Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

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Let’s see, the Bitterroot Valley is home to some pretty sad broadband internet. Speeds are slow and the footprint for service availability is small. That leaves many in the valley with the only option of paying for wireless service which is expensive and comes with data caps limiting the amount residents can use the internet before paying overage fees.

You would think that improving access to broadband internet in the Bitterroot would be a top priority for our legislators. Increasing access would give local businesses a tool to better compete in the world market. It would allow residents to work remotely for companies spread around the country and the world. It would allow students to take classes online and pursue college degrees.

Improving broadband internet just makes sense.

Unless you’re a Republican legislator apparently. Today, in the House Appropriations committee, our own Bitterroot legislators Nancy Ballance and Ron Ehli voted to table HB14. Tabling the bill effectively kills it at this point in the 2015 Legislature. That means we’re looking at another two years at least without giving Century Link or Charter motivation to improve service in Ravalli County.

I’ve spoken with Century Link over the past year about when we can expect increased speeds in the Bitterroot. The usual answer is they have plans but no timeline. Had this bill passed, it’s likely it would have spurred network upgrades at the least, if not expansion of services in the valley. Without the bill, we’ll undoubtedly continue to wait for internet speeds to improve. Internet is important in today’s economy. It touches everyone. Everyone except the people who could have made a difference.

When you have trouble watching Netflix or any other streaming video service, it’s Ballance and Ehli you can now thank.

 

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You’re not getting what you pay for

Anyone taken a look at the Ravalli County Commissioners’ calendar lately? It won’t take you long to read it if you haven’t. We’re seeing an awful lot of “Office Management.”

For those that don’t know what that means… It’s commissioner code for, “We’re not doing anything so we probably won’t bother to come in.”

For this astounding amount of hard work, you, the taxpayer, are paying them more than $60,000/year plus full benefits.

If they truly have so little to do that they only need to schedule meetings one day a week, (or maybe 2) perhaps they should be helping out in other departments around the county.

Maybe they could go downstairs and help the motor vehicles department during busy hours so the line moves a little faster.

Maybe they could head over to the road department and help out there. They’ve already made a big deal about how they’re short on funds thanks to SRS funding cuts. I’m sure the road crews would love to see the commissioners out working to help make things better instead of sitting at home collecting their paychecks. They could be out driving plows to help clear the roads during a snow storm. They could be out patching the holes in the roads that were ignored over the summer while the commission sat by not letting the department head hire workers back.

Or maybe they could actually do the work they were elected to do. They could be working on policy to attract new business growth. They could be working to make things better in our county.

Instead we’re getting none of that. We get “office management.” We get an absentee county commission that complains about an intrusive federal government and its overspending then turns around and complains about not getting enough federal money. We get a group of commissioners content to not do anything while collecting their fat paychecks.

You get what you vote for which is why right now, you’re not getting what you pay for.

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Who do they represent?

The more we watch the Legislature, the more you have to ask yourself, who do Bitterroot Valley legislators represent? It’s not the people in the Bitterroot. Not most of them anyway.

They continue to vote down expansion of Medicaid despite living in a county with nearly 22% of people not having insurance. When you look at the high number of retired people in Ravalli County covered by Medicare, you have to figure that a large portion of our workforce is currently uninsured. That means charity care at our local hospital is high…. which it is. So high in fact that the hospital board of directors passed a resolution in support of Medicaid expansion noting it would help their finances. Since the hospital is the largest employer in the county, you’d think they’d be a bit more open-minded about expanding Medicaid… but nope.

In floor debate yesterday, Democrats attempted many, many times to add amendments to the GOP’s budget bill, HB2. None of them passed. Almost all of them were voted down along strict party lines. You can’t tell me that not a single one of them were worth supporting. They voted down everything from early education to properly funding the office of the public defender. If you’re poor, you’re getting no love from the Legislature this time around.

And in Ravalli County, odds are you’re poor. We have an unemployment rate nearly twice the state average. (I’ll discuss this further in another post.) That means we’ve got a lot of people out of work. It doesn’t take much to realize that we’ve also got a lot of people underemployed as well.

The Republican budget as it stands right now guts services to poor people in an effort to extend tax breaks to businesses and rich people. And then there’s the fact that the governor has said he’ll veto it unless it’s changed.

So who are they representing? Are they doing what’s best for the people of the Bitterroot? I don’t see how they can claim that they are.

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Bitterroot legislators hurt the poor

Last week in the Legislature, the governor’s Medicaid Expansion bill finally got its hearing. As you may have read, the committee voted to tag it with a “Do Not Pass” label on a party-line vote. That meant that for the House to overturn the committee’s action, it would need 60 votes on the House floor. A near impossibility.

It’s possible a majority of legislators in the House would have voted for Medicaid expansion. All the Democrats and a few responsible Republicans likely could have passed the bill had it received a fair hearing. Instead, the committee’s actions required a super majority which can be difficult to muster on such a contentious bill.

