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.

Representative Commander Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, a career

Ryan Zinke accidentally wanders in front of a flag while wearing a cowboy hat.

Montana sends only one delegate to the United States House of Representatives, and for the last two years it was Republican and former Navy SEAL Commander Ryan Zinke. Zinke won re-election in November, but he vacated his seat last week after the Senate confirmed him as President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. Until we pick a new one via special election in May, Montana will go without representation in the House. This situation turns out to be not so different from the one we enjoyed already.

Zinke ends his career as a congressman having sponsored no bills that actually became law. That’s not so unusual for a freshman representative. What set him apart was his flair for the dramatic—his ability to present a wild caricature of Montana values while, again, not actually expressing those values in the form of legislation. But who cares about influencing the US government when your representative used to be a Navy SEAL? Sure, he missed 80 of 99 House votes after he was nominated for Interior. But he also gave us this photograph:

God, I’m going to miss that. Remember when he said President Obama shouldn’t have attended the Paris Climate Summit because it did nothing to stop ISIS? And then a few weeks later opposed background checks at gun shows, also because it wouldn’t stop ISIS? Communications from his office consistently referred to him as Commander Zinke instead of Representative Zinke—part of a relentless branding strategy that even extended to his duties as a rep. He co-sponsored the Draft American Daughters Act, a satirical bill to register women for the draft that expressed his opposition to letting them take combat specializations. This bill also did not pass. Again, nothing Commander Zinke proposed to the House ever passed. But what fun we had!

Now he runs the Department of the Interior, a position that will make his gung-ho performance art more difficult. It’s hard to connect the Interior to foreign terrorism. I believe Commander Zinke can keep making politics more like pro wrestling, though. It was a heartening sign when he rode a horse to his first day of work last week. Seriously—you can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Montana has not lost much of a legislator, but we must bid farewell to one hell of a showman. I can’t say I agreed with his politics too often. But I love a character, and Commander Zinke has certainly been that. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Daines ducks constituents, complains too few in DC drive pickup trucks

US Senator from Montana and convicted goblin Steve Daines

Steve Daines’s first six weeks as a senator have not been easy. He happened to be presiding over the confirmation hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instructed him to gavel down Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). That got him on the news. Then he cast the deciding vote to confirm Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, despite calls to recuse himself after she gave $48,000 to his campaign. Last week, he came home.

He was supposed to address the state legislature last Tuesday, but a crowd of protestors that gathered at the capitol caused him to reschedule at the last minute. He spoke to the legislature Wednesday, after protestors had safely gone home. The very next day, he went on Twitter. “Montanans can do a better job than D.C. bureaucrats who’ve never driven a pick-up and have a hard time finding Montana on a map,” he wrote.

Root toot ‘merca truck, you guys. This kind of pandering was my least favorite thing growing up in Iowa, where the performance of hick-ness was integral to public life. But the politicians of Montana take it to new heights. The day after Daines complained that the failure of bureaucrats to drive trucks left them unable to operate the US federal government, he posted a video from Big Sandy, in which he claimed to be “getting all over Montana” to talk to his constituents.

The senator didn’t have to drive the back roads to find constituents; they had come to him 48 hours earlier, and he contorted his schedule to avoid speaking to them. Daines has never been a dynamic public speaker. Although he gets +1 to night vision and can be dangerous in groups, his main political advantage is that he is a party man. If you need someone to do what his superiors in the GOP say, Daines is your boy. It is therefore distasteful for him to pretend that he is some salt-of-the-earth type fed up with Washington, DC. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which we speculate on his truck-drivin’ bona fides and his life as a freshman in the senate dorms. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Breaking: Columnist allowed to make Pinkerton joke

Pinkertons

One of my favorite things about writing for the local newspaper is how often strangers stop me on the street. “Do you know who fast you were going?” they ask. “Why are you drunk at 3pm?” Because I don’t need to contend with the red lights and flashing strollers of the eight or even the five hour workday. I write a column for the local newspaper! The plebes fall away like waves and then dock materials breaking across the prow of a ship.

Sometimes, though, they also ask me where I get my ideas. I say you don’t get ideas; you have to take them. They do not come from the touch of some temperamental muse, nor from some fanciful ethic of “hard work,” but rather from my psychotic determination to make Pinkerton jokes. I direct you to this week’s column in the Missoula Independent, which argues that a bill to grant liquor licenses to retirement homes is “great news for anyone who got 86’ed from Red’s after the Grizzlies won the conference championship against the Nevada Pinkertons in 1922.”

It’s the little things that make it worthwhile. No one could like this historical reference awkwardly crammed into a joke as much as I do, but Brad is a kind editor and lets me use the Indy’s ink to amuse myself. He also let me mansplain regulatory capture and use the word “dicks.” The whole Indy staff is pretty great. Why don’t you go to their website and read my column while absently clicking on all the ads? I’ll wait here until tomorrow, when we’ll be back with Friday links!

MT senate might deny hunting licenses to deadbeat dads

Two full-grown males who won’t see their kids this weekend

Did you know that 37% of Montana families who are supposed to get legally mandated child support actually don’t? Arrears exceeded $147 million in 2013, and the state only collected 12% of it. Imagine if one third of defendants were ignoring any other kind of court order. It would be a crisis. But like smoking weed outside of Flippers or running over a bicyclist with your car, not paying child support is one of those things you can get away with. But if Sen. Mike Lang (R-Malta) gets his way, Montana will soon begin denying hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses to deadbeat dads.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but apparently it makes a difference. During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sarah Swanson-Partridge of Glasgow said her former husband went seven years without making his court-mandated child support payments. After a state agency threatened to withhold his trapping and fishing licenses, however, he paid off the overdue child support in one year. In addition to being too depressing to contemplate for more than a few seconds, this anecdote suggests Sen. Lang might be onto a low-cost solution for a sprawling enforcement problem.

But what if not letting deadbeat dads shoot elk actually hurt the families they don’t support? That was the objection raised by Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls.) Her statement merits quotation in full:

A number of people in this state that are in poverty, and lack of payment is not always because they don’t want to—sometimes it’s because they can’t. I’m really concerned if we strip away a person’s ability to provide sustenance through wild meat that is obtained by a great number of families through fishing, hunting and trapping in this state, I’m really concerned that we’re not helping families.

We were fools not to consider the many non-custodial parents who pay their back child support in the form of wild game. Either that or Sen. Fielder is contorting her brain to come up with a rationalization for her core principle, “all hunting all the time.” You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

While you’re at it, check out local anti-Muslim bigot activist Linda Sauer’s letter to the editor objecting to last week’s column about sharia law. “This bill might not have been necessary if Missoula hadn’t decided to play the phony ‘we’re all so caring and loving here’ card,” she writes, “so a few people could pat themselves on the back for their good deeds and wait for the resettlement money to roll in.” Such contempt for caring and loving is a rare treat, but you can find it again a few letters down, when Ed Kugler complains that leftists “want your rights the way you want them, but those that don’t agree with you, well that’s where your ‘love everyone’ comes to an end.” I’m so sick of these lovemongers undermining the patriotic work of blocking refugees and praying in school. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!