Bill before Montana legislature would make breaking lease a felony

Montana Sen. Roger Webb (R-Billings)

In the last few weeks, the Montana legislature has heard a series of bills designed to strengthen the position of landlords. Roger Webb (R-Billings) introduced Senate Bill 239, which would charge with criminal theft tenants who vacate rental properties before their leases are up, as though they had stolen cash in the amount of the remaining months’ rent. Webb’s Senate Bill 255 would make state courts responsible for collecting judgments against tenants for unpaid rent—a duty which currently falls to the landlords themselves, as in other civil matters. Both of these bills introduce the possibility of going to prison for not paying rent.

Webb’s wife, Rep. Peggy Webb (R-Billings), has introduced her own bill to charge with criminal trespass tenants who do not vacate rental properties at the landlord’s request. Its wording is vague, but it seems to withdraw the longstanding right of renters to remain in their homes until eviction proceedings are resolved. Taken together, these bills give landlords authority comparable to that of state courts.

It may shock you to learn that the Webbs own rental property themselves. During an informal poll of the state house, approximately one quarter of their fellow representatives did, too. Nobody asked how many rent their homes, but one suspects the number is small. The kind of people who become state legislators are more likely to be landlords than tenants. And if you’ve ever talked to a landlord, you know they see tenants as a horde of conscienceless freeloaders bent on exploiting the landowning classes. All this is to say that the legislature has a warped perspective on the landlord/tenant relationship, and it makes sense that they would overestimate the degree to which it is unfair to people like, well, them.

But is this the kind of injustice government should right? The conflict between landlord and tenant is, for the most part, a conflict between people who own multiple homes and people who own none. By definition, society is working pretty well for landlords already. Must we add the force of law to the force of economics? You can read such pinko reasoning in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We won’t be back tomorrow with Friday links, because I’ll be driving all day. Likewise Monday, but Combat! blog will return Tuesday, clothed in righteous fire. Or my truck will explode. Only time will tell.

White House cites satirical column in support of budget

Combat! blog has returned to Missoula, where the weather is suspiciously nice and normalcy resumes. I should warn you that we will only be operational for a short time. On Friday I drive down to Jackson, Wyoming to hang out with Stubble and his girlfriend, and I won’t get back until Tuesday, so this is pretty much the only regular blog post for a week. But how fine it is! Last week, the White House redistributed a column headlined “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why” in support of its proposed budget. The column, by Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, was satire. Petri suspects that they didn’t actually read it but assumed from the headline that it supported their position. In this way, the Trump administration continues to operate as your aunt’s Facebook feed come to life.

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Combat! blog returns to ancestral home, isn’t useful


As you may have gathered, there is no Combat! blog today. I am in Iowa with my wonderful girlfriend, visiting my parents. It’s not scary at all. Every time I think about the natural gravity of such a situation, the gentle constant sound of the wind whispering through the cornfields dead, gray trees reminds me of my carefree midwestern girlhood, and I am soothed. What I am not is blogging. I would instruct you to call me Mister Leisure, but that is already the name of a fugitive sea lion I also find soothing. How about you read about him, and I’ll be back with a real blog on Wednesday? I know, it’s a long way away. In the meantime, you can just keep clicking on the random posts in the left-hand sidebar. Did you know there’s a sidebar on this blog? Some browsers don’t show it, but if you click on the little hash marks in the upper left-hand corner, it will appear. Do that and read weird, probably embarrassing posts from 2010 and whatnot. I’ll see you again soon. I promise.

Billings man opens fire at mall during citizen’s arrest for shoplifting

James Newman of Billings

Last month, James Newman of Billings fired six shots across the parking lot of Rimrock Mall while trying to make a citizen’s arrest for shoplifting. Police questioned Newman and released him at the scene, apparently satisfied with his contention that he fired in self-defense. The former Marine had confronted two people he suspected of stealing from JC Penney, insisting they wait with him for the authorities to arrive. When they got in their car, Newman stood behind the parking space in an attempt to block their escape. He drew his weapon. “If you hit me now,” he shouted, “I will [expletive] open fire.”

He wound up opening fire anyway, firing six shots at the car as it drove away. None of these shots hit the mark, which is a sad coda to this story of valor. If only Newman had killed one of the people whom he was trying to arrest for a misdemeanor in his capacity as a private citizen, we would laud him as a hero. As it is, he is just one of Montana’s many responsible handgun owners, who happened to bring his gun to the mall on the same day circumstances happened to force him to take the law into his own hands. You can read my paean to this brave citizen and C-plus marksman in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow, perhaps, with Friday links.

Carlson agrees with King: “Nothing racist” about tweet

Fox News personality and racism expert Tucker Carlson

Boarding school graduate Tucker Carlson, whose first job out of college was an editorial position at Policy Review, knows something about the relationship between demographics and destiny. His father was George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to the Seychelles and ran the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as Voice of America. His stepmother is the heir to the Swanson frozen food fortune. From these beginnings, Tucker somehow found his way into broadcasting and conservative politics. Yesterday he interviewed Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in this capacity, discussing the congressman’s controversial tweet from this weekend. And he held King’s feet to the fire in his signature, hard-nosed style. Quote:

Everything you said is, I think defensible, and probably right. The problem with the [other peoples’ babies] tweet was it suggested a racial component of American identity.

Yeah, that was the problem, wasn’t it? Fortunately, the two men talked it over, and they agreed there was nothing racist about King’s tweet. Video after the jump.

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