Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

At large voting keeps minority voices down

Interesting article on 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.


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.



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.


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.


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…


Ballance is at it again

Rep. Nancy Ballance is at it again, pushing an unconstitutional bill at the legislature. This time, it’s HB 348 which would authorize an interstate compact on healthcare. This is a Bill written by ALEC and pushed in a number of red states around the country.

The basic premise of the bill is that if approved, and if Congress approves, that the state could override any federal healthcare program. In other words, if we all agree to put aside the supremacy clause, then the state could do whatever it wants with federal healthcare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, etc.

So basically, as the bill stands, it’s unconstitutional because it tries to usurp the supremacy clause of the Constitution.

There’s no way this bill would ever get passed the governor, nor would it stand up in court. Nor would Congress ever agree to hand over those programs back to the states.

Supporters in the Legislature state they would never leave folks on Medicare or Medicaid unprotected. If that’s true, why is the language in the bill there allowing the state to end those programs?

It should also be noted that every single Bitterroot Valley legislator voted to approve this bill. This is AFTER Ballance herself stated the bill is unconstitutional. For a group of representatives who claim to be all about the constitution, it’s amazing they would all sit there and vote for something admittedly unconstitutional.

Hypocrisy at it’s finest. You get what you vote for though right?


Ballance’s unconstitutional bill

The legal note about Nancy Ballance’s “Sheriffs-First” bill in the House has been posted. Unsurprisingly, it’s deemed unconstitutional. You can read the legal analysis HERE.

As stated in a recent Ravalli Republic editorial, Ballance’s bill is political grandstanding with no hope of either passage or success in the courts. This bill has failed in each of the past two legislative sessions but it’s author, Gary Marbut, just won’t let it drop.

It’s sad the Legislature continues to waste time on this bill that has no hope of getting past Governor Bullock’s desk and even less chance of getting past the legal challenge that would surely arise. Especially considering virtually no sheriff or county attorney wants this bill passed.

You get what you vote for and this is an instance where the voters are throwing away good money to pay for a legislator wasting everyone’s time and resources.


Road woes

It didn’t take long for the new commission to start offering excuses as to why the county roads are in such poor condition. And their excuse gives them an ongoing out for why they don’t address the under-staffing at the road department.

SRS funding has not been continued by Congress (gotta cut that federal government spending after all) so that leaves the county about $725,000 short in the budget.

A few things about this situation…

1) Last summer, then-Senator Walsh’s staff came to meet with the commission. They discussed Walsh’s desire to pass legislation making that funding permanent. The commission didn’t express any support for this move, nor did they offer to write a letter showing the importance of passing this legislation for the county.

2) When then Representative Daines’ staff came through, they didn’t mention this funding at all in issues they were concerned about. They could have asked Daines’ staff to express their desire to have him sponsor similar legislation in the U.S. House which would have helped get the funding re-approved. Instead they did nothing.

3) They’ve known this funding problem was coming. So did they do everything they could to get the roads in great shape before the winter conditions hit? No they didn’t. They left the Road Department horribly understaffed throughout the summer. So during the best time to build and repair roads, virtually nothing got done because there just weren’t enough people to do the work. They didn’t start hiring additional crew until September – missing most of the road work season.

4) Will this new funding shortfall result in more layoffs in the Road Department? That was the excuse they used last time to lay off crew members. It’s no secret the commissioners are not fans of the road workers union. This may be how they finally break the union and contract out the work to private companies.

5) Expect your taxes to go up. It seems to be the way this commission handles all their problems. Settle a lawsuit? Raise taxes… Feds cut spending like we advocated? Raise taxes… Whether they finally hire the right number of workers for the Road Department or contract the work out, they’ll likely raise taxes to fund it. This from a Republican commission.

Roads are the number 1 issue for the county commission. Or they should be. But this cut to SRS funding is how they’ll excuse their lack of efforts in improving the county’s valuable infrastructure.


The tale of Valerie Stamey continues

If you didn’t see the county commissioners’ calendar early in the week or last week when it was initially released, you would have missed something. The commissioners are going to discuss the notion of taking action against disgraced treasurer Valerie Stamey.

A year ago, they suspended her for taking the county and several county entities to the brink of bankruptcy. It then took them about six months before they decided to stop paying her. At the same time they started discussing whether they should file a lawsuit to recoup some of the costs to the county.

In their delay between deciding to sue her and actually filing the lawsuit, Stamey split. That meant she was never served with the lawsuit. That meant that when her house was repossessed, the county didn’t get any of the proceeds because they took to long to file their lawsuit.

Now, a year after first suspending her, and nearly six months after deciding to file a lawsuit, the commission is finally getting around to discussing hiring a process server to track Stamey down and serve her with their lawsuit. Why wasn’t this discussion held months ago?

Whatever Stamey’s name is now, she should have been served months ago, when we still knew where she was… like when she was collecting her paycheck in the parking lot of the county building. Instead, we get to spend even MORE money to hire someone to track her down.

This is the ultimate illustration in bad governing. You get what you vote for folks.


Nancy Ballance and Sheriff’s First

Just when you thought the Legislature was settling in for a little bit of normalcy, Nancy Ballance rides to the rescue. Coming up later this week, Ballance’s Sheriff’s First bill will be discussed by the Judiciary Committee.

This bill puts the county sheriff above all other law enforcement officials – specifically, federal agents. It requires federal agents to receive express, written permission from the county sheriff before carrying out any searches, arrests or any other action within the county.

This has come up in the Legislature before and each time it’s failed. But this is one of those key issues to some of our wackier legislators. Ballance is obviously taking her cue from the former Celebrating Conservatism movement here in Ravalli County. Several years ago they circulated a petition seeking local government officials to sign on to this kind of crazy. Fortunately, most of them, including Sheriff Hoffman, refused to sign.

Undaunted, Ballance has taken the issue to the Legislature, apparently hoping to force it upon local law enforcement since they ignored it the first time around.

When there are so many important issues facing our state, it’s sad we have to waste time and money at the legislature to deal with this kind of ideology. The bill is pretty clearly unconstitutional and would be struck down by the courts. And that’s only if it would get past Gov. Bullock, which it almost certainly wouldn’t.

But hey, this is what folks voted for. I hope they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth!