Montana Governor Steve Bullock thinks that’s the last we’ll hear from Billy Madison.
Let’s say you’re getting bullied at school. I can’t imagine it, myself, but for the sake of argument, assume you are a nerd. This big kid is always beating you up. Every day he humiliates you. You’re not strong enough to fight back, but you have to do something. So you invite him to meet by the dumpsters in the dead-end alley behind the school, where you appeal to your shared interests and offer a truce.
What do you think happens next, nerd? That’s right: you live in a dumpster because you’re a pussy. Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, ran this experiment last week, when he convened a special session of the state legislature. Do Republicans still hold strong majorities in both houses? Yes they do. Did the $227 million budget shortfall that occasioned this session bring them to Helena with a giant bargaining chip? Indeed. Yet Democrats seemed surprised when their Republican colleagues threw them into the dumpster.
Take, for example, Sen. Albert Olszewki’s (R-Kalispell) budget-neutral bill to make it harder to change the gender on your birth certificate. SB-10 sought to block a proposed rule change at Health and Human Services that would allow the department to accept sworn affidavits of gender transition, as opposed to court orders only. Normally such changes would be the sole purview of the executive branch, headed by aforementioned Democratic governor Steve Bullock, but he reconvened the legislature. The birth certificate bill didn’t have anything to do with the budget shortfall, but the Republican-dominated state senate passed it anyway. Fortunately, the house ended the session without taking it up. But transgender Montanans almost watched the state snatch away an achievement they had pursued for a long time.
What did Bullock think was going to happen? At a certain point, you have to stop criticizing Republicans for their opportunism and start criticizing Democrats for giving them so many opportunities. We think of the question of who is doing politics better as horse-race stuff, but this story reminds us that it has a moral dimension, too. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.
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!
Congressional candidate and caricature of a rich grandson Eugene Graf IV
Since Donald Trump announced his plan to appoint as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Montana’s sole representative in the US House, no fewer than six Republicans have threatened to campaign for his seat. Six! One of them is Eugene Graf IV, the scion of a Bozeman real estate fortune pictured above. Graf: He doesn’t remember shoving you into anything. As much as I would like to see Montana politics return to old-school corporatocracy, Graf is a long shot. He has not previously run for elected office, and his work experience is limited to working for his family business and, as past president of the Montana Homebuilders Association, lobbying for his family business. Yet he is sure to meet one qualification for office: the $1,740 fee the Montana Republican Party is charging each candidate to run.
That fee—set by state law at 1% of the salary of the office sought—is designed to defray the cost of organizing statewide primaries. It seems a little odd to charge it for candidates in this special election, where a nominee will be chosen not by primaries but by members of the state Republican committee. The food at that meeting is going to be great, I guess. Assuming he ponies up, the most likely nominee seems to be Ed Buttrey, a moderate Republican credited with orchestrating the compromise that allowed Montana to accept federal Medicaid funds last session. Among conservatives, of course, that’s a debit. But they have yet to put up a candidate of their own who can plausibly threaten him. This makes Buttrey’s run a barometer in the ongoing conflict between moderates and the right wing in Montana’s GOP. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.
Why read about the recent past, though, when you can focus on the future? This week marks the Indy’s annual Bold Predictions issue, in which various people including me speculate on what 2017 will bring in Missoula, Montana, and the world. My first two bold predictions, made in 2013 and 2014, crushed it: Missoula really did set out to buy the water works in 2014, and conservatives in the legislature really did overplay their hand in 2015. Last year’s prediction—that Uber would put at least one of Missoula’s two taxi companies out of business—has yet to come true. But there’s still time! Keep watching this space or even some more reliable news outlet for updates on my prediction for 2017, which is that Republicans will become staunch defenders of Medicaid until they can blame someone else for taking it away. I also predict we’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.
The homepage of Breitbart.com around noon eastern
I was astonished to see the Breitbart headline in the screenshot above, but it changed when I clicked on it. The story-page headline reads Nancy Pelosi Calls Ben Carson “Disturbingly Unqualified,” which is probably a more precise way to describe her than “white Democrat leader.” Beware autoplay video with sound, should you click on that link yourself. The story is short enough to quote entirely here:
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is calling the decision to tap Ben Carson as head of Housing and Urban Development a “disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified choice.” Pelosi says the country deserves someone with “relevant experience” to protect the rights of homeowners and renters.
In her statement released Monday, she says “there is no evidence that Dr. Carson brings the necessary credentials to hold a position with such immense responsibilities and impact on families and communities across America.”
Trump says, “Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans.”
There’s a lot missing from this report, including what Carson’s qualifications might actually be. If you want those kinds of nuances, you’re better off with the Times. It’s kind of weird that Breitbart would just reprint a statement from the House Minority Leader with none of its own commentary or counterpoint, save that quote from Donald Trump. But all the commentary they need is in that homepage headline: White Democrat Leader Calls…
Republicans wrest control of the Senate from Democrats.
The results are in, sort of, and yesterday’s elections were a resounding victory for the Republican Party. You might replace “resounding” with “pyrrhic” and also get a true sentence. Candidates and unaffiliated groups spent $4 billion this cycle, making the 2014 midterms the most expensive in US history. The financial services industry won the dubious honor of spending the most, donating $171 million to candidate and the groups that support them. And what hath all that money wrought? The GOP picked up at least seven seats in the Senate, giving them control of the other house of a Congress that happens to be the least productive in history. We’re just busting records left and right.