Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

What a difference in responses

Turns out that race between Connell and Boulanger was just full of campaign finance violations. First we learned that Boulanger was pretty lax in his reporting of nearly $7,000 but now we also find out that Connell had a few violations of his own.

Namely, he used cash to pay for campaign expenses instead of writing a check from the campaign account. Additionally he didn’t have separate accounts for the primary race and the general election.

The majority of the complaint against Connell was dismissed by the political practices commissioner. The complaint was, of course, filed by a fellow Republican who doesn’t think Connell is Republican enough.

It’s amazing to see the difference in responses to the findings. Boulanger called the report on his violations trivial and blamed it all on a political vendetta from the governor’s office. He expressed no regrets for the mistakes that were made or any desire to fix the problem.

Connell on the other hand expressed his regret that mistakes had been made and owned up to the fact that he’d handled some campaign expenditures poorly. He didn’t blame it on partisanship and acknowledged that the commissioner of political practices was simply doing his job. He also said he would accept his fine and make sure he corrected any errors in the future.

While it’s hard to support Connell for violating campaign finance laws, it’s easy to respect him for owning up to his mistakes and being cooperative with the commissioner of political practices. Boulanger on the other hand, showed he’s not interested in serving the people but rather serving himself and his donors who apparently want to remain anonymous.

Montana’s campaign finance laws are there to provide transparency so voters can know who is supporting candidates and watch for any corruption in government. Boulanger and Connell showed remarkably different responses to the importance of these laws. One (Connell) showed a respect for the people’s right to know who is paying for a candidate’s campaign and the other (Boulanger) showed he doesn’t care what the laws are if they get in his way or cause a modicum of inconvenience to his plans.

Thankfully, the better of the two came out on top in all of this.

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Republican Hunger Games

It’s been absolutely crazy watching Republicans both in Ravalli County and around the state spend so much time going after each other. Their infighting certainly makes for some entertaining political theater.

Fist we started with Boulanger and Connell battling it out over who was a “real” Republican here in Ravalli County. Apparently since Connell doesn’t do whatever the Tea Party leaders want him to he’s considered a “RINO” despite having run under the GOP banner for years. Boulanger, for his part, is about as conservative as can be though he really tips more Libertarian. Perhaps he’s the real RINO but wants the party support of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee.

Their battle spawned the battle royale. The Ravalli County Republican Central Committee launched a lawsuit to close primaries because they don’t want any Democrats voting in their primary. This was a result of Boulanger losing his primary fight with Connell and suspicions that Democrats voted in the Republican primary.

It’s probably true that some Democrats voted in the Republican primary, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that none of the local races had more than one Democrat running so there was no reason to vote in that primary. Concerned citizens wanted to have a bigger say in who would eventually be representing them so they voted in the contested primaries.

That lawsuit however has now led to even more infighting.

First, the plaintiffs’ lawyer subpoenaed a number of people around the state, including some long-time Republicans like Jim Shockley who campaigned against Boulanger and for Connell during the primary. He sent a letter out to people who had supported him in his own elections and asked them to vote for Connell. Some of those people were not Republicans. So now Shockley is under the gun for not being Republican enough.

If that wasn’t enough, now the Republicans are filing a complaint against the assistant attorney general, who is also a Republican. They say he asked some questions about the case without consulting the party’s lawyer. Nevermind the fact that he’s in regular contact with the party over a wide variety of things. My guess is they sensed a losing case and decided to try to throw a wrench in the state’s position.

All this infighting shows the extreme right-wing section of the party is more about maintaining control over the party than serving the people. The voters chose Connell. The voters prefer open primaries. The voters are the ones the Tea Party is apparently most afraid of. If they keep this up, why would anyone want to get involved in Republican politics?

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Commissioners looking for way to reinstate Legacy Ranch

As should probably have been expected, the Ravalli County Commissioners this week met to discuss appeal options after their approval of the massive Legacy Ranch subdivision was struck down in court.

Their own lawyer told them their odds of winning an appeal were pretty slim though. That kind of shows you how thorough the failure on their part was when it comes to the review of this subdivision that faced almost universal objection from the community.

Commissioner Iman said they tried to do a real thorough review of the application and just couldn’t understand why they ended up losing the lawsuit anyway. Could it be that their review wasn’t nearly as thorough as they thought? Or maybe it’s that their definition of thorough doesn’t match up with what most people consider thorough? That wouldn’t be surprising given this commission’s aversion to actually reading through the materials or doing any work outside of the office… or really, in the office.

Commissioner Burrows gave the most telling statement of all…

“I think we’re waiting to see if the developer will appeal,” Burrows said. “They are the biggest player in this.”

Really? The developer is the biggest player in this? Shouldn’t the public, the people you serve, be the biggest player in this? The people that live in the community are the ones that stand to gain or lose the most from this development. It is their community that will be impacted by the addition of 600 new homes over the next few decades.

