and white base than it once did. In another study he conducted, 95 percent of college baseball players were raised in families with both biological parents at home — at a time when only 46 percent of Americans 18 and younger have grown up in that traditional setting.

The proportion of black players in the major leagues has fallen from 19 percent in 1986 to 8 percent last year. Ogden found that blacks make up only 2.6 percent of baseball players on Division I college teams.

Latinos, on the other hand, are both the fastest-growing component of major league rosters and an expanding part of the fan base; Hispanics are more likely than whites or African Americans to be avid baseball fans, according to Luker’s analysis of ESPN polling data.

And both to get your day started and set the mood for hardball, here’s John C. Fogerty performing Centerfield:

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5 April 2015

Calculating the date of Easter

Historical note. On this day in 1815, Tambora, a 14,000-foot volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, erupted, sending a cloud of smoke and ash almost 90,000 feet into the atmosphere. The blast, report William Klingaman and Nicholas Klingaman in The Year Without Summer, was heard 800 miles away in Java. That was just the beginning. Five days later, the most violent volcanic explosion in at least 2,000 years — a blast 100 times as powerful as that of Mount St. Helens in 1980 — blew off the top 4,000 feet of the mountain, sending 100 cubic kilometers of volcanic debris into the atmosphere, where it spread around the world, blocking sunlight. The next year was the coldest since 1400.

Easter, the most important moveable feast in Christianity, the U.S. Naval Observatory, explains, “…is the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after March 21.”

I recommending reading UNSO’s entire post on the date of Easter, but the following excerpt pretty well covers the heart of the matter.

The ecclesiastical rules are:

  • Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox;

  • this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon); and

  • the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21.

resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25. The Gregorian dates for the ecclesiastical full moon come from the Gregorian tables. Therefore, the civil date of Easter depends upon which tables — Gregorian or pre-Gregorian — are used. The western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Christian churches use the Gregorian tables; many eastern (Orthodox) Christian churches use the older tables based on the Julian Calendar.

In a congress held in 1923, the eastern churches adopted a modified Gregorian Calendar and decided to set the date of Easter according to the astronomical Full Moon for the meridian of Jerusalem. However, a variety of practices remain among the eastern churches.

There are three major differences between the ecclesiastical system and the astronomical system.

  • The times of the ecclesiastical full moons are not necessarily identical to the times of astronomical Full Moons. The ecclesiastical tables did not account for the full complexity of the lunar motion.

  • The vernal equinox has a precise astronomical definition determined by the actual apparent motion of the Sun as seen from the Earth. It is the precise time at which the apparent ecliptic longitude of the Sun is zero. (Yes, the Sun's ecliptic longitude, not its declination, is used for the astronomical definition.) This precise time shifts within the civil calendar very slightly from year to year. In the ecclesiastical system the vernal equinox does not shift; it is fixed at March 21 regardless of the actual motion of the Sun.

  • The date of Easter is a specific calendar date. Easter starts when that date starts for your local time zone. The vernal equinox occurs at a specific date and time all over the Earth at once.

Inevitably, then, the date of Easter occasionally differs from a date that depends on the astronomical Full Moon and vernal equinox. In some cases this difference may occur in some parts of the world and not in others because two dates separated by the International Date Line are always simultaneously in progress on the Earth.

The Moon was full yesterday and will be indistinguishable from full tonight. Easter falls on 27 March next year, three days after the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion of 1916.

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4 April 2015

No steak or shrimp for the poor

Are you on food stamps? Do you live in Missouri? Then put down that slab of sirloin and don’t touch that salmon. You’re poor, and you’ve got to live like it. Buy the cheapest grade of hamburger. That’s the premise of a bill introduced in the Missouri legislature by Republican legislator Rick Brattin, who claims “I have seen people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs with their EBT cards.” He evidently missed seeing EBT cards used to buy ramen noodles at two bits a package at Walmart.

Across the state line to the west, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, another Republican, appears ready to sign a bill designed to limit welfare recipients from spending more than $25 a day in TANF benefits. No other state has a similar law, so the Jayhawkers are pioneering a new way of punishing the poor. What’s the matter with Kansas? Teabagger Republicans.

Remember Guy Drake’s Welfare Cadillac? You probably don’t if you were born after 1960. I don’t know whether Drake’s still alive, but the stomp down the poor spirit of his song sure is, especially in Missouri, Kansas, and yes, in our own beloved Montana.

Want to know the truth about being poor? Then listen to the Acoustic Blues performing Jimmy Cox’s 1923 classic, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,.

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3 April 2015

Iran was not behind the 9/11 attacks, Rep. Zinke

zinke_baseball_cap_lookright_black_100

Rep. Ryan Zinke has been to war. He served in the Middle East. He should know that Osama Bin Laden and Saudi jihadists organized and carried out the 9/11 attacks. But he made some very strange remarks at his town hall meeting in Kalispell on 2 April. According to the Daily InterLake’s Sam Wilson, a good reporter, he said:

“There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that we’re going to let Iran have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “They will stop at nothing to destroy us. And believe me, if they bring a commercial jet into our towers and kill 3,000 innocent civilians, if they had access to a nuclear weapon, they would do the same.”

Here are a few facts for Rep. Zinke to consider:

…read the rest

 

2 April 2015

Note to readers: blogging light days ahead

On 31 March, the Legislature added a day to its Easter break, starting it today instead of tomorrow. Our blessings return to Helena on Tuesday, 7 April, to resume their mischief, which now ends on 1 May.

The last three weeks will be hectic and exasperating, so I’ll be blogging lightly, and mostly on other subjects, for the next few days, not to mention cooking batchs of my legendary, at least in my own mind, smoked black bean beef chili with sweet peppers and onions, and Italian chicken and pasta soup. Cheers.

Term limiteers kill another attempt to mitigate term limits

Montanans value experience — except in the making of their laws. In that endeavor, they scorn and fear experience. We know that because through the ballot box our friends and neighbors imposed draconian term limits on Montana legislators and elected state officials.

Term limits exist because a large majority of Montanans fear and distrust government. They ask not “what can government do for me,” but “what can government do to me.” Believing that legislative experience increases the power to do evil, they believe that limiting legislative experience will limit evil.

…read the rest

Wake up music — Santiano performing Diggy Liggy Lo

Don’t bother with that second cup of coffee this morning. You won’t need it after listening to Santiano's foot stompin’ version of Doug Kershaw’s high energy Cajun classic. Be sure to catch the thank you at the end.


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1 April 2015

Breaking! Hillary says “I’m too old to be President,” ends campaign

HANS, 1 April 2015, Washington. According to possibly reliable sources, Hillary Clinton gathered her family and closest political advisors at dawn this morning for an unexpected announcement:

I’m too old to be President. My step is slowing, getting out of bed’s an effort, I’m having trouble thinking through complicated issues, and I’ve forgotten how to use government email. I’m ending my campaign and endorsing a Democratic ticket of Sen. Sherrod Brown and Martin O’Malley.

Those in attendance swear they immediately sought emergency medical treatment for shock for themselves, and for temporary insanity for Mrs. Clinton.

…read the rest

What one hopes is an unintended consequence of SB-289

Major votes on SB-289. Here are the votes on the second and third readings in the MT House and Senate as a spreadsheet or PDF.

Incumbents running for re-election hate having their voting records misrepresented. Therefore, Montana has a law telling candidates running against incumbents how they must present the voting records of the incumbents.

SB-289 modifies that law in a way that will produce some bloated campaign literature:

…read the rest

 

31 March 2015

51 MT Representatives refuse to be Uncle Marbut's monkey

Don’t bring your guns to college, at least not yet. SB-143, Billings Republican Sen. Cary Smith’s bill to turn Montana’s university system into Six-Shooter U just failed 49–51 on its second reading in the MT House.

That’s a bit of a surprise according to Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill (D-Missoula), who said in a Facebook post, “Well…I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” Meaning, of course, that 51 state representatives decided not to be Uncle Marbut’s monkey.

Flathead Democrats Rep. Ed Lieser and Zac Perry voted Nay. Flathead Republican Representatives Keith Regier, Carl Glimm, Frank Garner, Steve Lavin, Randy Brodehl, Mark Noland, and Albert Olszewski voted Aye.

At the beginning of February, on the third reading in the MT Senate, Flathead Republican Senators Dee Brown, Mark Blasdel, and Bob Keenan voted Aye, while Bruce Tutvedt voted Nay.

Although I consider this vote a rare outbreak of common sense in the MT House, I’m sure the gunpowder caucus will wail that Montana’s collegians will be denied the means to protect themselves while running the deadly gauntlets of sidewalk between their dormitories and classrooms, or while crossing lawns where crazed assassins could lurk behind every bush and tree.

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Do Democrats raise more money with vinegar than honey?

That’s one conclusion one can draw from the email below. Sometimes I receive several of these nastygrams each day. It started last fall, before the election. Here’s what I want to know: does behaving like a loan shark’s kneecapper extract more money from Democrats than “Pretty please, send $5 to support our efforts to expand Social Security,” and if so, why? I wish I could meet the person who devised this gangster-like campaign so I could bust him in the snoot.

…read the rest

Did Germanwings 9525 crash because of a great notion?

Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump into the river an’ drown

Could Huddie Ledbetter’s classic song, Goodnight Irene, explain why Andreas Lubitz flew Germanwings 9525 into the French Alps, killing himself and 149 others? According to Leeham News’ Bjorn Fehrm, some French psychologists think that Lubitz’s having had a great notion is a possibility:

…read the rest

 

30 March 2015

Today’s must read blog post

At Montana Cowgirl, Reducto ad absurdum, by State Senator Mary Sheehy Moe (D-Great Falls), on the Republican/libertarian defeat of HB-297, the bill to ban texting while driving. Banning texting while driving is a no-brainer. The opposition to the bill was just no brains.

