It’s snowing in Missoula as I write this—just one more example of Mayor John Engen’s failure to guide this city toward a better future for all of us. It literally never did this before the mayor was elected. In addition to snow, we’ve had to contend with property taxes, out-of-control housing prices, and too-thoroughly-controlled everything else. I, for one, am sick of the mayor’s tax-and-spend progressive agenda. The time is right for new leadership, which is why I’ve announced my own candidacy for mayor, city council, US Senate—whatever I can do to help, really, so long as it puts me in a position of leadership with salary and benefits. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I describe my platform of controlling the weather, halting immigration from other states, and ending government overreach. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!
Sorry to use this unflattering photo of Matt Rosendale, apparently taken at the moment a bat flew into the room, but I ran into legal problems. I wanted to use this one, but I couldn’t get the rights from Dick Tracey. Anyway, we all know from civics class that the Montana State Auditor and Insurance Commissioner is in charge of the state’s insurance exchange. And we all know from Rosendale that Montana’s exchange sucks. The premiums are too high! My own personal insurer, Montana Health Co-Op, raised the rates on its silver plan 24% going into 2018, on account of Trump took away federal CSR payments. That’s bullshit, though, because when they submitted rates back in June, they specifically told Rosendale they’d be fine with or without CSRs. I quote the commissioner:
My department was advised by both companies just months ago, that with or without [cost-sharing reduction] payments, they would be able to honor the rates they provided to us and the public. Today, by their actions, they inform me that was not true.
What a screwjob! If only we had some sort of state official whose job it was to regulate the behavior of insurance companies. The commissioner insists he has no legal authority to hold them to their previously submitted rates, even though A) there was a deadline, and B) they specifically agreed not to do this. It’s no secret that Rosendale, a Republican, opposes the Affordable Care Act that created the exchange in the first place. It’s almost as though letting insurers raise rates and then publicly complaining about it serves three of his interests: his interest in friendly relations with the companies he regulates, his interest in watching Obamacare blow up, and his interest in harnessing the outrage of the ordinary voter.
But does it serve his interest in getting elected to the US Senate? Rosendale is currently the only Republican candidate for Jon Tester’s seat who holds statewide office. The exchange is his identity. Will voters respond to his bold message of “just look at this failed system I’m running?” You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links, maybe. I’m doing so much work, you guys.
One fun thing about Missoula politics is that there are no polls. For all we know, Mayor John Engen won’t win a fourth term in next month’s election. Anyone who wants to bet that he won’t should contact me via email. In 2013, the last time he ran for re-election, he faced three opponents and got about 65% of the vote. This time it’s just Lisa Triepke, who was the subject of two Missoulian stories last week about the two houses, motorhome and used car she bought while she was also getting food stamps. Later in the week, the state found that she had committed at least 23 campaign finance reporting violations.
The Missoulian endorsed her opponent. One thing they did not mention is that he used to work there. Mayor Engen has enjoyed friendly coverage from Missoula’s only daily newspaper. For example, when he secretly enrolled in a 28-day inpatient treatment program for alcoholism last year, the Missoulian reported that he would be gone indefinitely for undisclosed medical reasons and left the story at that. He came back clean a month later and told us all what happened, simultaneously announcing that he would run for a fourth term.
All this is to say that the mayor’s position is comfortable. Sometimes it feels too comfortable, like when his estimate of how much we would pay in legal fees to buy the water company was off by a factor of twenty. The Mountain Water saga was a testament to the mayor’s power—both its efficacy and its potential to run unchecked. If buying the water works had proven to be a boondoggle, a goose chase, a white-whale scenario, who in Missoula’s existing political landscape would have stopped it?
It’s worth thinking about as we all get ready to vote him into office again. I know I’m planning to vote Engen, because Lisa Triepke does not seem like she would do a better job. Still, might the man himself do a better job if he were vying for our affection with someone else? That’s the subject of this week’s column in the Missoula Independent which, I admit, is strictly for the hardcore. But I recommend you follow Missoula politics from afar. They’re worth it for entertainment value alone.