When the issue came before the full House, of course the entire Bitterroot contingent of legislators voted against it. Ballance, Ehli, Greef and Manzella all cast their votes against Medicaid expansion despite multiple Bitterroot Valley residents testifying during the committee hearing. (Part of 6 hours of testimony)

In addition to the residents who spoke, Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital came out in support of Medicaid expansion noting it would help decrease the amount of charity care they have to write off every year and allow them to be more financially solvent. This is the biggest employer in the county saying they would be better off with Medicaid expansion. And still these legislators chose to vote with Americans For Prosperity (funded by the Koch brothers) to reject Medicaid expansion.

It’s a shame these lawmakers don’t understand how continuing to leave people in the gap is hurting this community. People can’t afford healthcare, which means they can’t work, and can’t contribute to our economy or climb out of poverty. These four legislators are not serving those they represent. They’re serving out of state interests with votes like this.

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Ballance working against herd immunity

As if Nancy Ballance couldn’t get weirder… Now she expresses her opposition to required immunizations for kids attending public schools.

House bill 158 would add the chicken pox vaccine to the list of required immunizations for attending public schools. Some House Republicans, including Ballance, were looking to include a “personal belief” exemption in addition to the already included medical and religious belief exemptions. In other words, if you’re one of the anti-vaxxers that refuse to immunize their children, you could get an exemption.

Ballance must have a short memory. It was just a few years ago that Pinesdale and Corvallis schools were hit hard by a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak due in large part to unimmunized students.

It only makes sense that if you expect to send your kids to a public school, you should be required to immunize them to protect other kids from preventable diseases. If you’re going to ignore science and leave your kid vulnerable, you can stay home and school your child yourself. The schools have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their students. That includes diseases we have created vaccines for.

Ballance continues her reign of nutty with this one. Who exactly is she working for?

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At large voting keeps minority voices down

Interesting article on ThinkProgress.com today. You can read it HERE. The article covers the history of “At Large” voting systems. It’s relevant because Ravalli County uses an “At Large” voting system to elect county commissioners. This is one way the GOP has been able to ensure they will control the county commission.

Ravalli County is about 60% Republican. In an ideal world, that means our five-member commission would be made up of 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. That would be representative of our county’s demographics. In practice however, the districts are drawn in such a way that a more likely outcome would be 4 Republicans and 1 Democrat. The Hamilton district (District 4) leans pretty solidly to the left. If Ravalli County used a “by district” voting system, a Democrat would almost definitely be sitting on the county commission. The Stevensville district (District 2) would be a toss-up as it historically has been a pretty politically balanced community.

Instead, we have an all GOP commission because the Republican party realizes it can ignore the Hamilton district and still win the seat simply by counting on the rest of the county.

The current commissioners will tell you it’s better this way because it allows them to focus on the county as a whole instead of having to fight for their district so they can get re-elected. The part they don’t tell you however is that it also means they can ignore a district because they know it won’t affect their ability to get re-elected. That’s exactly what happened when two groups of Hamilton area residents petitioned the commission to have their roads repaired. The commission blew them off and ignored them.

Now we see that this is a tactic that has long been used to suppress minority voices. Now granted, the article talks about minority groups like Latinos and African Americans, but I think we can see the same ideology in today’s Republican Party in Ravalli County.

We need to end this “At Large” voting system now. It doesn’t allow true representation for the people of this county.

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Black helicopters in the Bitterroot

If you didn’t know better, you would think the U.N. was a daily presence in the Bitterroot Valley. Flying their black helicopters around and telling everyone what they can and can’t do with their land.

At the Legislature this week, a bill (HB 583) banning the implementation of Agenda 21 made it’s way out of the judiciary committee and onto the House floor. 

Agenda 21 is a favorite of the conspiracy theorists. Their claims have nothing to do with the truth but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to harp on it. 

Agenda 21 is a set of guidelines put out by the United Nations, aimed at third world countries, that help them (and anyone really) to develop communities and cities in a sustainable way. It’s not a law. It’s not a treaty. It’s not a goal. It’s helpful advice for governments looking to develop sustainable communities within their borders. 

It’s helpful advice. Nothing more! Any government in the world is free to adopt whatever aspects of it they want. They’re also free to not follow the guidelines. There’s no enforcement mechanism. No penalties for not following the guidelines. 

None of that seems to sink in with the Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists however. They all insist the U.N. is out to take their property, their guns and whatever else they hold dear.

So they put a bill forth in the Legislature to ban its implementation in Montana. It also banned any state money going to NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations – Nonprofits) that would be implementing any aspect of Agenda 21. In other words, any group working toward sustainable communities would have been ineligible for state funding in any way. 

The four Bitterroot Valley Legislators – Nancy Ballance, Ron Ehli, Ed Greef and Theresa Manzella – all voted in favor of the legislation. They played to their fringe constituency and made a mockery of good governance. They gave credence to the lies and dishonesty of those pushing this conspiracy theory. It’s poor reserach and poor understanding of reality. It’s willful ignorance.

