Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

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!


Connell’s bill fails – thankfully

Hamilton State Senator Pat Connell’s bill to create a restricted driver’s license for people who had lost them in other states failed in the Legislature upon second reading. This is a good thing.

The bill would have allowed the state to issue a restricted driver’s license to people who had lost their license in another state due to driving drunk. Connell says this was because he wanted to give people a second chance.

Here’s the thing though, nobody loses their license after just one offense. People lose their license after multiple convictions of driving under the influence. We don’t need to be giving these people second chances because they’ve already gotten them.

Connell’s bill would have required the person to keep a clean record for five years before getting this restricted license. I wonder what it takes to get your driver’s license suspended/revoked for more than five years. Whatever the offense, I don’t want those people back on the road. Montana’s roads are dangerous enough (some of the most dangerous in the country) without people with a willful disregard for driving laws being allowed back on them.

Thankfully, the bill failed on second reading. Hopefully that will be the end of it though Connell has said he’ll try to revive it.


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.


We don’t need no stinking proof!

As may have been expected, criticism of the state’s safety net programs seemed to be a political maneuver aimed to justifying a refusal to expand Medicaid in Montana.

The panel featured three witnesses testifying before two house subcommittees. One chaired by Art Wittich, the other by Hamilton’s own Ron Ehli. Throughout the meetings, the panel offered anecdotes they had heard around the office about possible fraud within the system.

When pressed however, they offered no proof of any kind. No case numbers. No dates. Nothing. When asked if any of those cases had been referred to the fraud investigation unit, their best response was, “We’re sure some of them were.” Again, since they didn’t deal with any of these cases themselves, they couldn’t really answer.

I’ve never seen a group so unprepared for offering testimony. They had no documented examples of fraud within the system. They had no first-hand examples even, just stories they’d been told by coworkers with no information about how the case ended up.

It’s pretty clear this hearing, with the subpoenas and everything, was all an act of political theater. It was held for no other reason to demean the poor as cheaters and unworthy of our support. On MLK Jr. Day no less.

You get what you vote for I guess… it’s just a shame we have to pay for it.


Subpoena first, ask questions later

According to THIS story, Rep. Ron Ehli has proven he’s more interested in getting media attention for his shenanigans than actually doing the right thing.

Ehli and fellow Republican Art Wittich issued subpoenas to state welfare workers because of some conspiracy theory they heard that the governor is telling workers to sign people up for aid (food stamps and such) without looking into whether they qualify or not.

It’s fine to look into these kinds of allegations. That’s certainly their right. But the right way to go about it is to just ask the leaders of the departments to come discuss the allegations first. You don’t subpoena workers without first trying to do things cooperatively. If the leaders of those departments aren’t willing to work with you then you can pursue other options, but to just start off with the most aggressive legal strategy just shows the partisan divide you hold in your mind, and that you’re hoping to attract attention to your actions.

Neither of those two things are admirable qualities for a governmental leader. Be better than that. This is Montana. Neighbors work together. Communities pull together, regardless of political beliefs, to help one another. Show that same spirit of togetherness when you govern. Treat state workers (and indeed, all workers) with the respect they deserve.


Ehli’s mental health plans

Hamilton’s own representative, Ron Ehli, is making news these days with his mental health bill in the Legislature. It stands in contrast to Gov. Bullock’s proposal in that it focuses on local mental health crisis centers instead of state facilities targeted in the governor’s plan.

Ehli’s plan is actually a pretty good one. Local crisis centers can help those with mental illness transition smoothly back into normal society while receiving support from both professionals and their family. Being in the state mental hospital in Warm Springs can keep them away from that important support network. While the state facilities are certainly needed, local centers are just as important. Additionally, they can take some of the strain off of the state-level institutions.

Hopefully the rest of the Bitterroot’s legislators will get on board with Ehli’s plan. Mental health is a big issue in Ravalli County and Montana as a whole. Local crisis centers would be a big step in the right direction to addressing that problem.


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.


Meet the new commission, same as the old commission

The Ravalli County commissioners have certainly wasted no time in enacting the latest piece of their policy plans. Continuing a plan put forth by outgoing commissioners, the new commission followed through with a plan to allow new construction in the floodplain.

You can read about the history of the regulations and some of the testimony HERE.

This overturns a prohibition put in place 18 years ago. That’s right, they’ve eliminated a policy that was put in place nearly two decades ago. The regulation prohibiting construction in the floodplain reflects the unique nature of the Bitterroot River. Unlike many rivers in our state, the Bitterroot River moves around considerably from year to year. A good snow year and a quick melt often leads to flooding and changes in the river’s path.

One has to wonder what the inspiration for this radical change was. There has not been an overwhelming rush of applications for a variance to the previous regulation. There hasn’t been any public request for a change. Were developers asking for this change? Was Terry Nelson, head of the county planning department and himself a developer receiving numerous requests for variances? None of this information was presented at any of the meetings about the change in policy.

The Bitterroot River is an economic engine for Ravalli County. It brings in tourism dollars in a way that few other attractions in the county can. It is now at risk because the commissioners’ short-sighted decision.

What’s even more reflective of this commission however is the fact that the decision was made despite unanimous objection of the public at the meetings. Not a single person voiced support for changing the regulation. Not one argument was voiced supporting the change. The commission sat stoically listening to the public then ignored them and followed through with their plan. It’s hard to call this representative government.



Ravalli County, Montana is a beautiful and unique place to live. Local politics are just as unique. The Bitterroot Valley is well known for it’s blue-ribbon fly fishing and occasionally for it’s crazy politics. In the past few years we’ve had a surge in Tea Party politics and a treasurer who took the county to the edge of bankruptcy. Local politics are decidedly conservative with pockets of progressivism.

Local media is strained due to limited resources and isn’t able to offer true commentary on local politics. This site aims to offer voters in the Bitterroot Valley an opportunity to keep track of what local politicians are up to as well as discuss current events as they relate to local governance.

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