Quist is a deadbeat. Gianforte is rich. You love the rich guy, right?

From an ad by friends of in-touch tech multimillionaire Greg Gianforte

Montana’s special election is one week away, and the Rob Quist campaign is starting to look like a series of unforced errors. Let us begin with his nomination. Quist was handpicked by the Democratic Party, not by the usual primary system. Somehow, no one in that august political body thought to run a credit check. Pretty much the first story that came out was about the liens filed against their candidate for unpaid property taxes in 2011 and the bill for which he stiffed a contractor in 2001. I can see such problems haunting a popular favorite, but the Democrats chose Quist for his electability. Surely there was some other Democrat in the state who lacked not just political experience but also a debt trail.

Fortunately, the Quist campaign is staffed by experienced operatives from the state party. These old hands know the voters of Montana well enough to find sure ways to distinguish Quist from his opponent—for example, by running the exact same campaign ads. That’s how you win as a Democrat: by acting like a Republican. This principle explains why Quist downplayed his support for single-payer health care and emphasized his support for guns. It also explains why Hillary Clinton is president now. It does not explain why campaign manager Les Braswell accidentally tweeted  as The Montana Cowgirl from the Quist campaign account, but we can’t explain everything. He probably got hacked.

Anyway, the Democratic Party is incompetent, even in the last best place. Facing an opponent who just lost a statewide election for governor in which he underperformed the top of his ticket by 20 points, they appear to be headed for defeat. Now is the time to reflect on deep questions. My deepest: In the present economic climate, how is being rich not the biggest obstacle a candidate can face?

American inequality is the worst it’s been in 100 years. Montana has the second-lowest per capita income of any state in the Union, and a politically inexperienced billionaire is on the verge of impeachment in Washington. Yet Quist has said nothing meaningful about inequality. Republicans, convinced we love millionaires as much as they do, are using his personal debts as a cudgel. Call me a pinko, but I wonder if voters might identify more with the guy whose $20,000 debt is wrecking his life than the guy who sold his company to Oracle for $1.5 billion. You can read all about this strange discrepancy in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. It’s a particularly exciting issue, containing not just my inchoate palaver but also the story of a growing schism in the Montana Libertarian Party and your girl Michael Siebert’s feature-length essay on why the left should embrace gun ownership. Check ’em out. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Gianforte, John Misty explore gap between the persona and the man

Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte and Magic Mountain

Last week, as Republicans in the House scrambled to pass a health care bill that would repeal and, in a manner of speaking, replace Obamacare, Greg Gianforte had no opinion. When reporters asked how the congressional hopeful would have voted, his spokesman said that he hadn’t read enough of the bill to say. But on the same day, in a conference call with lobbyists, Gianforte said he was “thankful” that the AHCA had passed the House.

That’s not necessarily a sign that the Republican candidate for Montanan’s only seat in the House says one thing in public and another in private. He didn’t say anything in public at all. But it’s troubling that the Gianforte campaign seems to believe it can stonewall the press but owes an answer to party lobbyists. You can read all about this discrepancy in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Montana’s special election is only two weeks away, and right now it looks like another contest of negatives.

You can be forgiven if you feel like election season is a nightmare that will never end, though. Perhaps you would prefer lighter fare, like my essay on/review of the new Father John Misty album. I’m a big fan of his last LP, I Love You, Honeybear. I like the FJM persona, a kind of alienated hedonist best described as an exaggerated version of how history remembers Lindsey Buckingham. But on the new album, the mask slips. Its critique of contemporary life is more pointed, and FJM the character seems to have lost a layer of irony in the process. It’s also almost all torch songs, even though the material is pretty dark. The result is a strange combination of easy listening and hard truths, like Jackson Browne meets Nick Cave. Anyway, it’s worth a listen. Whether you’ve liked FJM to this point or are just hearing about him now, it’ll be something new. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

As Helena lurches to a halt, Kim Dudik goes 13 for 19

Google image search: Helena

The big news out of Helena today is that Montana’s State House has voted down an $80 million dollar infrastructure bill, again. The proposal to fund roads, schools, and water systems asks for less money than some county school districts bonded out this year, but this morning it failed by two votes on its second trip to the floor. Take that, roads, schools, and water systems! The forces of fiscal responsibility are screwing their hats down tight against this expenditure, which amounts to $8 for every person in Montana. The conservative wing killed it in 2015, too.

If the infrastructure bill dies again, it will join such lost causes of the 2017 session as Daniel Zolnikov’s attempt to legalize drinking beer while driving or Keith Regier’s (R-Kalispell) bill to prohibit Montana courts from applying Sharia law. The legislature also failed to lift burdensome regulations on the keeping of domestic foxes. It seems like those assholes can’t pass anything, but then along comes Rep. Kim Dudik. The Democrat from Missoula went 13 for 19 sponsoring bills this session—most of them related to criminal justice or child and family services.