 

29 March 2015

Caffero & alleged conflict of interest, Brooklyn LEDs

A conflict of interest for Sen. Mary Caferro? The question was raised yesterday in a story in the Missoulian. The Helena Democrat and Bozeman Republican Sen. Scott Sales co-sponsored SB-411, which would close the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder. Caferro, it turns out, “…works for an organization with ties to a company that could get more businesses if MDC closes.”

…read the rest

Montana Partisan Percentages

Democratic turnout is dramatically higher in Presidential elections than in mid-term elections. That enables Democrats to win many statewide elections in Montana. In 2012, Democrats Jon Tester, Steve Bullock, Linda McCulloch, Monica Lindeen, and Denise Juneau prevailed; only Pam Bucy and Kim Gillian lost.

In the 2014 midterm election, however, as displayed in the column graph below, low Democratic turnout resulted in big losses in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives elections, and a 3:2 advantage for Republicans in both houses of the Montana Legislature.

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28 March 2015

Two of Buttrey’s SB-405 cosponsors vote against their bill

Updated with correction. Senate Bill 405, Sen. Ed Buttrey’s (R-Great Falls) was approved 28–22 on its second reading in the Senate yesterday. All 21 Senate Democrats, and 7 of the chamber’s 29 Republicans voted Aye.

Two of the nine Republican Senators listed as SB-405 cosponsors, Rick Ripley (Wolf Creek) and Nels Swandel (Wilsall) voted Nay, casting votes against the bill they’re listed as cosponsoring.

Here are the cosponsors listed on the PDF version SB-405.02, which bears a creation date of 27 March 2015, 1547 MDT. The vote occurred at 1505 MDT, so the PDF version of the bill was updated after the vote.

Ripley and Swandel have some explaining to do. Buttrey does, too.

SB-405_cosponsors

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27 March 2015

HB-615 “religious freedom” bill fails on 2nd reading

Rep. Carl Glimm’s (R-Kila) so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, HB-615, failed to secure a majority on its second reading in the MT House at 1658 MDT this afternoon. The vote was a tie, 50–50.

Flathead Democrats Rep. Ed Lieser and Rep. Zac Perry voted against the bill. All Flathead Republican representatives, including Frank Garner, whom some Democrats consider a closet liberal, voted for it.

HB-615 was written as a legislative referendum for the 2016 Montana general election. A successful attempt to reconsider the bill could restore it to life and send it on to the Senate.

The key language in HB-615 is in Section 5 (2):

A person whose exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened in violation of [sections 1 through 5] may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state of Montana or one of its political subdivisions is a party to the proceeding. The person asserting such a claim or defense may obtain appropriate relief, including relief against the state of Montana or its political subdivisions. Appropriate relief includes but is not limited to injunctive relief, declaratory relief, compensatory damages, and costs and attorney fees.

HB-615 issues a not required to obey the law card to everyone who can keep a straight face while claiming the law burdens the free exercise of his religion.

For example, Louie “Leadfoot” Oldfield, former champion dirt track racer, could fight a speeding ticket by arguing that he belonged to the High Church of the Open Road, which worships speed and believes God prohibits speed limits. How would a judge determine whether Louie was sincere, even if deluded, or just mouthing off after swigging too many red beers before appearing in court?

I’m not sure Glimm’s intends that HB-615 provide Leadfoot (or maybe Scott Sales or Jonathan Windy Boy) with a defense for zooming down the freeway at tire smoking triple-digit speeds, but the bill is written so broadly that it does just that.

Glimm’s intent, I believe, is that deeply religious people should have the right not to perform certain duties required of them by their jobs, such as serving gay couples at the lunch counter, filling prescriptions for contraceptives or morning after pills, or issuing marriage licenses to gay people, because they believe that God tells them not to abet the sinful acts of others. During the debate, Glimm actually held up a bible (version unknown) in his right hand.

I watched part of the debate. It was undistinguished. Some Democrats were embarrassingly mawkish. Some Republicans gave what amounted to religious testimony. There were no Gerry Spences or Clarence Darrows on either side.

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26 March 2015

Buttrey’s hurt-the-poorest Medicaid bill blasted out of committee

Senate Bill 405, so-called “moderate Republican” Sen. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid expansion bill was blasted 28–22 from the Senate’s finance and claims committee just after lunch today with the support of all of the Senate’s 21 Democrats, but just seven of the chamber’s 29 Republicans.

SB-405 goes to its second reading on the Senate’s floor Friday, 27 March. The session starts at 1300 MDT. SB-405 is the last bill on the second reading agenda.

The unanimous Democratic support for the blast is proof that Gov. Bullock and the Democratic Party have embraced the perverse axiom that the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. In this case, the few are the up to 70,000 Montanans who might be helped by SB-405, and the many are the 165,600 poorer people already on Medicaid and CHIP whose incomes will be reduced two percent by SB-405.

That’s right. The people most down and out will have their piggy banks robbed to help people who are not as poor. It’s an economically regressive policy that’s the inverse of everything Democrats say they stand for. But the poorest of the poor are the least likely to vote, so picking their pockets won’t result in payback at the polls.

The Republicans have dark money. With this sellout of the poor, the Democrats have dark souls.

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