It’s this kind of attitude, of serving the developer instead of the community, that is the biggest problem with our commission. They serve those with money at the expense of everyone else. Had they been more interested in making sure the Bitterroot Valley remained the great place that it is, maybe they would have given the application a more comprehensive review.

So when the commissioners complain about losing yet another lawsuit, remember who it is they’re fighting for. They’re not fighting for the people, they’re fighting for the developer. The public overwhelmingly rejected this proposed development but the commission unanimously approved it. In this case, the people won but that doesn’t mean the commissioners won’t keep fighting to take that victory away.

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Boulanger thinks $7,000 is insignificant

We found out this week that local Republican Scott Boulanger violated a number of different campaign laws including not reporting around $7,000 of donations. He called the charges trivial and blamed the errors on being busy during the campaign.

That may be true during the campaign, but once it was over, he also failed to file a closing report.Once the election was over he had plenty of time to get the records up to date and file his closing finance report. Instead, he apparently gave up and didn’t bother with it at all.

Montana’s Political Practices Commissioner, Jonathan Motl, ruled that Boulanger shouldn’t be allowed to appear on any ballot until these violations are resolved. That means that the people of Ravalli County won’t be subjected to another Boulanger campaign anytime soon since he doesn’t appear all that motivated to do anything to clear things up.

Of course, he’s still pushing the Republican Central Committee’s lawsuit to close primaries in Montana since that’s what he blames for his election loss. It’s probably good that he did lose though since he apparently doesn’t do so good with money when he’s under a lot of pressure. It’s scary to think about what he would do with the state’s checkbook when working within the 90-day legislative session.

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Who will they blame it on now?

Well, the commissioners are in a bind now. For years they’ve been blaming lawsuit losses over subdivisions on the previous group of commissioners. The awful Democrats made such bad decisions that they led to lawsuits against the county.

Now they’ve lost one of their own that the Democrats had nothing to do with. Legacy Ranch, the massive development approved by the commission despite loads of objections, was struck down in the courts recently. The court stated the commission failed in their decision making process in several areas. Basically, they rubber-stamped the development without bothering to look at what kind of an impact it would have on the county and the environment.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that the commissioners approved a development over the span of decades. This was not a development that would be completed in the next few years. This is one that generations of Bitterroot residents would be dealing with. It’s impossible to determine the impact a development will have 20 years from now. Why would you approve it now and be in a position where you can request/demand changes to the plan as the conditions change.

The court also stated the commissioners failed the “hard look” standard in multiple ways but this shouldn’t be a real surprise. The current (and previous) commission has a tendency to not look beyond the first page or two of a report. They don’t seem all that interested in actually learning about what they’re looking at but instead just vote with their gut or how their party expects them to vote.

You get what you vote for and in this case you get a group of commissioners who are more concerned about helping their developer buddies/donors than looking out for the public good. And they can’t blame this lawsuit loss on the Democratic commissioners. This one was all theirs.

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County legislators and Americans for Prosperity

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers backed Super PAC released their scorecard for the 2015 Montana Legislature earlier this week.

They scored Montana’s legislators based on their votes on some of their key issues. Namely, voting down expansion of Medicaid, funding charter and private schools with public money, eliminating some campaign finance rules aimed at dark money, and lowering income taxes. There were a few other issues but they mostly fall into those categories.

Is it any surprise that all Ravalli County legislators except Pat Connell scored a perfect 100% on AFP’s scorecard? They all voted exactly as they were told by this out-of-state special interest group.

It’s a sad state when not one of these legislators could vote in the interests of their constituency on a couple of these issues. Ravalli County’s poverty level is pretty high and citizens in need of expanded Medicaid coverage got the shaft from their legislators. The county is the former home of Marcus Daly, a copper baron, and a reason why Montana has always had strict campaign finance rules. The valley schools are always struggling to make ends meet with the limited funding they have and these legislators all want to take money OUT of the school system to put it into charter and private schools?

The Koch brothers certainly got their money’s worth in Ravalli County. The Republican legislators are clearly bought and paid for and happy to vote how they’re told.

You can see the scorecard for yourself HERE.

 

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Roads, roads, roads

It’s interesting to read through the correspondence of the county commissioners. It’s helpfully posted online. You can read it HERE.

One of the things you’ll notice if you peruse through all the standard correspondence from various government agencies is that people send a lot of letters complaining about the condition of the roads in the county. It’s probably the most popular topic overall.

The letters are consistent too. The roads are in rough shape and the current practice of filling in the holes with extra asphalt isn’t working. The hole is patched for a couple weeks then the patch falls apart and the hole is back, usually bigger than it was before.

It’s amazing that the commissioners are so tone deaf on this issue. In recent budget hearings there was no discussion of how to fund the road department in a way that would allow them to do more quality work on county roads. There was no discussion of whether the current funding levels would allow them to address the many, many, many roads that need serious work.

