Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

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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Commissioners looking for way to reinstate Legacy Ranch

As should probably have been expected, the Ravalli County Commissioners this week met to discuss appeal options after their approval of the massive Legacy Ranch subdivision was struck down in court.

Their own lawyer told them their odds of winning an appeal were pretty slim though. That kind of shows you how thorough the failure on their part was when it comes to the review of this subdivision that faced almost universal objection from the community.

Commissioner Iman said they tried to do a real thorough review of the application and just couldn’t understand why they ended up losing the lawsuit anyway. Could it be that their review wasn’t nearly as thorough as they thought? Or maybe it’s that their definition of thorough doesn’t match up with what most people consider thorough? That wouldn’t be surprising given this commission’s aversion to actually reading through the materials or doing any work outside of the office… or really, in the office.

Commissioner Burrows gave the most telling statement of all…

“I think we’re waiting to see if the developer will appeal,” Burrows said. “They are the biggest player in this.”

Really? The developer is the biggest player in this? Shouldn’t the public, the people you serve, be the biggest player in this? The people that live in the community are the ones that stand to gain or lose the most from this development. It is their community that will be impacted by the addition of 600 new homes over the next few decades.

It’s this kind of attitude, of serving the developer instead of the community, that is the biggest problem with our commission. They serve those with money at the expense of everyone else. Had they been more interested in making sure the Bitterroot Valley remained the great place that it is, maybe they would have given the application a more comprehensive review.

So when the commissioners complain about losing yet another lawsuit, remember who it is they’re fighting for. They’re not fighting for the people, they’re fighting for the developer. The public overwhelmingly rejected this proposed development but the commission unanimously approved it. In this case, the people won but that doesn’t mean the commissioners won’t keep fighting to take that victory away.

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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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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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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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