Those happen to be her areas of professional expertise. While various of her colleagues were fighting for the Second Amendment rights of fetuses and whatnot, Dudik drew on her experience as an attorney to make subtle but significant improvements to the Code of Montana. That might be the kind of citizen governance Montana’s framers envisioned when they constructed a legislature that met for 90 days every other year. Or they just wanted the state to stay out of the way of the mining companies. Regardless, Rep. Dudik got more done, in terms of sponsored legislation, than anyone else in Helena this spring. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Life of Montana abortion bills likely to end at conception

A person

The Montana legislature made national headlines last week, but not the good kind like you want. Representative Derek Skees of Lakeside sponsored HB 595, which would amend the state constitution to redefine “person” as “all members of the species Homo sapiens at any stage of development, including the stage of fertilization or conception.” Zygotes? People. Fertilized eggs that do not implant in the uterus as a result of IUD birth control? People. Ectopic pregnancies? People. Skees’s bill would criminalize not just abortion but a whole raft of women’s health services that most people consider morally neutral, if not inherently good. It’s a bold declaration of support for the lives of the pre-born, but does it do enough to make post-born lives miserable?

Enter Sen. Albert Olszewski (R-Kalispell). His bill would require doctors to take every measure possible to preserve the lives of fetuses beyond 24 weeks of development, including caesarian section and resuscitation after abortion or miscarriage. Doctors who don’t would be subject to criminal prosecution. Imagine, for a moment, the joy a woman would feel after procuring a legal abortion, only to watch her obstetrician resuscitate the fetus and present her with her new child. Don’t worry, though; that situation will never happen, because no obstetrician in her right mind would see a pregnant woman knowing that it would expose her to criminal investigation should anything go wrong.

Also, neither of these bills has a snowball’s chance of becoming law. Nor does Sen. Keith Regier’s (R-Kalispell) proposal to ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Even if they make it out of the legislature, Gov. Steve Bullock will veto these bills faster than you can say Roe v. Wade. In this way, they take on a pleasing symmetry. These laws that insist life begins at conception are unlikely to move beyond the concept stage themselves. As pure theories, they are free to be as draconian and unenforceable as the most virulent activist could hope. It’s kind of like the way their authors—middle-aged men from the Flathead, to a one—can rail against abortion without any fear of getting pregnant themselves. You can read all about their strange performances in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Probably, we’re going to get some letters. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Montana considers poor tax—er, cigarette tax

Cool teens

Did you know that smoking correlates directly to income? Thirty-four percent of Americans making between $6,000 and $12,000 a year smoke, compared to only 13% of those making $120,000 or more. The rate of tobacco use is also five times higher among people with GEDs than it is among college graduates. It’s almost like smoking is perfect for shift work, where you get 15-minute breaks every two hours to stand around with your coworkers. Or it’s like cigarettes are a treat, an indulgence for people whose pleasures are otherwise strictly limited. Whatever the reason, you see a lot more people smoking at the bus stop than you do standing around outside the opera.

I mention this phenomenon because the Montana legislature is thinking about raising taxes on tobacco products. Senate Bill 354, sponsored by Mary Caferro (D–Helena), would more than double the state tax on cigarettes, from $1.50 a pack to $3.20. It would also raise taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco, plus introduce a tax on the liquid used in e-cigarettes. Caferro has described her proposal as “a tax you never have to pay,” which captures the popular attitude toward taxing cigarettes. It’s a great way for the government to get money without any of us having to pay it. And if you’re not one of us, it’s your fault, because you shouldn’t be smoking anyway.

Both of these arguments are probably true. Smoking sucks. Everyone knows it gives you cancer, and in the meantime it annoys people around you. But it is also true that poor people do it more than rich people. Maybe it’s because nicotine is addictive and their lives are hard, or maybe it’s because they’re lazy and dumb. But why people with less money smoke doesn’t matter so much as the simple fact that they do. When we propose a cigarette tax, we are operatively proposing a poor tax.

Maybe that’s a measure we’re willing to take. But let’s not pretend that it’s some high-minded project to get people to stop smoking. The legislature is looking for revenue and found it in poor people’s pockets.  From a political standpoint, the appeal of a cigarette tax is that most people don’t smoke. In a state famously averse to taxation of all kinds, SB 354 is a way to raise revenue without asking 78% of the population to pay anything for it. All you have to do is make life a little harder for people with less money and less education.

When you put it that way, cigarette taxes don’t sound like such a hot deal after all. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!