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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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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Study commission interviews commissioners

The local government study commission isn’t wasting time. They’ve set a goal for the June 2016 primary to have their proposals before voters so any changes made to our form of local government would go into effect for the 2016 general election in November.

As they get underway, they took the day to interview the current county commissioners about their thoughts on county government. After watching the interviews, here are a few thoughts.

1. They all claim there was support during the election season for keeping the commission at 5. Not surprising though I’d love to know where they got that. Letters to the editor in both newspapers as well as general conversations seem to indicate the only people in favor of that are the commissioners.

2. Jeff Burrows finally admitted the appointment of Valerie Stamey as treasurer was a political move. When asked if some positions should be appointed rather than elected, he claimed he wouldn’t want to appoint a treasurer. (Oh the irony…) He then said that as much as people may say it doesn’t happen, those decisions always become political. Too bad he couldn’t be honest about it during the election.

3. All five want commissioners to be elected at large instead of by their district. Of course they do. They claim it allows them to focus on the whole county instead of just their district, but the real reason is that they know they’d likely lose one seat at least if it was limited to the district. For example, Burrows lost his district in the last election but was saved by being voted on at large. Voting by district would allow candidates to get to know their constituents better. It also allows for more accurate representation.

Curiously, Ravalli County election rules still state that a candidate must live in the district they represent. If you represent a district but don’t have to be elected by that district, why does it matter where you live? Clearly the commissioners are trying to game the system to ensure their party stays in power.

The study commission will be holding more meetings with other county officials in the future and will eventually hold meetings around the valley. It will be interesting to see what they come up with in terms of proposals and how those are presented on the ballot.

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Open vs. closed primaries

I’m not sure what the Ravalli County Central Committee’s ultimate goal is with their lawsuit to close primaries. They say they want to make sure that only Republicans vote in their primary so their candidates are only selected by those in their party.

I’m not sure of 2 things.

First, how is that protecting freedom of association as they claim? They’re limiting who can associate with their party or their candidates. What they’re really looking to do is freely discriminate against those who hold views different than their own. And since the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee is ruled by hard-line right wingers, it’s safe to say they want to make sure no reasonable Republicans get through the primary.

Second, do they think this will change anything in Ravalli County? The Democratic Party in the county is small and rarely has a contested primary. In the most recent election, not one race had more than one candidate. What’s to stop Democrats in Ravalli County from registering Republican, voting in the primary, then voting for the Democratic candidate¬†in the general election? Since ballots are secret, there’s no way they would know who wasn’t the “real” Republican voting in their primary.

This lawsuit from the central committee is a waste of time and taxpayer money. And the fact that they included Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg is disgusting. She saved their disgraced commissioners when she cleaned up the treasurer’s office and they thank her by including her in the lawsuit.

I hope this lawsuit fails. Not that it will change much in Ravalli County even if it succeeds.

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