A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

9 December 2016

Whitefish mayor and councilman on CNN tonight

 Updated at 13:11:00 MDT.  John Muhlfeld reports the interview was bumped, which is to say Trumped, for programming on President-Elect Trump. A new broadcast date has not yet been set.

An interview with Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld and City Councilman Frank Sweeney is scheduled to be broadcast on CNN during the 1800–2000 time slot this evening. They’ll be discussing the proclamation (below) repudiating bigotry and white nationalism that Muhlfeld delivered at Monday’s meeting of the Whitefish City Council.

The proclamation was the latest in a series of actions and statements taken by Whitefish’s city council to disassociate that community from the ideology and program of part-time resident Richard Spencer, a white nationalist with a national reputation, a talent for generating publicity, and next to zero political clout.

A Proclamation of the City of Whitefish, Montana

Whereas, recent local and national news stories have identified the City of Whitefish as the part time residence, of a self-proclaimed white nationalist and a founder of the so called alt-right movement; and

Whereas, on the 1st day of December, 2014, the City Council of the City of Whitefish, with overwhelming public support, unanimously adopted Resolution 14-57, taking a stance in support of the community values that recognize the dignity of all persons and welcoming diversity and inclusion for all of its inhabitants and visitors: and

Whereas, on the 5th day of April, 2016, the City of Whitefish, with overwhelming public support, unanimously adopted Ordinance 16-07, an ordinance establishing a civil rights policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; and

Whereas, the City of Whitefish, as a self-governing municipal government operating pursuant to its Charter and the laws of Montana, recognizes and embraces its responsibility to promote equality for all its citizens and visitors; and


The City of Whitefish repudiates the ideas and ideology of the white nationalist and so called alt-right as a direct affront to our community’s core values and principles.

The City of Whitefish rejects racism and bigotry in all its forms and expressions.

The City of Whitefish reiterates its commitment to the values, laws and programs, including Resolution 14-57 and Ordinance 16-07 honoring the inherent worth of all people regardless of race, creed, national origin, sex or sexual orientation.

The City of Whitefish will continue to honor its responsibility to promote tolerance, non-discrimination and diversity within our community.

…read the rest


8 December 2016

Another raw milk bill requested, this one by Diane Sands

Yesterday, Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) requested LC2098, short title “Revise laws related to the sale of raw milk.” No public draft is available yet. Sands voted against HB-245, Nancy Ballance’s bill to legalize selling raw milk, in the 2015 legislature.

Sands is the third legislator, and first Democrat, to request a bill on raw milk, which may put her in a position to broker a deal between the menaces to public health who want to legalize the sale of unpasteurized milk, and opponents of legalization who are weary of the fight and may be seeking a face saving way of retiring the issue with as little damage as possible.

Such a deal, of course, would best be characterized as a little bit of pregnancy, and certainly as politics at its worst.

Legislators, tired of the issue splashing on their agenda every session, may be looking for a deal simply to end the constant pressure from the raw milk proponents. The advocates of selling raw milk are not that numerous, but they’re righteous, loud, adept at flooding legislators with pro-raw milk messages, and show up at the circuses known as committee hearings to testify, with the fervor and sincerity of the lately come to Jesus, that raw milk is the elixir of life and the key to wisdom and longevity. They argue with Trumparian conviction that banning it, especially on the bogus basis that it’s unhealthy, denies its drinkers and drumbeaters their divine right to feed anything they damn well please to their little children.

Therefore, there may be a temptation to let the little children suffer from raw milk just to end the suffering of legislators bedeviled by the parents of those children.

Legislators who succumb to that temptation should know their sin will go neither unnoticed nor unremarked.



7 December 2016

Note to readers

Flathead Memo had to stand down today due to technical issues. We may be able to resume posting tomorrow.


