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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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, ┬áincluding 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.

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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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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.

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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┬áin 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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