Instead, they acted like things were fine and kept the funding levels about the same meaning that county roads will continue to be in poor condition and many surfaces will continue to fail. You can be the commissioners get prompt service when they complain about the condition of their own roads… Too bad the rest of us can’t get that same level of service out of the road department. It’s even sadder that the commissioners are unconcerned about the condition of the roads.

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Chilcott and the truth about unions

In discussing approval of a negotiated labor agreement with one of the unions, Greg Chilcott spoke of his feelings about unions. He was upset that union members would be paid better than non-union members. Arguing that all county employees should be treated the same, he revealed a couple of things.

1) Unions get better compensation from the county than non-union employees. Chilcott obviously believes it’s because they’re a union, which is essentially true… but only because a union has the ability to negotiate the terms of their compensation whereas a regular county employee has no such power. When employees band together to negotiate their pay, they’re far more likely to get better terms than if they try to do it individually. The power of the group is more than the power of the individual.

2) Chilcott would rather pay union members less rather than increase the pay of regular county workers to be on par with union employees. His argument that unions receive special treatment wasn’t about regular employees receiving too little, but that union members should get peanuts, just like all the other county employees.

It was obvious watching the video that Chilcott has a philosophical problem with unions. It was also obvious that he hated that they managed to negotiate better pay.

Some of these unions were arguing for pay that would reward longevity with the county. It would allow them to steadily increase their income to be similar to what they could get doing the same job in Missoula County. Specifically, the 911 Call Center Operators were asking to have pay bumps at 5, 10 and 20-year marks. The longest tenured operator the county currently has is 5 years. The county regularly loses employees to other jurisdictions because they can make far more money somewhere else. Paying them a little more allows the county to retain them rather than constantly having to train new employees. This is an overall cost savings for the county and a boost in efficiency.

It’s too bad all Chilcott can see is his hatred for unions rather than the benefits of paying someone a living wage.

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Julie King schools complaining commissioners

The county commissioners have been up in arms recently that they don’t have standing to object to the Forest Service’s latest Travel Plan for the Bitterroot National Forest. They’ve argued that they should have a say in the travel plan and the forest should hear their complaints.

The problem with that, however, is that Forest Service rules only allow people who submitted comments on the draft travel plan to file objections. The county commission never commented on the travel plan so they have no standing to file an objection now.

The commissioners point to their “Natural Resource Policy” as their comment, but it was put out in 2012 while comments were taken on the travel plan in 2009. Three years before the natural resource policy.

They also complain that those were the actions of a previous commission. The problem with that argument though is that Greg Chilcott and JR Iman were on the commission at that time and never submitted comments on the draft travel plan.

Julie King, the current forest supervisor, takes the commissioners to school in her letter to them. You can read the letter HERE. She lets them know that not only does she have evidence that the forest DID include the commission in discussions back then, but that even if they didn’t, the travel plan doesn’t fall under the same regulations as forest management. And the natural resource policy which the commissioners point to as their comment addresses forest management, not travel management, so even if it had been done in time, it still wouldn’t give the commission standing to object now.

It’s also great to see her point to the fact that Chilcott and Iman were both on the commission in 2009 and didn’t offer comment at that time, but chose not to.

All of this points out, once again, that this board of commissioners is not forward thinking. They react to things. They don’t look ahead. They have no plan for the future. All they can do is react to things as they come. Instead of planning ahead and working to move the county in a specific direction, they’re content to just drift along and let the current take the county where it will. This is no way to govern and it’s hurting the county the longer it goes on.

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Special treatment for Burrows

The current commissioners are fond of stating their political beliefs hold that a person should take personal responsibility for their actions and not receive special treatment from the government. That’s their belief anyway unless they are the people that want special treatment.

Jeff Burrows recently received some of that special treatment from his fellow Republican commissioners.

Several years ago, Burrows was appointed to fill the vacated seat of Matt Kanenwisher. At the time, Burrows elected to not join the state pension plan. The problem he’s stuck with now however is that once you decline it, you don’t get another chance to get in later. He made a choice, knowing that you only get one opportunity, and, according to his political philosophy, should accept the consequences. He’d just have to set up his own, private, retirement account separate from the county’s plan.

That’s not how it played out though. First, Burrows asked all of the county’s legislators to go to the Legislature and change the rules, thus allowing him to get in on that pension plan. When that didn’t work, he got his commissioner buddies to set up a way for him to get in  on a county-sponsored retirement plan just for him! While he did recuse himself from the vote, there really wasn’t a need as all four of his buddies voted to do him this favor.

This act shows how little Burrows really believes in his political philosophy. He’s just in it to get what he can for himself. His $60k-plus salary plus full benefits isn’t enough, he’s got to have as much as he can. He wasn’t interested in taking responsibility for his mistakes. He was interested in getting as much out of the taxpayers as he can.

This is the problem with a homogenous board of commissioners. They quietly slip this one through when no one is looking and help their buddy take more money from the people, knowing they’ll get the same treatment when they need it later.

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