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

3 October 2017 — 1532 mdt

Muldown bond, DNRC vs FBC, Democratic showdown in SD-41

Muldown school bond election ends today. I expect the $26.5 million bond for a new elementary school in Whitefish. The bond’s supporters have made a solid case that a new school is needed and is the best option. The proposal is not gold-plated. And for a majority of voters, the bond should be considered affordable: the individual tax burden is approximately $65 per $100k in valuation, well within the range of what voters are known to accept. The campaign in support of the bond has been vigorous and responsible, and Whitefish, a fairly prosperous community by Montana standards, has a history of supporting well thought out and argued school bonds.

DNRC’s attempt to defund FBC is a dirty bureaucratic power play

At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott has an excellent story on DNRC Director John Tubb’s underhanded attempt to defund the FBC, with trenchant quotes from former FBC chairman Chas Cartwright, a retired superintendent of Glacier National Park:

“The DNRC has made it clear that they believe the work of the Flathead Basin Commission is over, and I would argue that its role is more critical than ever before,” Cartwright said. “It is pretty perplexing when you look at the exponential return on investment that the commission has generated for the state, and now the state wants to wave goodbye. I can only hope the Legislature stands up and supports the commission.”

Moreover, Cartwright said the agency’s decision to defund the commission appears to be a form of political payback rooted in jurisdictional disputes he witnessed firsthand as chairman. Reducing the commission’s role to what amounts to a substance-less entity will have consequences in the Flathead River Basin that far outweigh the pressure on state resources, he said.

As I noted earlier, this is an example of a bureaucracy trying to expand its empire and eliminate competition to it. The DNRC thinks it should be Montana’s top water quality watchdog, and Montana’s only water quality watchdog. It resents the raison d’être for the FBC: the recognition that there’s a need for a trans-jurisdictional body to coordinate a unified approach to protecting and managing the Flathead basin’s environment. The budget crunch gives Tubbs an opportunity to kick the FBC to the sidelines, and he’s taking it.

Originally, the FBC was attached to the governor’s office. Moving it to the DNRC was an administrative convenience, and the DNRC was supposed to treat appropriations for the FBC as pass throughs that the DNRC could not divert to other programs. Tubb’s high-handed grab for the FBC’s money amounts to a heist. Gov. Bullock needs to slap down Tubbs, and to restore the FBC’s funding. Should Bullock not do so, he’ll not only gravely undermine the FBC’s mission and effectiveness, he’ll bestow a tacit blessing on Tubbs’ running amok.

Romano vs Ellis in SD-41 could be a divisive Democratic primary

Here’s what’s happened so far:

  • 25 April 2017. Near the end of the legislative session, Helena schoolteacher, and unsuccessful candidate for Montana's Office of Public Instruction, Melissa Romano, files a C-1 form for the Democratic nomination for Senate District 41, currently represented by fellow Democrat Mary Caffero, who is termed-out. The C-1 allows Romano to begin raising money. Filing the form is a signal that the filer is pursuing the office seriously. Romano lists herself as her treasurer.

  • 13 July 2017. Caffero files a C-1 for House District 81, currently represented by Rep. Janet Ellis, who is finishing her second term. Caffero lists herself as her treasurer.

  • 17 July 2017. Ellis files a C-1 for SD-41, thereby setting the stage for a primary showdown in June, 2018. Ellis' treasure is Denise Ruth Barber.

  • 25 July 2017. Robert Farris-Olson files a C-1 for HD-81. His treasurer is DeeAnn Cooney.

Romano, recently named 2018 teacher of the year (educators like to look forward), is widely expected to challenge Republican Superintendent of Public Education Elsie Arntzen in 2020. She lost to Arntzen last year by 3.3 percent, a small enough margin to justify another try. Running as a state senator would improve Romano’s résumé, as will the remarkable accomplishment of winning the 2018 teacher of the year award a year in advance of doing the things that the honor recognizes and rewards. As a member of the MEA-MFT, she’ll have support from labor.

Ellis, widely considered the most effective environmental lobbyist in Montana when she represented the Audubon Society, is an effective legislator with an impressive knowledge of both legislative politics and environmental issues. She’ll receive support from environmentalists. I’ve known her for decades, and hold her in the highest esteem. She voted against legalizing raw milk, and against SB-261, and I thank her for doing that.

If both Romano and Ellis file for SD-41 in January, the primary will set up an exciting, and possibly divisive, clash between organized labor and environmentalists. It’s a clash that could be made more intense, and destructive, by the lingering animosity between labor and environmentalists over efforts to hold the owners of the Colstrip power plants responsible for their despoliations of the environment and adverse economic impacts on Colstrip and coal miners.

Is Amanda Curtis planning to run for Congress?

On 22 September 2017, Derek Harvey, a Butte fireman and legislative lobbyist, and Facebook friend of Rep. Amanda Curtis and her husband, Kevin, filed a C-1 for the Democratic nomination for HD-74, which is now represented by Amanda Curtis. Harvey’s treasurer is former Rep. Pat Noonan. The odds that Harvey is challenging Curtis out of unbridled ambition or a political falling out are longer than the odds that Hillary Clinton will endorse Donald Trump for a second term (or Bernie Sanders for a first).

Curtis could be retiring from elective office for a while, or she could be planning to run for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House in 2018. If she’s contemplating the latter, she needs to shift into overdrive right now. As for Harvey, who led the restoration of a 1948 fire engine, he strikes me as a strong candidate and potentially an effective legislator.