When President Trump praised the non-existent country of Nambia at the UN in September, Bill Maher joked that the capital of Nambia was Covfefe. So did a seemingly endless number of Twitter users, not just over time but on the very same day. There is something about Donald Trump that encourages everyone to come up with the same jokes. There is also something about him that makes us feel the pressing need for political comedy. When a self-aggrandizing billionaire with an unusual physical appearance becomes president, satire should shine. Yet political comedy in the first year of the Trump administration has been strangely lackluster. Why isn’t the most comical president in history generating better comedy?
The New York Times Magazine let me consider this problem in a profile of Anthony Atamanuik, who plays Trump on The President Show on Comedy Central. Gigantic, sun-blotting props to Willy for helping to develop a unified theory of Trump comedy, which starts like this:
A funny Trump impression presents two broad challenges. The first is that the president exists in a cloud of signifiers: his infomercial hand gestures, his practiced facial expressions, his broad accent and narrow diction and relentless catchphrases, to say nothing of his hair and skin. Any impression of him must include these signifiers, but they are so numerous and recognizable as to weigh it down, limiting the space for the impressionist to contribute his own insights. The adage “It’s funny because it’s true” is a phenomenological account. It describes a change in the audience: It’s funny because (I just realized) it’s true. We laugh when we are surprised to recognize something. The problem with Trump is that everything about him is recognizable immediately. There seem to be no subtle truths under the cacophony of overt signifiers, so that every joke about him becomes merely a reference.
That’s the Covfefe Problem: It’s hard to think of an original joke about Trump, but it’s easy to think of a recognizable reference. The other horn in this comedy dilemma is the Clapter Problem. What is clapter? You’re just going to have to read the profile and find out, or buy Mike Sacks’s book Poking a Dead Frog, which is where I first encountered the term. But while you’re waiting for the book to arrive, read the Times piece. Remember how Combat! blog was on hiatus for weeks and everyone stopped reading it? This was one of the four big projects that forced me to put the blog aside. Now all of them are done, and I am rich. We’ll be back tomorrow with more self-promotion.
The Montana Family Foundation is a research and education organization dedicated to supporting, protecting, and strengthening Montana families. It is definitely not a moneymaking scheme for Jeff Lazsloffy and his children. Its donors are not public, although in past years more than half the foundation’s income has come from Greg Gianforte. But his investment has been amply repaid in research and education, for example a bill before the state legislature that would have required Montanans to use locker rooms and restrooms that correspond to the genders on their birth certificates. Legislators rejected that, noting that a similar bill costs North Carolina billions of dollars earlier this year. So the Montana Family Foundation took its cause to the people, repackaging the Orewellian-named Locker Room Privacy Act as ballot initiative I-183.
Last week, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the description Attorney General Tim Fox had written for I-183 was not sufficient. In addition to its potentially inaccurate fiscal note, the court took exception to this paragraph:
I-183 requires government entities to designate a protected facility in a government building or public school for use only by members of one sex, and prohibits persons from using a protected facility other than the facility that is designated for that person’s sex.
You will note that the word “transgender” does not appear. Neither does an explanation of what the word “sex” means. A lot of people would say that a trans a woman is of the sex “woman,” but that’s not what I-183 says. I-183 specifies that a person’s sex shall be determined by their birth certificate.
That would create a lot of problems for transgender Montanans, which is exactly what I-183 is designed to do. Yet the Montana Family Foundation never, ever mentions the word “transgender” in its communications on this issue. Instead, it offers jaunty statements like this one regarding the defunct Locker Room Privacy Act: “This bill was just common sense! Women shouldn’t have to shower in front of men, and vice versa.”
“Common sense” is a thing politicians say when they don’t want you to think about what they just said. The Montana Family Foundation keeps talking about I-183 as though it were designed to address the problem of high school boys gaining entry to the girls’ locker room by simply declaring that they are female. As near as I can tell, that’s never happened. The real issue here is that Lazsloffy has made a career out of converting popular prejudices to politics, and prejudice isn’t as popular as it once was. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Do it! Do it now, Linda!