Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

It’s almost over

With the 2015 legislative session drawing to a close, the work of our Bitterroot Valley Representatives and Senators is just about over for a little while.

Most bills have run their course and are either headed for the governor’s desk or are dead. The budget hasn’t passed yet but is in a conference committee with the House and Senate wrangling over how little to fund important state services and whether to give state employees the agreed upon raise they negotiated last year.

In the coming week or two we’ll take a look at each legislator and how they voted on some key issues before the Legislature this session. We’ll also look at some of the lesser-known bills they dealt with.

When it came to important issues, the Bitterroot Valley contingent voted nearly identically. Pat Connell was the standout, voting differently than the rest of them. It will still be good to look back at the issues and whether the legislators voted to help those they represent or if they worked against Ravalli County’s interests.

If you have a specific bill you’d like to see discussed, feel free to mention it in the comments.

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Whole lot of nothing

Do you ever sit back and think about what you’re paying for a whole lot of nothing? Because if you’re a taxpayer in Ravalli County, you’re paying a lot for not much.

In this instance, I’m referring to the county commission. Ask yourselves if you can name one thing the commission has done in the past six months. Can you? You might be able to name one, because they did make the news by giving MAPS Media Institute a special day. Other than that though, can you name anything?

Probably not. That’s because the commission really isn’t doing much with their terms.

They’re not working on making Ravalli County more attractive to businesses. They’re not improving roads. They’re not working to fix a diversion dam that has killed a young child and prompts state officials to shut down a portion of the river when water levels get too high.

Given that there aren’t too many subdivisions for them to rubber stamp these days, what exactly is it that they’re doing all day?

If you believe the commissioners’ calendar, they’re busy with “office management.” Of course, anyone familiar with the work of the commission knows that “office management” is code for “we’re not here.”

For all of this not working, you’re paying at least $62,000 per commissioner. That means for five commissioners to do virtually nothing, the taxpayers of Ravalli County are paying more than a quarter of a million dollars.

But hey, you get what you vote for.

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Burrows wants closure

Earlier this week, the Ravalli Republic published a story about Ravalli County commissioners considering hiring a process server to track down Valerie Stamey to serve a lawsuit to collect fines levied against her last year.

In the story, Commission Chair Jeff Burrows said he wanted “closure” on the whole affair.

That’s not surprising considering he was one of the people who appointed Stamey without bothering to look into her background. He didn’t perform a background check on her. He didn’t talk to previous employers. He didn’t ask the Missoula School District why she was terminated from her job. And then, after it became apparent that she was not doing her job, he defended her saying she wasn’t getting the help she needed. It wasn’t until his seat was threatened that he started to back away from her. Of course he denied the appointment was political but everyone knew it was.

Now, a year after deciding to fine her for not doing her job and costing the county $120,000 (so far), he and the other commissioners are finally getting around to discussing whether they should even bother pursuing the lawsuit given the unlikeliness of getting any money out of her.

Maybe if they’d pursued it back when they knew where she was it wouldn’t have been an issue. Now they’re looking at just writing off all that money spent on her and her mistakes.

They’ll couch it in being responsible with county funds but really their delay shows that they are more interested in covering up for their own mistakes than taking care of county taxpayers’ money. If they don’t get the lawsuit served, there is no chance of ever recovering some of the money. Maybe a better alternative would be for the commissioners to take some of those “office management” days (days off) that are increasingly common on their calendar and spend it tracking down Stamey.

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Constitution still not important to Manzella and Ballance

Just when you think things can’t get any weirder…

Wednesday was a big day at the Legislature. The Senate-approved Medicaid Expansion compromise bill (SB405) was tagged with a “Do Not Pass” label in committee on Tuesday. Wednesday, supporters of the bill objected to the designation calling it out of order since the Democrats had already stated the bill was one of their six “silver bullets” they intended to blast to the floor.

This sparked a rather lengthy rules debate in the House. The floor session paused twice for the rules committee to meet and then be overruled by majority vote on the floor. After all of this was done, it appeared that SB405 was set for debate on the floor.

That’s when the crazy happened.

In one last gasp at avoiding having to debate Medicaid Expansion on the floor, a GOP representative made a motion to Adjourn Sine Die. For those unfamiliar with the term, the motion was to adjourn FOR THE SESSION. As in, “we’re done, everyone go home…” That means no other bills would have passed until the next biennium, 2017.

In all, 40 members of the House voted to adjourn for the session. And the Bitterroot’s own Tea Party contingent, Nancy Ballance and Theresa Manzella were part of that 40. Rather than have an honest debate about the expansion of Medicaid in Montana, they voted to take their ball and go home.

