Juras revives dispute with defunct student sex column

Montana Supreme Court candidate Kristen Juras

Montana Supreme Court candidate Kristen Juras

Politics is a chess match that attracts the most brilliant tactical minds of our society. Just kidding—it’s a magnet for confident dummies. I bet Kristen Juras is very smart in most situations, but she became her worst self last month, when she revived her dispute with the University of Montana student newspaper over a sex advice column that ran for one semester seven years ago.

As an assistant law professor at UM in 2009, Juras objected to the “Bess Sex” column in the Montana Kaimin, writing letters to the editor and eventually taking her complaint to the president of the university and the dean of the journalism school. Nothing happened, possibly because neither the president nor the dean exercises editorial control over the student newspaper.

“Bess Sex” author Bess Davis (now Bess Pallares) graduated later that year, and the column ended. You’d think that would put the matter to rest, but the Montana Cowgirl Blog brought it up last month, prompting Juras to issue the following statement on Facebook:

The column was discontinued after the United States launched a comprehensive review of the university’s handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints, including a review of student education efforts. Can’t find copies of the columns? That’s because all of the major newspapers refused to publish them.

That just isn’t true. The Department of Justice began its investigation of UM in 2012, three years after “Bess Sex” ended. And major newspapers “refused” to publish it in the same way NBC refuses to broadcast Game of Thrones. It was a Kaimin column, never offered for syndication.

This kind of reasoning suggests Juras might form her opinions first and her reasons second—a questionably desirable quality in a supreme court justice. You can read more instances of her non-standard approach to reasoning in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links, which will include an exciting surprise. Remember last week, when I said the same thing? I mean it this time, probably.



Trump suggests people shoot his opponent or vote against her—hard to tell

GOP 2016 Debate

Yesterday, after telling a crowd of his supporters in Wilmington, North Carolina that Hillary Clinton wanted to “abolish” the Second Amendment, Donald Trump warned that gun owners would face disaster if she won the presidency and got to appoint justices to the Supreme Court. Then he seemed to allude to the possibility of assassinating her. Here’s video:

If you can’t watch it because your work doesn’t allow videos that threaten candidates for president or the Secret Service is monitoring you or something, Trump said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is. I don’t know.”

That’s by no means an explicit call for violence against his opponent. It does, however, allude to something “Second Amendment people” can do after the general election, when democratic avenues to prevent President Hillary Clinton from appointing judges have failed. These “Second Amendment people” are presumably gun owners, but that, too, is ambiguous. Maybe these unspecified people could do some unspecified thing to prevent a duly elected president from appointing judges to the Supreme Court—Trump doesn’t know. He’s just running for president, saying these things.

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Two years and $14 million later, Missoula wins right to buy Mountain Water

Missoula mayor John Engen atop Water Works Hill

Missoula mayor John Engen atop Water Works Hill

On Tuesday afternoon, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a district court decision forcing the sale of Mountain Water to the city of Missoula by eminent domain. It was the culmination of a fight that has lasted almost two years, beginning when the city offered multinational private equity fund The Carlyle Group $50 million for our water system in 2014. After Carlyle refused and Missoula started preparing its eminent-domain suit, the city estimated the total legal cost of condemnation at $400,000. As of this writing, we’ve spent $6 million, and we’ll likely be held liable for Carlyle’s $8 million in legal costs, too. But the important thing is we bought the water company—not for the $50 million we considered a fair price in 2014, but for $88.6 million. But we won, and Mountain Water is a good deal at any price, as the mayor expressed in this tweet yesterday:

That’s kind of infuriating. At a City Club forum in January of last year, before the value of Mountain Water had been established by a district court, I asked city council members at what threshold the purchase price of the water company would no longer save ratepayers money over the life of a 20-year bond. They didn’t know. The city had not run the numbers to determine at what point Mountain Water stopped being a good deal. Fifty million was a good price, apparently, and $50 billion would be too much. But within that range, no one could say exactly where a smart investment would turn dumb. Then-Councilman Adam Hertz said no such detailed financial analysis was available.

Engen insists this deal will save ratepayers money, and he admonishes us to study before we tweet. But he did not study before he embarked on the largest purchase in Missoula’s history. His insistence that those who criticize him base their arguments on careful examination of the numbers ignores the fact that he committed to this plan without studying those numbers himself. It’s a bad look, and so is the lawsuit alleging that the $8 million Carlyle spent on legal defenses was excessive. The city is going over Carlyle’s expenses with a fine-toothed comb, looking out for taxpayer dollars in the matter of dinner at Hooters, for example, when it overshot its own estimated legal bill by 1400 percent. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

I’m glad we won City of Missoula v. Mountain Water. It will be good for this town to own its water system. But I don’t know whether it will be good for ratepayers to have bought it for $89 million plus $14 million instead of $50 million. Apparently, neither does anyone in city government. That’s the problem. The city didn’t perform its due diligence on this deal, and now we have committed to a massive investment that may or may not save us money over the next two decades. It doesn’t matter. We just did it.

Grassley tacks on Supreme Court appointment

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA)—boss photo by Joshua Roberts

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) Photo: Joshua Roberts

Senator Charles Grassley is the most Iowa man in Iowa. He’s 82 and has aged in the Iowa manner, by looking like a child who fell into a food dehydrator. His Twitter is a delight. He is a Republican in the Chamber of Commerce tradition, representing that wing of the party whose ambition for government is to get it out of the way of farmers and insurance agents. This approach has gotten him labeled a Republican In Name Only, which is the kind of accusation people who learned about politics from Glenn Beck will level at a man who has been in the US Senate for 34 years. But despite the certainty that he will spend the rest of his life in office—or maybe because of it—Grassley displays the most Iowa quality: he wants to do a good job. Yesterday, he announced he might hold hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee after all. His decision may have something to do with this jeremiad in the Des Moines Register.

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McConnell to block Supreme Court appointments until Trump is president

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Normally Combat! blog does not stoop to publishing on federal holidays, and today our great nation honors its longest-armed and woodiest-toothed presidents. But this weekend was so exciting that one must remark. On Saturday, the Republican candidates tore into one another like a sack of weasels, raising the question of which one of these men, exactly, could lead his party through its most fractious historical moment since the Grant administration. Will Trump unite monied interests, neoconservative hawks and alienated tea party voters with his platform of turning red and calling people losers? Maybe the GOP will rally behind Ted Cruz, the most hated man in the Senate. Your fallback option to heal the party is Marco Rubio, who would like to dispense once and for all with this idea that Obama SYNTAX ERR 403 REBOOT? Y/N. Meanwhile, Jeb is betting on the overwhelming popularity of his brother. The question of who might win this contest of undesirables seemed academic until Saturday, when Antonin Scalia was found dead at a west Texas resort.

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