Tim Fox puts Montana back on the wrong side of history

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and his little badge, which isn't like tucking your jeans into cowboy boots at all

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and his little badge

It’s been a long time since Montana was on the wrong side of a civil rights debate. Since 2014, when Attorney General Tim Fox withdrew his appeal of a circuit court decision that declared our ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, you hardly ever see Montana in lists of states that begin “Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi…” Fortunately, President Obama’s directive that transgender people be allowed to use the public bathrooms of their choice has given us a new civil rights issue to be wrong about.

Last week, Fox filed suit against the federal government over Obama’s directive, putting Montana in cahoots with a couple dozen other states whose governors and attorneys general are deeply concerned with staking out territory on meaningless social issues during an election year freedom. Obviously, this is an issue that affects all of us, in the sense that we all have opinions about it even though it affects a small number of people. National estimates of the number of trans people in America are famously hard to come by, and estimates of the Montana trans population don’t exist. Here’s the New York Times on what we can glean from Social Security Administration data:

Since the Social Security Administration started in 1936, 135,367 people have changed their name to one of the opposite gender, and 30,006 also changed their sex accordingly, the study found. Of Americans who participated in the 2010 census, 89,667 had changed their names and 21,833 had also changed their sex.

Ninety thousand is probably a low estimate, since many trans people presumably do not officially change their names or genders with Social Security. Still, these numbers put the lowball estimate of transgender Americans at about .03% of the population. If we work from that estimate and assume Montana’s trans population is improbably identical to the national ratio, we can expect to find about 300 transgender people in the whole state.

And how many of them attend K-12? Fox’s lawsuit focuses narrowly on how Obama’s directive affects public schools. He may have taken the historically bad bet of using his state office to sue the feds over a civil rights issue, but at least he’s chosen an issue that is extremely minor. I think trans people should use whatever bathrooms they like, and I don’t mean to suggest that their rights are unimportant. But the effect of their rights on non-trans people is unimportant. I submit that transgender bathroom use is a purely theoretical idea for cisgendered Americans, particularly in Montana.  You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I praise Fox for his bold action. It’s ironic. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

Campaign finance is dead. Long live campaign finance


The Mitch McConnell campaign—which refers to itself by the parody-proof name “Team Mitch”—posted this video on YouTube last week. As you may have noticed, it contains no diegetic sound. There’s a weirdly contemporary electropop soundtrack, but at no point to do events in the video sync up with a particular element of the soundtrack or even narrative. It’s just footage of McConnell signing papers, turning alarmingly to the camera, shaking hands with a man in a tam and goatee whose vote cancels out yours, et cetera. You can dub whatever sound you want over this video, which, as The Daily Show has pointed out, makes it hilarious. It also makes it a free source of McConnell footage for whatever 501(c)4 organizations might want to produce ads to support him—but not coordinate with his campaign, since that is forbidden by law.

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Missoula County Attorney enters endgame

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg

Fred Van Valkenburg is back from vacation today, and I do not envy him his voice mailbox. Probably he checked it while he was away. We know he read the paper, because he sent attorney Jim Ghidella an angry email after Ghidella wrote a letter to the editor critical of Van Valkenburg’s fight against the US Department of Justice. For those of you who have not followed this story: in 2012, the DOJ announced that it was investigating the University of Montana, Missoula police, and the county attorney’s office for improper handling of sexual assault cases. The police and UM cooperated, and their investigations are now over. Van Valkenburg, on the other hand, has insisted all along that Justice has no jurisdiction over his office, and recently got $50,000 from the county commission to pursue a declaratory judgment against them. That lawsuit was filed earlier this week—just in time for us to learn about the agreement that Montana’s state attorney general made with the DOJ in 2012 to cooperate with investigators.

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