The problem with that however is that the state Constitution requires the Legislature to pass a budget before it adjourns. The 2015 Legislature has not passed a budget yet. The House passed their budget but it has already been heavily amended in the Senate, meaning the House will need to do some work on it again when it comes back.

Had the motion to adjourn succeeded, the governor would have been forced to call a special session, costing the taxpayers even more money.

So the next time you hear Ballance or Manzella talk about how important the constitution is, know that they consider it less important than avoiding debate on a bill and playing political games with the healthcare of 70,000 people.

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Local Government Study Commission

The local government study commission has been hosting community meetings over the past few weeks. They have so far been in Corvallis where they reportedly had a low turnout, as well as in Victor and Darby. 

Most people assume that the biggest change they’ll put before the voters is the move from 5 commissioners back to 3. The decade long experiment will likely come to an end as most Bitterrooters appear to prefer a 3-member commission to the current 5-member board.

There are plenty of other options to look at though that could have a substantial impact on county government. 

One option is to make some or even all county elected positions non-partisan. That would effectively elimnate parties in the county and force voters to spend a little more time learning about candidates. At least that would be the goal.

Another option is to look at whether to have commissioner seats voted on by district or continue to vote on them at large. 

The commission can look at these items and many more. They’ll make decisions and put them on the ballot for the voters to decide. The biggest thing the group needs right now is to hear from valley residents what they think is important to look at and put on the ballot.

The next meeting is Tuesday, April 7 in Hamilton at 7 p.m. They’ll be meeting in the County Commissioners Meeting Room at the County Administration Building. This is a community meeting so the public is invited to come and share their thoughts.

This is the best chance to make a real change in county government and hopefully people will participate as much as possible.

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Government inefficiency

The sordid tale of Valerie Stamey just never seems to come to an end. This week the Montana Supreme Court ruled that she could not keep her employment records at MCPS secret and they were released to the public.

Shockingly, they revealed she was terminated for misusing school funds to pay for items for a private catering event and her husband’s concessions business. This should have disqualified her from consideration for county treasurer but when you’ve got buddies in high places I guess it doesn’t matter.

But now, she’s been gone for a while and if it weren’t for media reports about the court ruling, we may have forgotten about her. Apparently the commissioners had.

Suddenly, after the stories in local newspapers appeared, she’s back on the commission’s calendar. This time they’re talking about hiring a process server to serve Stamey with the lawsuit they decided to file against her OVER A YEAR AGO. 

For a party that rants and raves about government inefficiency, it sure doesn’t work efficiently when it comes to dealing with this black mark on the county. Their lack of efficency already cost the county. When Stamey’s house was forceclosed on, the lack of action by the commission meant the county lost out on any funds that would come from the eventual sale of that property. 

Now Stamey has had a year or more to hide and the odds of getting the lawsuit served are poor. Had they simply served her when she was still collecting her paychecks from the county, perhaps the county could have gotten some of the money back that she cost it. Instead, the lack of effort by the previous commission and the current one has ensured that we’ll just be out the hundreds of thousands of dollars she’s cost.

And in case you were wondering, this isn’t the first time this topic has been on the commission’s calendar. They discussed this a year or so ago as well. Apparently no action ever came of that and they’re going to talk about it again. Government inefficiency at its finest. The next time one of these commissioners talks about how inefficient governments are, know that they speak from experience. They’ve done everything they can to make sure this drags out as long as possible.

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Oh Manzella, you’re not being discriminated against

It’s taken a few days to get my thoughts together after my head exploded hearing Rep. Theresa Manzella speak in favor of House Bill 615 which is the Montana GOP’s version of RFRA. The same bill that was passed in Indiana that has led to several large companies declaring their boycott of the state. It means millions in lost revenue as businesses cancel plans to hold events in the state. It’s been a black eye for Indiana and would have had a similar impact here.

In supporting the bill on the House floor, Manzella said that she’s been discriminated against as a Christian.

Based on her comments, the extent of her discrimination was someone calling her a “Jesus freak.” She didn’t point to times she’s been refused service for her beliefs. She was presumably allowed to marry the person of her choice despite her beliefs. She probably even had a cake at her wedding. She offered no examples of how she’s been discriminated against because of her religion.

Presumably she is referring to the idea that if she operated a businesses, she would be expected to serve people with beliefs different than her own. Of course I’m sure she would also deny services to divorced people, obese people, atheists, and those wearing mixed material clothing. (All things against Biblical law)

The fact is, Manzella doesn’t know what discrimination is. She’s likely never been treated the way the MT GOP has been treating the LGBT community. She’s likely never faced the fear of being assaulted (verbally or physically) just for being who she is. She’s living in her own bubble in the Bitterroot and needs a reality check. She should go sit with some of the LGBT members of the Legislature and get to know them and what they go through. Or pick up a dictionary and look up discrimination.

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