That’s all I’ve got time for… I have an indoctrination meeting to go to.

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What???

Bitterroot legislator Theresa Manzella has said some really strange things in her tenure in government. But when she stood up in the legislature to support her HB 179, she launched into a new level of wackiness. The bill seeks to prevent Humane Society workers from participating in animal seizures due to abuse or neglect.

Now, animal shelter workers already are not the ones making these decisions. They can alert law enforcement to a situation but it ultimately rests with law enforcement and the courts to decide whether to seize animals for their safety. At that point, the shelter may step in to pick up and care for the animals, but only after the courts have decided the animals need to be taken. So this bill really is senseless and a waste of time… meaning it will probably pass the House because, why not? They did just pass an admittedly unconstitutional bill from Bitterroot legislator Nancy Ballance after all…

But the truly crazy thing came from Manzella’s speech about why this bill needs to be passed. In it, she says that animal shelter workers are a terrorist threat. WHAT??? Animal shelter workers are volunteers who do what they do because they love animals, not out of some sense of jihad.

Here’s the quote:

“During the past several years special interest extremism as characterized Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front has emerged as a serious terrorist threat.

The FBI estimates that these organizations have committed at least 600 criminal acts in the United states since 1996.  resulting in damages in excess of $42 million.  Today, those people who have been convicted of their crimes, of the damages in estimation of
$42 million, they work for the Humane Society of the United States.

One in particular, his goal is the total abolition of animal agriculture. I ‘d like you to keep that in mind.”

For Manzella to demean these volunteers and call them terrorists is just shameful and the very worst of political pandering. I hope she thinks about what she says and personally apologizes to the very hard working shelter employees and volunteers in Hamilton. That shelter, the Bitter Root Humane Association, has done great work despite getting no help from the county thanks to Manzella’s political buddies on the county commission. They are hard-working and do some great things for our county. They are not terrorists. They are heroes.

A YouTube clip of the speech is below.

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Sen. Fred Thomas looking to cut food stamp access

There must be something in the water Bitterroot Republican legislators are drinking over there in Helena. They’re all looking to hurt the very people they represent.

Today’s episode of senseless legislation that hurts the poor comes to us from Sen. Fred Thomas. His SB 206 looks to cut access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as food stamps. Thomas claims he’s trying to prevent fraud and abuse, but as his colleagues in the House have proven, there’s not much verified proof that fraud and abuse is a problem in Montana.

The bill would also change the list of foods that are eligible for SNAP and requires users to get a photo ID in order to receive assistance. These are all things that make the program less effective and more difficult to participate in.

The photo ID requirement alone is a tough one in Thomas’ home county. Here in Ravalli County, there is one office for obtaining a government issued Photo ID. That office is in Stevensville. If you live in Darby and don’t have a vehicle, that means taking time out of your day, finding a ride, then spending time sitting in the office waiting your turn to get your ID.

Ravalli County, which is who Thomas is supposed to represent, has an unemployment rate higher than the state average, few jobs, even fewer well-paying jobs, and plenty of citizens needing help to get by each month. Area food banks have seen an increase in demand over the past several years. Now, Thomas appears to be pushing to increase the demand on those food banks by taking away some valuable help Bitterroot Citizens receive from their government.

This is shameful and shows how out of touch Thomas is with those he claims to represent.

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Manzella hates the Constitution too

It would seem that Nancy Ballance isn’t the only Bitterroot Valley legislator that hates the constitution – specifically the supremacy clause. Theresa Manzella is also pushing a bill that would attempt to trump federal policy and rules.

HB465 is supposedly being presented as a way to ensure that Montana residents will continue to be able to heat their home with wood burning. In order to do that, the bill would direct state agencies to not administer any federal regulatory programs that involve a wood-burning device. So in other words, ignore federal laws.

Clearly, Ballance and Manzella don’t understand the supremacy clause in the Constitution. Federal law trumps state law.

The impact here is that not only would the state’s law not matter when push came to shove, but it would put state employees at risk of being charged for breaking federal law.

But the bill doesn’t stop there! It also puts the state employee in a no-win situation by ensuring that they are criminally AND civilly liable for breaking the state law if they follow the federal rule. That means not only can they get in trouble with the state, but they are also open to a lawsuit from the person breaking the federal clean air law for not ignoring federal law.

How crazy is this?

How do you get someone willing to work in this no-win situation? You either uphold federal law and get punished by the state and homeowner, or you ignore federal law and hope the feds don’t charge you for that?

And for what purpose? The make sure we can keep polluting the air with inefficient wood-burning stoves? It’s not like there aren’t federal programs to help property owners switch over to more efficient, less polluting systems.

Why do these Republican legislators insist on pushing unconstitutional bills? One has to wonder…

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