Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

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.


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!


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.


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.


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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Let’s see, the Bitterroot Valley is home to some pretty sad broadband internet. Speeds are slow and the footprint for service availability is small. That leaves many in the valley with the only option of paying for wireless service which is expensive and comes with data caps limiting the amount residents can use the internet before paying overage fees.

You would think that improving access to broadband internet in the Bitterroot would be a top priority for our legislators. Increasing access would give local businesses a tool to better compete in the world market. It would allow residents to work remotely for companies spread around the country and the world. It would allow students to take classes online and pursue college degrees.

Improving broadband internet just makes sense.

Unless you’re a Republican legislator apparently. Today, in the House Appropriations committee, our own Bitterroot legislators Nancy Ballance and Ron Ehli voted to table HB14. Tabling the bill effectively kills it at this point in the 2015 Legislature. That means we’re looking at another two years at least without giving Century Link or Charter motivation to improve service in Ravalli County.

I’ve spoken with Century Link over the past year about when we can expect increased speeds in the Bitterroot. The usual answer is they have plans but no timeline. Had this bill passed, it’s likely it would have spurred network upgrades at the least, if not expansion of services in the valley. Without the bill, we’ll undoubtedly continue to wait for internet speeds to improve. Internet is important in today’s economy. It touches everyone. Everyone except the people who could have made a difference.

When you have trouble watching Netflix or any other streaming video service, it’s Ballance and Ehli you can now thank.



Who do they represent?

The more we watch the Legislature, the more you have to ask yourself, who do Bitterroot Valley legislators represent? It’s not the people in the Bitterroot. Not most of them anyway.

They continue to vote down expansion of Medicaid despite living in a county with nearly 22% of people not having insurance. When you look at the high number of retired people in Ravalli County covered by Medicare, you have to figure that a large portion of our workforce is currently uninsured. That means charity care at our local hospital is high…. which it is. So high in fact that the hospital board of directors passed a resolution in support of Medicaid expansion noting it would help their finances. Since the hospital is the largest employer in the county, you’d think they’d be a bit more open-minded about expanding Medicaid… but nope.

In floor debate yesterday, Democrats attempted many, many times to add amendments to the GOP’s budget bill, HB2. None of them passed. Almost all of them were voted down along strict party lines. You can’t tell me that not a single one of them were worth supporting. They voted down everything from early education to properly funding the office of the public defender. If you’re poor, you’re getting no love from the Legislature this time around.

And in Ravalli County, odds are you’re poor. We have an unemployment rate nearly twice the state average. (I’ll discuss this further in another post.) That means we’ve got a lot of people out of work. It doesn’t take much to realize that we’ve also got a lot of people underemployed as well.

The Republican budget as it stands right now guts services to poor people in an effort to extend tax breaks to businesses and rich people. And then there’s the fact that the governor has said he’ll veto it unless it’s changed.

So who are they representing? Are they doing what’s best for the people of the Bitterroot? I don’t see how they can claim that they are.


Bitterroot legislators hurt the poor

Last week in the Legislature, the governor’s Medicaid Expansion bill finally got its hearing. As you may have read, the committee voted to tag it with a “Do Not Pass” label on a party-line vote. That meant that for the House to overturn the committee’s action, it would need 60 votes on the House floor. A near impossibility.

It’s possible a majority of legislators in the House would have voted for Medicaid expansion. All the Democrats and a few responsible Republicans likely could have passed the bill had it received a fair hearing. Instead, the committee’s actions required a super majority which can be difficult to muster on such a contentious bill.

When the issue came before the full House, of course the entire Bitterroot contingent of legislators voted against it. Ballance, Ehli, Greef and Manzella all cast their votes against Medicaid expansion despite multiple Bitterroot Valley residents testifying during the committee hearing. (Part of 6 hours of testimony)

In addition to the residents who spoke, Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital came out in support of Medicaid expansion noting it would help decrease the amount of charity care they have to write off every year and allow them to be more financially solvent. This is the biggest employer in the county saying they would be better off with Medicaid expansion. And still these legislators chose to vote with Americans For Prosperity (funded by the Koch brothers) to reject Medicaid expansion.

It’s a shame these lawmakers don’t understand how continuing to leave people in the gap is hurting this community. People can’t afford healthcare, which means they can’t work, and can’t contribute to our economy or climb out of poverty. These four legislators are not serving those they represent. They’re serving out of state interests with votes like this.


Ballance working against herd immunity

As if Nancy Ballance couldn’t get weirder… Now she expresses her opposition to required immunizations for kids attending public schools.

House bill 158 would add the chicken pox vaccine to the list of required immunizations for attending public schools. Some House Republicans, including Ballance, were looking to include a “personal belief” exemption in addition to the already included medical and religious belief exemptions. In other words, if you’re one of the anti-vaxxers that refuse to immunize their children, you could get an exemption.

Ballance must have a short memory. It was just a few years ago that Pinesdale and Corvallis schools were hit hard by a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak due in large part to unimmunized students.

It only makes sense that if you expect to send your kids to a public school, you should be required to immunize them to protect other kids from preventable diseases. If you’re going to ignore science and leave your kid vulnerable, you can stay home and school your child yourself. The schools have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their students. That includes diseases we have created vaccines for.

Ballance continues her reign of nutty with this one. Who exactly is she working for?


Black helicopters in the Bitterroot

If you didn’t know better, you would think the U.N. was a daily presence in the Bitterroot Valley. Flying their black helicopters around and telling everyone what they can and can’t do with their land.

At the Legislature this week, a bill (HB 583) banning the implementation of Agenda 21 made it’s way out of the judiciary committee and onto the House floor. 

Agenda 21 is a favorite of the conspiracy theorists. Their claims have nothing to do with the truth but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to harp on it. 

Agenda 21 is a set of guidelines put out by the United Nations, aimed at third world countries, that help them (and anyone really) to develop communities and cities in a sustainable way. It’s not a law. It’s not a treaty. It’s not a goal. It’s helpful advice for governments looking to develop sustainable communities within their borders. 

It’s helpful advice. Nothing more! Any government in the world is free to adopt whatever aspects of it they want. They’re also free to not follow the guidelines. There’s no enforcement mechanism. No penalties for not following the guidelines. 

None of that seems to sink in with the Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists however. They all insist the U.N. is out to take their property, their guns and whatever else they hold dear.

So they put a bill forth in the Legislature to ban its implementation in Montana. It also banned any state money going to NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations – Nonprofits) that would be implementing any aspect of Agenda 21. In other words, any group working toward sustainable communities would have been ineligible for state funding in any way. 

The four Bitterroot Valley Legislators – Nancy Ballance, Ron Ehli, Ed Greef and Theresa Manzella – all voted in favor of the legislation. They played to their fringe constituency and made a mockery of good governance. They gave credence to the lies and dishonesty of those pushing this conspiracy theory. It’s poor reserach and poor understanding of reality. It’s willful ignorance.

That’s all I’ve got time for… I have an indoctrination meeting to go to.