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

June 2014 Archive


30 June 2014

U.S. troops just sent to Iraq now number 800

CNN reports 300 are advisors. The rest are support troops who will guard the advisors and reinforce the guard force at the U.S. embassy and elsewhere.

This is how it starts. First advisors. Then support forces. Next we start shooting at the adversary, probably from the air. Finally, our men and women come home in body bags.

Let the sons and daughters of Iraq defend their own country. Let them, not Americas’s sons and daughters, die on the battlefield or return home missing arms, legs, and eyes.

Time for a cease fire on the military records of Walsh & Zinke

Should criticism of a veteran’s military record be off limits even when that veteran is running for public office? Some think so. Here’s the Western Word’s Mike Brown this morning in a must read post:

I’ve written several times this campaign season that I don’t like it when people criticize a veteran’s military record – be it Republican or Democrat or whatever party. It especially annoys me when those doing the attacking did not serve. Considering how many e-mails I received about it, there are several fellow veterans who feel the same way.

It shows a total lack of respect for the veteran.

Mike makes some good points, but I don’t fully agree with him. Once a veteran throws his hat in the political ring, he becomes a public figure whose background, civilian and military, should and will be scrutinized. We have the right to know, and the duty to find out, if a candidate did something that reflects poorly on his capacity to serve in public office. For example, serving hard time for assault and battery or armed robbery. I’d want to know whether a veteran had been honorably discharged. And I’d sure like to know whether the military service of a candidate for, say, governor, showed a propensity for the kind of judgment upon which Oliver North built his reputation.

…read the rest

Kalispell has enough classrooms — it doesn’t need new schools

Kalispell school officials claim that more elementary — and possibly middle — school classrooms are needed, and that new schools must be built.

Nonsense. Plenty of classroom space exists. It just isn’t being used because schools like bankers’ hours and think schools should operate only five days a week and nine months a year.

That’s right. Two days a week, several hours a day, and at least two months a year, all classroom space is empty.

…read the rest


29 June 2014

Blooming at long, long, last

I planted the seeds at the beginning of May, watered them daily, fertilized them weekly. Now, two days before July, they’re blooming. Finally. I’m glad I didn’t try to make a living as a farmer.


Setting straight the record on the wreck of the Old 97

On Friday, 27 June, I posted videos of two performances of the classic railroad ballad, “The Wreck of Old 97.” The song tells the story of the speeding Southern Railway mail train that ran off the Stillhouse Trestle near Danville, VA, in 1903, killing eleven.

But the song’s account of the wreck has some flaws, beginning with the first verse:

…read the rest


28 June 2014

National GOP thinks Montana registers Republican voters

I know: we have an open primary and do not require a declaration of party affiliation as a condition of registering to vote. But the fund raising crew at the Republican National Committee didn’t let that fact get in the way of sending me a letter (PDF) that begins:


This is what happens when there’s inept quality control. A direct mail specialist reckoned people would respond to a “Please come back, we need you,” pitch. My name was on a list, probably a list of people who once had requested information. Someone else assumed Montana required registration by party. No one checked with Montana’s Secretary of State. Because all involved knew they were right, they trusted instead of verifying — and I received this proof that Republicans and the facts aren’t always in close touch with each other.



27 June 2014

Railroading oil trains through Whitefish

Oil trains can comprise 100 or more tank cars, and stretch more than mile end-to-end. They can’t be hidden. If private citizens and local governments want to monitor trains carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota to Anacortes, WA, across Montana’s Hi-Line and through Whitefish, they can do so legally by placing webcams every few miles along the tracks. There’s no way to keep something that big secret, especially when it’s moving through a defined corridor at high noon.

But that hasn’t stopped the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad from trying. Last month, after the federal government ordered railroads to notify states of trains shipping Bakken oil, a measure aiding public safety by providing vital information to the first responders who will have to deal with oil trains that derail and catch fire, the BNSF tried strong-arming states into signing confidentiality agreements to keep the information from being made available to the public.

…read the rest

Daybreak video — Wreck of Old 97

Two versions. One by Johnny Cash, the other (which I prefer) by the Seekers. A famous railroad ballad about the deadly 1903 wreck of a Southern Railway fast mail train just north of Danville, VA, as it thundered down a grade trying to make up time. The video has photographs of 97’s steam locomotive smashed at the bottom of Stillhouse Trestle.


26 June 2014

Daines starts stinking-up the campaign

Steve Daines

As a Montana National Guard officer, Sen. John Walsh led American soldiers overseas, into battle in Iraq. Working for Proctor and Gamble, Rep. Steve Daines led himself to China where he set up soap factories while P&G was laying off thousands in the USA.

John Walsh brought home all the soldiers he took to Iraq. When Steve Daines returned home, P&G was still making soap in China.

Now Daines needs his mouth washed out with soap for the job he’s trying to do on the truth about John Walsh’s military service. In his campaign’s latest 30-second television ad, Daines approves a former Army officer’s false allegation that Walsh condoned sexual harassment when he commanded Montana’s national guard:

…read the rest

Hell hath no fury like a woman with a beautiful voice

Highway 101’s founder and lead singer, Paulette Carlson, performs The Bed You Made for Me, a song inspired by an unpleasant breakup with a former boyfriend. She’s a wonderfully expressive performer, and her performance beginning at the 2:45 mark is priceless.


25 June 2014

When the Flathead County Library was still known by that name


GOP heavyweights spar over closed versus top two primaries

Matt Monforton

At their 2014 convention, Montana’s Republicans quickly adopted a resolution calling for a closed primary and general election runoff. Now the party must find a way to convert the resolution into law — and the slow and careful approach of the party’s leadership is exasperating closed primary advocates such as Matt Monforton, who believes the best and fastest way to a closed primary is through a federal court.

Moreover, some of the party’s powerbrokers such as Errol Galt still think a top two primary is a better strategy, and seem to be conducting a rearguard action to stall the push for a closed primary. Montana’s GOP chairman, Will Deschamps, told NBCMontana reporter Colin Cashin that “…he wants to see what the legislature does, and what the governor thinks before suing in federal court.”

In an essay, Montana Gop Chairman Gives His Party the Finger, on his legislative campaign’s Facebook page, Monforton said:

…read the rest


24 June 2014

Did black Democratic crossover voters save Thad Cochran’s job?

Early reports suggest that’s what happened. Democrats who voted in their own primary cannot vote in a Mississippi Republican runoff, but Democrats who didn't vote in the primary can vote in the runoff. Cochran courted black Democrats who didn’t vote in the primary. Evidently, that courting paid off: Cochran narrowly defeated tea party backed Chris McDaniel today. Expect McDaniel’s supporters to demand a closed primary.


23 June 2014

Meter, meter on the wall: who sells the cheapest juice of all?

It’s not the Flathead Electric Cooperative, let alone Northwestern Energy. Or any other electrical utility in Montana. Well, then, who? Most likely, the Douglas County Public Utility District in East Wenatchee, WA, which charges residential customers $10.13 per month plus $0.0233 per kilowatt hour — unless you use 650 kWhrs or less a month. In that case, the juice sold across the Columbia River in Wenatchee, WA, by the Chelan County PUD for $7.70 per month plus $0.0270 per kWhr, is cheaper.

In Montana, Northwestern’s electricity is cheaper than Flathead Electric’s up to 385 kWhrs/mth, and over 36,000 kWhrs/mth. That’s because in addition to a lower base charge, Northwestern has a single price per kWhr while FEC uses an ascending block price structure (to encourage conservation) in which the price per kWhr of the top block is higher than Northwestern’s price per kWhr.


…read the rest


22 June 2014

Down by Whitefish Station, see the Bakken oil train


Hundred-car-long oil trains brimming with Bakken crude highball across Montana’s Hi-Line every day, Puget Sound bound. They pass through Whitefish, where my friends suck in their breath and hope nothing goes wrong. This song is for them.

Down by Whitefish Station,
Early in the morning
See the Bakken oil train,
Thunder down the track,
One hundred cars of crude oil,
Fracked from Dakota deep soil,
Bang, bang, big flame,
If it jumps the track.

…sing the rest


21 June 2014

MT GOP endorses proposal for ideologically pure primaries

Recommended Reading

Gaming the Vote, by William Poundstone (2008). NY Times review.

I was wrong. Notwithstanding how far to the right the Republican Party has lurched, I thought the GOP’s conventioneers in Billings this weekend would reject a resolution for a closed primary. Instead, they approved it, not without dissent, on a voice vote.

They also approved a resolution calling for a runoff election if the winner in the general election does not receive a majority.

The legislature can pass a closed primary law, but a runoff will require amending Article IV, Section 4, of Montana’s constitution:

Result of elections. In all elections held by the people, the person or persons receiving the largest number of votes shall be declared elected.

…read the rest

Ed Kemmick and the Last Best News

Ed Kemmick

Four young journalists from Billings are Bakken bound, bent on documenting the how the oil boom is changing that country. It’s a long term project that both belongs to the young and speaks well of them. Ed Kemmick has the fascinating story at his new online publication, the Billings based Last Best News.

Ed wrote the City Lights blog at the Billings Gazette for a decade, where he worked for 1,281 weeks. City Lights was more than highly regarded. It was the yardstick for measuring the merits of other blogs, including this one. Now with Prairie Lights he’s continuing that tradition of excellence at LBN.

If as I do, you like your news and opinion presented with pith and wit, bookmark LBN and visit it often.


Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are here

Nat King Cole sings it on a BBC special in 1963. He died two years later.


20 June 2014

Tester and Walsh rightly oppose sending “advisors” to Iraq

It’s deja vu all over again for those of us who remember our first steps into the quagmire of Vietnam were taken by advisors. First we sent hundreds, then we sent hundreds of thousands. Almost 60,000 of the men we sent to meddle in a civil war we had no business fighting, among them some of my high school classmates, came home in body bags.