6 December 2016

Bob Dole, once a Presidential candidate and respected Senator,
sold his soul to put Taiwan’s national interests above America’s

Now we know who arranged Donald Trump’s provocative (and, I would say, ill-considered) telephone call with the president of Taiwan. It was, reports the New York Times, 92-year-old Bob Dole, a hero of WWII, once a U.S. Senator from Kansas and Republican candidate for President, and now a buckraking Washington, D.C. lobbyist and foreign agent for the government of Taiwan.

His firm’s fee for whoring for Taiwan? One-hundred-forty-thousand dollars.

Apparently, Dole’s reprehensible conduct was legal. But it shouldn’t have been. Former members of Congress and officers of the cabinet should be barred for life from working for a foreign government. What did did was not just greedy and unwise, it was downright unpatriotic. He should be ashamed of himself.



5 December 2016

Additional observations on the University of Montana's predicament

Denise Juneau believes she’s qualified to be the University of Montana’s next president, and may apply for the job. Logicosity believes she’s a feel good candidate who might not be the best choice. If she applies for the job, the regents will consider her along with the others who apply, so the fix is not in.

Also not in is whether there’s a fix for the university’s decline that the university and the community will accept.

…read the rest


3 December 2016

Sen. Ankney’s resolution supporting the Regulation Freedom Amendment


Kneejerk loathing of government regulation is fundamental to the Republican creed. “Elect me and I’ll free you from bureaucrats and innovation choking red tape” is, along with “I’ll cut waste, fraud, and abuse,” one of politics’ most enduring — and empty — promises. But it wins votes and elects men like Rep. Paul Ryan, who includes reducing regulations in his legislative priorities for 2017:

Congressional Republicans, stunned by their own good, if complicated, fortune, said on Wednesday [9 Nov.] that they would move quickly next year on an agenda that merges with President-elect Donald J. Trump’s, repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting taxes, confirming conservative judges, shrinking government programs and rolling back regulations.

Ryan’s not alone. Montana State Senator Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip), booster of coal, and a tireless and effective advocate for his community, wants Montana to make a statement against what he deems excessive regulation. His method? A joint resolution, LC0498, urging Congress to adopt the Regulation Freedom Amendment. Here’s the current draft of the joint resolution :

…read the rest


2 December 2016

Legislators propose English Only and Don’t feed that wild turkey laws

So far, our blessings in Helena have requested 1,421 bills. Expect them to request another thousand before the session adjourns. Here are a few that will provoke discussion.

English Only laws. Rep.-elect Matt Regier (R-Kalispell) requested LC0845, a bill to “Limit state physical publications to national language.” Matt Regier’s father, Rep. and Sen.-elect Keith Regier (R-SD3, Whitefish) is more explicit. His request, LC1401, is for a bill to “Require English only on state publications and forms.”

English Only laws are both a way to pander to the prejudices of insecure provincials who recoil in fright and anger at the sound of a language they don’t understand, and to let immigrants, legal aliens, some Cajuns, some American Indians, and others, know that government serves and protects only those who master the tongue of English speaking American monolinguals.

Raw Milk. Rep.-elect Mike Hopkins (R-Missoula) joined the anti-public health caucus when he requested LC1307, a bill to “Provide for the sale and regulation of raw milk.” Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton) also requested raw milk bills. Unpasteurized milk is a health hazard. Those who advocate its sale are also health hazards. Unfortunately, some who advocate its sale are leaders in the 2017 legislature.

Daylight saving time. Rep. Steve Lavin (R-Kalispell), unfazed by sunsets as early as 1643 MST (6–14 December), requested LC0820, a bill to “Eliminate daylight savings [sic] time.” On election day, I had a friendly conversation with a man waving a Trump sign. He volunteered his wish for year long daylight saving time, as that would keep darkness at bay another hour.

Student election judges. LC0342. At the request of the Secretary of State by State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Interim Committee, a bill to “Authorize student election judges.” Previous versions of this bill would have allowed 16-year-olds to serve as election judges. It’s still a bad idea, and it won’t — and shouldn’t — pass. Voting and the administration of our election laws are adult activities that must be conducted exclusively by adults.

Feeding wild turkeys. Keith Regier today requested (LC1399) a bill to “Provide that it is unlawful to feed wild turkeys.” It will, however, remain lawful for Wild Turkey to feed legislators.



1 December 2016

UM President Engstrom told to walk the plank;
Petition started to replace him with Denise Juneau

University of Montana Royce Engstrom, who presided over, and perhaps was responsible for, a massive, indeed crippling, decline in enrollment, was asked to resign this week. His tenure ends on 31 December. Former Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns, 70, will replace him on an interim basis while the board of regents conducts a nationwide search for a new UM president.

Missoula resident Tyler Gernant believes no nationwide search is necessary. He believes the ideal replacement is Montana’s superintendent of schools Denise Juneau, who will become available in January. Gernant has started an online petition supporting appointing her as the university’s new president.

I’ve signed the petition — and I urge that my readers give signing it serious consideration.

University presidents usually have doctoral degrees, often in prestigious fields of study, but that’s a tradition, not a predictor of success. More than anything else, university presidents need political skills that enable them to deal successfully with the public, the legislature, with micro-managing regents, with donors and alumni, with community leaders, and with faculty and students. Juneau has those skills. In addition, she has a quiet charisma that would make the university an exciting place again.

Engstrom may not have been responsible for all that ails the university, but he clearly lacked the vision and personality to arrest and reverse the staggering decline in enrollment that occurred on his watch. He had to go — and should have been dismissed a year ago.

His successor faces a formidable crisis. Montana’s great liberal arts university has become a laughingstock, a hotbed of athletic scandals, an alleged den of sexual predation. It’s cursed with a growing reputation as a school of business, and a declining reputation as an outstanding academy of liberal arts. Juneau, I believe, can restore hope and make the university interesting again while she begins the long task of sweeping out the last of the dry rot and rebuilding the institution and its reputation.

Again, you can join the petition to support Juneau to replace Engstrom.



30 November 2016

Sen. Scott Sales wants to eliminate the office of Lt. Governor

Montana Senate President Scott Sales (R-Bozeman) has asked for a bill (LC0545) for a “Constitutional amendment to eliminate Lt. Governor’s office.” So far, there’s no draft language to review.

That Sales, or someone, would seek to eliminate the office of Lt. Governor is no surprise. In late 2015, former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown argued:

Lieutenant governors should serve in a real job. Many do, including in the states of Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona. Whether called secretary of state or lieutenant governor, one person is elected to perform the defined duties of secretary of state.

We should do the same thing. Montana taxpayers will be served by eliminating a useless and troublesome office and benefitted by giving a capable person a real job to do.

This reform can be accomplished only by amending our state constitution. That can happen by a citizen’s initiative in the 2016 general election or by a referendum to the people from the 2017 Legislature, voted on in the election of 2018. Let’s recognize it’s broke, and let’s fix it.

In Oregon, the Secretary of State becomes Governor when the office of Governor becomes vacant.

Brown’s proposal solves the problem of a Lt. Governor’s becoming bored by having little to do besides cut ribbons and attend funerals. But it does not necessarily solve the problem of ensuring that the voters’ choice of a political party is honored if the office of governor becomes vacant.

In fact, neither does Montana’s current constitution. When he selected Republican John Bohlinger as his Lt. Governor, Democrat Brian Schweitzer put the state at risk of being governed by a Republican if he could not finish his term.

That’s a vital consideration. When we elect a governor, we chose a political party as well as a person. A well thought out plan of succession ensures that when the saddle become empty, the rider is replaced but the horse is retained.

In my judgment, whatever Sales proposes should ensure that the person first in line to succeed the governor is a member of the same political party as the governor.



29 November 2016

Recommended reading at other blogs

At Logicosity, Devils in the Elusive Detail. At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s Why I Support An Election Audit, Even Though It’s Unlikely To Change The Outcome. At the American Prospect, Peter Dreier’s Democrats Must Mobilize America’s Largest Political Party: Nonvoters. At Think Progress, Ned Resnikoff’s Trump’s lies have a purpose. They are an assault on democracy. At Balkinization, Sandy Levinson’s the new “political correctness.”


28 November 2016

Recommended reading on low turnout elections

Yesterday, I drew your attention to Sen. Diane Sands’ request for a bill that would allow municipalities to cancel uncontested elections. Sands’ is a singularly bad idea, but it may enjoy some popularity among officials and citizens who see every issue through a beancounter’s lens.

Today, some recommended reading on the subject of low turnout elections, and why they are supported by some organized groups.



27 November 2016

Let’s not start canceling uncontested municipal elections

Like school board elections, and also by design, municipal elections are held when a low turnout, even with a mail ballot, is virtually guaranteed. Sometimes positions have only one candidate; sometimes, none. The outcome of such disgraceful situations never is in doubt.

Montana’s school districts persuaded the Legislature to allow uncontested elections to be canceled. Now there are canceled school elections aplenty.

Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) wants to give municipalities the same power. She’s requested a bill (request LC0725) that would “Authorize cancellation of local uncontested general elections by municipalities.” A draft isn’t available for review yet, but the description is self-explanatory.

The justification for canceling municipal elections will be “It will save time, trouble, and money.” And in the short term it might.

But it will not save democracy. To the contrary, it will weaken democracy.

The answer to not enough candidates for a contested election is moving the election to the general election in even-numbered years. That would increase turnout, and I suspect it would increase interest.

But there are factions that do not want municipal elections to have increased turnout. Among them, municipal employees, many unionized, who do not want their votes diluted by larger turnouts. Their notion of an ideal election is an election that is canceled because only one candidate — their candidate — filed. These political factors are analogous to those that keep school elections in low turnout and interest time and space.

We don’t yet know who is pushing Sands’ bill, but she’s not alone in this scheme. Someone surely approached her and said, “Hey, Diane, here’s a great way to save money and protect municipal employees.” How far she’ll get is anyone’s guess, but as Logicosity reported this morning, she has the promotional skills to carry it some distance.

But she should drop it. Canceling elections is what dictators do. It is not a remedy for what ails democracy.



26 November 2016

Stein’s fishy scheme, Spencer’s threat level, MT needs 2nd House seat

Is Jill Stein’s recount request part of a sneaky fundraising scheme? At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall raises that question and urges caution before donating to her recount fund. I agree. There are devilish details in the fine print.

The predicate for Stein’s request for a recount in Wisconsin is a finding by Prof. J. Alex Halderman, et al, that in some states, vote totals for Hillary Clinton deviated from pre-election polls. That finding proves Halderman was paying attention. But does it prove that the election was hacked? No. Halderman himself admits that:

Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

At FiveThirtyEight, Carl Bialik and Rob Arthur are skeptical of Halderman’s thesis — and convincing in their debunking of it.

…read the rest


25 November 2016

Hillary has the most popular votes,
but Donald represents the most people

Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, but he leads her in both the electoral vote and in the number of people residing in the states he won. The popular vote is still being tallied — David Wasserman has a live spreadsheet you can consult — and Clinton’s popular vote lead continues to increase, but which states each candidate won won’t change.

Here’s a summary table:



23 November 2016

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down until Friday, 25 November. Best wishes to everyone for a pleasant Thanksgiving.


20 November 2016

Monday national notes

Democrats should focus more on Republican policies than on Trump’s reprehensible appointments. Thundering denunciations of his selection of Jeff Sessions, Gen. Flynn, Steve Bannon, and similar men, are merited, not to mention soul satisfying, but the greater danger lies in the legislation the Republican Congress will present for his signature. They’re going after Dodd-Frank, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and a multitude of programs such as food stamps and WIC that help the poor and hungry. Paul Ryan’s budget and policy predilections are no secret. Some bill will be ready for Trump’s signature the day he takes the oath of office. The time to raise hell on policy is now.

Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke, and their fellow Republicans in Congress, are out of free votes on repealing the ACA and harming the poor. As long as President Obama could veto bills repealing the ACA and cutting supplemental nutrition programs, Republican legislators had free votes. They could pander to the Tea Party by voting to repeal Obamacare, knowing the repeal would be vetoed and thus no one would be harmed. Now the repeal will be signed into law, harm will be done, and those who voted for repeal will be held responsible for that harm. Whether this new reality will sober Daines, Ryan, et al, remains to be seen — but it should sober them.

Fixating on the electoral college distracts Democrats from the gravity of their predicament. Getting rid of the electoral college would ensure that the winner of the popular vote becomes President, but it would not help Democrats win majorities in Congress and state legislatures, or improve Democratic odds of winning elections for governor or U.S. Senator. Governors, senators, and state legislators, already are elected by popular vote — but legislators are elected from districts, usually single member districts. The Democratic Party, by abandoning the white working class, is concentrating its voters in urban clusters, where the party runs up huge majorities, thus wasting votes while conceding rural and low density suburban districts to the Republicans. The result, reports Alan Greenblatt of governing.com:

Democrats went into this election controlling the governorship, Senate and House in just seven states — that was their lowest number since the Civil War, when there were 15 fewer states. Now, they control just five states.

If Democrats do not learn to be competitive in rural and white America, they may never again win the White House, Congress, or most state legislatures. The party’s current identity politics coalition is a political suicide pact.



19 November 2016

“Congratulations, immigrants, on becoming U.S. citizens.
Donald Trump will be your President. Love him — or, leave!”

We’re entering an era in which dissent, the right to disagree with public officials and the decisions they make that’s the foundation of a liberal democracy, will be discouraged and punished. That became clear in Texas yesterday.

“Patriots don’t criticize the President,” an argument supporters of the Vietnam War, indeed all supporters of war, employed to denounce dissent as unAmerican, is the civics lesson a federal judge in Texas, emboldened by the election, taught new U.S. Citizens yesterday at a naturalization ceremony in San Antonio:

“I can assure you that whether you voted for him or you did not vote for him, if you are a citizen of the United States, he is your president,” Judge John Primomo said, according to KENS 5. “He will be your president and if you do not like that, you need to go to another country.”

There’ll be more of this “The election’s over, son. You lost. Now, damn you, either march to Trump’s tune, and whistle along and smile, or take your treasonous arse for a hike out of my America,” bully boy behavior, by both citizens and, to use Justice Jackson’s phrase, officials high and petty, before our nation turns back from the authoritarian path we chose on 8 November.



18 November 2016

Jon Tester is slowly running for re-election in 2018


Seven days ago, KBZK reported that “Sen. Jon Tester confirmed he’s already planning his 2018 campaign.” He then waited a week before posting the news to his Facebook page (the screenshot below was taken at 10:53 MST). His campaign website latest news was dated February, 2016, when I checked it at 11:07 MST.


Update. Why is a United States Senator with a college education using “wanna,” a lowbrow, comic book word that can cause cerebral hemorrhages in teachers of English?

Rolling out the announcement over this length of time, and in so casual a manner, is not the fast start out of the blocks that his re-election campaign requires.

In his 2006 and 2012 Senate campaigns, Tester won by narrow pluralities against weak opponents who ran second rate campaigns. Had Libertarians not been on the ballot, he would be known today as Farmer Jon, not Sen. Tester.

The 2018 election will be the toughest election of his life. He needs to get cracking, to project a sense of urgency, and to generate enthusiasm among Democrats — especially among Democrats who are disgusted with, and embittered by, the mess the Democratic Party’s establishment made of the 2016 election. If he runs his campaign at a tractor’s pace, he’ll end up running his tractor full time.



17 November 2016

Defending Medicare should be Democrats’ top priority

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Team Trump plan to eviscerate Medicare in 2017 — and they plan to use the budget reconciliation process, which requires only a majority vote, to sidestep a possible Democratic filibuster. Talking Points Memo has the details, a Phase-out Checklist for activists, and disturbing evidence that while Ryan hones his gutting knife, Democrats are weaving and waffling and fiddling with “let’s wait and see, and give President Trump a fair chance” fantasies:

…yesterday evening [16 Nov.] we published our first checklist of where members of Congress stand on Paul Ryan’s plan to phase out Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance. A few things to keep in mind for analyzing it and seeing what you can find out from your representative or senator. First, there are lots and lots of Democrats who either are stating vague opposition or are not saying where they stand at all. If they’re still vague or not stating a position at all, that’s very, very dangerous for the future of Medicare. Like every other member of Congress, they won’t state a flat and categorical decision unless pressed. And frankly, from what I can see, most of the these folks are still cuddling with comfort novels or awkwardly singing in dive bars over their third beer. It’s sad. But they’re totally not focusing on this.…

Sen. Jon Tester’s position on this is not clear. He’s defended Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, in the past, but his Senate website is silent on Ryan’s plans for Medicare in 2017. Update. Talking Points Memo reports that Tester opposes privatizing Medicare.

Establishment Democrats have a special responsibility to wage from the gitgo a holy war against the Republicans’ assault on Medicare, for it was Establishment Democrats who rigged the process to nominate Hillary Clinton, who then ran an incompetent campaign that lost the election, thereby inflicting on the nation Donald Trump and the radical Republican campaign to repeal the New Deal, the Great Society, and three generations of progressive legislation.

As Paul Waldman noted in the Washington Post today, Democrats who think they can play patty cake with Trump, Ryan, and the rest of the Republican wrecking crew, are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land:

It’s important that Democrats keep reminding the American public, every day for the next four years, of who’s sitting in the White House and what that means. Trump ran one of most vile presidential campaigns in American history, one based on racial and religious hatred, resentment and fear. He sought to normalize toxic misogyny. He celebrated violence. He mainstreamed white supremacy. His election has spurred a wave of racist intimidation and hate crimes, as bigots across the country have become emboldened by his victory to act out their most despicable impulses. He’s a demagogue and a dangerous fool, and while Democrats aren’t going to question the legitimacy of his presidency the way Republicans did with Obama, he shouldn’t ever be treated like an ordinary president with whom Democrats just have some substantive disagreements.

So, absent an incredibly powerful reason to cooperate with him on any particular bill, the last thing Trump should get from Democrats is a clean slate and a hand extended in cooperation.



16 November 2016

All questions must be asked through the committee’s chairperson

This morning, faculty at This Is How We Do It academy will instruct newly elected legislators in committee procedures and etiquette. They’ll learn that questioning a witness directly is a terrible breach of decorum.

If Mr. Wilson is testifying, Rep. Smith, upon receiving recognition to ask a question, must not look at Mr. Wilson and say, “Mr. Wilson, please explain….” That’s the straightforward, logical, approach — but it’s not the legislature’s approach.

…read the rest

Most 2017 legislative leaders are unrepentant raw milk advocates

Although drinking raw milk is dangerous, only two of the 13 leaders of the 2017 Montana Legislature — Democrats Sen. Jon Sesso (Butte), minority leaders, and Sen. Tom Facey (Missoula), minority whip — have clean voting records on raw milk legalization legislation in the 2015 and 2013 legislative sessions. House minority whip Shane Morigeau (D-Missoula), in his first session, has not yet had an opportunity to sin on the issue.

The table below is based on two bills:

  • Former Rep. Champ Edmunds (R-Missoula) carried the raw milk legalization bill, HB-574, in the 2013 session. The key votes were the third reading in the House (passed, 96–3), and the third reading in the Senate (failed 32–17 to secure a two-thirds majority).

  • Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton) carried the legalization bill, HB-245, in the 2015 session. The key votes were the third reading in the House (passed, 61–38), and the “second reading concur as amended” in the Senate (failed on a tie vote, 25–25).

There’s an appalling lack of support in those voting records for one of the most important and successful public health measures in history. Instead of mustering the wisdom and courage to defend and support a sound system of public health, some of these legislative leaders yielded to the intense lobbying of a noisy little mob of anti-science zealots — zealots who will return in force to again pester harried legislators to treat the legalization legislation as a food freedom issue.