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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Revisionist history

Nancy Ballance, along with her Tea Party compatriots (aka obstructionists) Art Wittich and Carl Glimm sent out a letter to Montana newspapers claiming to tell the “truth” about the failed infrastructure bill at the Legislature.

You’ll remember that SB 416 was the final, major infrastructure bill to be heard in the House. It had passed the Senate with an overwhelming 47-3 vote. Then it hit the Tea Party central House where it needed 67 votes to pass. On the initial “second reading” it collected the needed 67 votes,  including a vote from Ballance. Then, before the third reading could happen, somebody got ahold of Ballance and reminded her that she’s an obstructionist. Of course none of the other Ravalli County legislators voted for it either. It’s not like Ravalli County roads are in great condition… or none of the towns need funding for water proects…

Now Ballance is saying the failure of the bill was all because of the Governor and his party. This is just blatantly false.

Her initial complaints are about how the bill was presented as an “all or nothing” proposal. This is just foolish. The governor’s bill was HB5, which the House split into several different bills. This bill (SB 416) was a compromise bill from the start, sponsored by a Republican (not a Democrat). It changed the funding mechanism from 100% bonding to a mix of cash and bonding. This was a smart, balanced approach.

Claiming that Republicans passed all the critical funding projects is just not true. If all the critical/high priority projects were funded, there never would have been a need for SB 416. And yet, a Senate Republican realized that these infrastructure projects were good for the state and badly needed in many communities. It’s a shame Ballance couldn’t see how badly those funds are needed at home. The Ravalli County Road Department is woefully underfunded and understaffed and with the threats to SRS and PILT funding, constantly worried about being able to afford projects in need. There are plenty of projects throughout the county that would have been eligible for funding had SB416 passed, but now they’ll have to wait at least 2 more years.

Then she goes on to say:

1. We wanted a prioritized list of projects representing additional critical needs only; 2. We wanted to fund local school maintenance needs across Montana that were eliminated; and 3. We wanted the governor to use the available cash to pay for it and not borrow when cash was available.

Here’s where she’s trying to rewrite history. Never were these concerns addressed on the floor. I listened to all of the debate on SB 416 and the Tea Party obstructionists never said one word about wanting to fund school maintenance projects. If that was so important to them, why was there not a separate bill just for that? Since they broke out the original infrastructure bill into a bunch of smaller bills, why not create one just for school maintenance? Their lack of action proves Ballance and her buddies are not being honest here.

Ballance claims that there was no willingness to compromise from the Dems on this bill, then goes on to argue that it was right for them to block the bill because Dems wouldn’t fund it 100% the way they wanted. The Governor’s original bill was 100% bonding. This bill was a compromise to mix bonding with cash. So they’d already compromised! You can’t criticize a group for not compromising when you’re not willing to compromise yourself.

Ballance and her comrades know they’ve hurt their constituents by foolishly blocking a good infrastructure bill that would have been really good for their communities. Now they’re trying to rewrite history more than a month after the legislature. Don’t let them.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

At large voting keeps minority voices down

Interesting article on ThinkProgress.com 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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail