Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

Who will they blame it on now?

Well, the commissioners are in a bind now. For years they’ve been blaming lawsuit losses over subdivisions on the previous group of commissioners. The awful Democrats made such bad decisions that they led to lawsuits against the county.

Now they’ve lost one of their own that the Democrats had nothing to do with. Legacy Ranch, the massive development approved by the commission despite loads of objections, was struck down in the courts recently. The court stated the commission failed in their decision making process in several areas. Basically, they rubber-stamped the development without bothering to look at what kind of an impact it would have on the county and the environment.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that the commissioners approved a development over the span of decades. This was not a development that would be completed in the next few years. This is one that generations of Bitterroot residents would be dealing with. It’s impossible to determine the impact a development will have 20 years from now. Why would you approve it now and be in a position where you can request/demand changes to the plan as the conditions change.

The court also stated the commissioners failed the “hard look” standard in multiple ways but this shouldn’t be a real surprise. The current (and previous) commission has a tendency to not look beyond the first page or two of a report. They don’t seem all that interested in actually learning about what they’re looking at but instead just vote with their gut or how their party expects them to vote.

You get what you vote for and in this case you get a group of commissioners who are more concerned about helping their developer buddies/donors than looking out for the public good. And they can’t blame this lawsuit loss on the Democratic commissioners. This one was all theirs.

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Ready to start paying for the airport expansion?

Over the last few weeks, the Ravalli County commission has been going through their annual budget hearings. Each department comes and presents their budget requests. For the most part the commissioners just sit there and accept whatever they’re told. They’ll ask a few questions but that’s about it.

The airport budget hearing revealed some unsurprising news… at least unsurprising to this writer…

During the discussion, the issue of expansion costs came up. Last year, before the expansion plan was decided upon, a group of anonymous donors claimed they would pay the county’s share of the expansion costs. They would ensure the county had to pay $0 when it came to the expansion.

During the meeting however, the cost of expanding the ramp area of the airport came up. Then the airport manager let the cat out of the bag… the group will only pay for the expansion of the ramp beyond what is already there. That means the resurfacing that will also be required is going to cost the county $215,000. So much for the county not having to pay anything if it agreed to expand the airport.

Had this commission not thrown out the previous plan and simply moved forward with the approved and selected expansion plan, the project would be done and it would have cost the county less than it’s going to cost now. If you think taxes are high and services poor now, wait until the bill comes due for this expansion. This is not conservative governance. This is “take care of your buddies” governance.

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Too late again

Before the last election, the Ravalli County Commissioners discussed putting a move from 5 commissioners to 3 on the November ballot. They spent a couple hours discussing it and listening to public comment before it was helpfully pointed out to them that they didn’t have enough time to complete the process in order to get it on the ballot. Two hours of people’s day was wasted because the commissioners hadn’t looked to see if they could do something before proposing that they do it.

Fast forward 9 months and they still haven’t learned. The Forest Service has released their draft Travel Plan for the Bitterroot National Forest. This impacts what kinds of activities are allowed on the forest and shuts down a number of roads and limits motorized travel in certain areas.

So of course the Commissioners schedule a meeting to discuss filing an objection. Here’s the problem with that though… new Forest Service rules, which were widely reported in local media, only allow people who comment on a proposal to file an objection. Of course the commissioners didn’t comment on the travel plan update while it was being put together, because they don’t pay attention to those things… so when they scheduled this meeting, a Forest Service official kindly informed them that they wouldn’t be allowed to file an objection since they hadn’t commented earlier in the process. Once again, their inaction and reactive posture prevented them from having a seat at the table.

So then they fall back to their controversial and pointless “Natural Resource Policy” claiming that it is their “standing comment” which should give them ground to object to the travel plan. They also claim that since they were never specifically asked for comment, the Forest Service failed at following the rules of “Coordination,” – the crazy Tea Party notion that the Forest Service has to do whatever local government says. Now we see just what people have been telling them for years… Coordination is not a real policy but only one imagined by Tea Party separatists hoping to usurp the federal government.

Aren’t you glad you’re paying for these commissioners to get nothing done?

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Back from a break

After the Legislature ended, I needed a break from politics. Watching the crazy shenanigans carried out by the Bitterroot Valley contingent made my head want to explode. Rather than getting more and more angry, I stepped away to get some perspective and relax a bit.

I’m back now though and there’s plenty to talk about! From Nancy Ballance claiming not funding infrastructure was a good thing to the commissioners being reactive rather than proactive, and it keeping them out of the process one more time. So let’s get back into it!

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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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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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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.

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