President Obama says he’s sending 300 advisors to Iraq to assess the situation. According to CNN, these officers and noncoms will hole up in rooms with thick walls to study maps. But after that you can bet your farm that these advisors will help designate targets for air and missile strikes against the blood crazed ISIS. Obama obviously thinks the politics of the situation require that he do something more than exhort the people of Iraq to solve their own problems, and to sacrifice the lives of their own sons, so he probably considers sending advisors a reasonable compromise. Well, that’s how it starts; one toe wetted to test the water, then before you know it you’re waist deep in the Big Muddy with bullets screaming your way. Senators Tester and Walsh are right to oppose sending advisors. Here’s Tom Paxton:


Steve Daines’ hot air bill could increase electricity prices


He doesn’t call it that, of course. It’s official name is the Coal Jobs and Affordable Energy Protection Act. It would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon dioxide regulations (PDF) to reduce by 2030 American CO2 emissions 30 percent from their 2005 level “…from taking effect until these simple but important benchmarks are met:”

  • The Department of Labor certifies that the regulations would not cost jobs.
  • The Congressional Budget certifies that the regulations would not result in any loss in the gross domestic product.
  • The Energy Information Administration certifies that the regulations would not increase electricity rates.
  • The Federal American Electric Reliability Corporation certifies that electricity deliver would remain reliable.

Daines’ conditions, of course, are designed never to be met.

The EPA’s goal, however, is reasonable and can be met. In fact, according to the Bloomberg Daily Environment Report, we’re already more than halfway there:

…read the rest

Did I-170’s backers run out of faith as well as time?

That question occurred to me, and occurred to me more sharply after reading Mike Dennison’s report on the the initiative’s demise. It’s backers, assuming they would come up short, did not submit any signatures to county elections offices. They said they ran out of time — but faced with a tough campaign, did they also run out of faith that Montanans would approve I-170? Dennison’s story concludes:

…read the rest


19 June 2014

Schweitzer glues his foot in his mouth


Updated. And he’ll have a hard time ever getting it out. His characterizations of Sen. Diane Feinstein and Rep. Eric Cantor were, to be charitable, ungentlemanly and vulgar; certainly not commensurate with the level of civility we should expect from someone who wants us to consider himself qualified to be President. I sometimes wonder whether Schweitzer tosses down a shot or two before talking to journalists. But I don’t wonder whether he really wants to be President. I don’t think he does. Otherwise, he’d exercise more self-discipline. At some point he’ll probably apologize, but he won’t be able to unring the bell.

Update. He apologized, accurately describing his remarks as “stupid,” but he didn’t unring the bell:



Expand Medicaid initiative fails to make ballot

Updated. I-170, the Healthy Montana citizens initiative that would have expanded Medicaid to 70,000 low income Montanans, won’t be on the general election ballot in November. Its sponsors announced today that they failed to collect enough signatures. According to Matt Voltz of the Associated Press, an internal audit conducted by the organizers revealed that as many as 30 percent — almost one of three — of the signatures collected would be invalidated.

I’m not surprised. The approval of ballot language was delayed — see Montana Cowgirl for more details — and the signature gathering operation never struck me as particularly well organized, or as having a strategy for countering the impacts of voting by mail and low voter turnout in the primary election.

There’s also the possibility that I-170’s backers were using the initiative as a tool to get Medicaid expanded in a special legislative session. Commenting at Montana Cowgirl, sometimes controversial Democratic political operative Bob Brigham said:

…read the rest

Let the sun shine

The sun is shining, late spring temperatures are back, so here’s the Fifth Dimension performing its Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in medley:

Early Morning Rain video

Here's Gordon Lightfoot in Reno in 2000 performing his first great song, Early Morning Rain, written in 1964. No one sings it better. I’ll post sunnier music later today if the weather cooperates.


18 June 2014

Walsh says it’s time for Iraq to defend itself


Sen. John Walsh, the only combat veteran of the war in Iraq serving in the Senate, said today in remarks delivered on the floor of the Senate, “It is now time for the Iraqis to secure and defend their own nation. The embrace of their own self-determination is the only path to a true and everlasting peace in Iraq.”

I agree. Sending more Americans to die defending a country that cannot govern itself would be criminal stupidity. Below, the full text of Walsh’s remarks.

…read the rest


17 June 2014

On other blogs today

At the Western Word, Mike Brown has a thoughtful essay on whether partitioning Iraq, an idea proposed by, among others, Joe Biden when he was still in the Senate, makes sense. I’ve always thought it did. Iraq is not a natural nation, by which I mean a nation defined not only by geography but by language and religion. It’s a remnant of the Ottoman Empire, its borders in part the consequence of interventions by westerners such as Gertrude Bell, and its ethnic regions held together by strong men such as Saddam Hussein. Now it’s coming apart along ethnic seams, with many Sunni areas in the north controlled by the murderous ISIS.

We’re well out of it, our troops home, but as Steve Benen and James Fallows note, the same people — Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, the Kagens, to name a few — who thought invading Iraq in 2003 was such a good idea are raising their voices again, reasserting it was a good idea, and that it would be a good idea to intervene again to preserve democracy. No one should listen to them this time.

At Montana Cowgirl, we learn that the Montana State Fund is spending money on billboards asserting “Work Heals.” The slogan bears an unnerving resemblance to arbeit macht frei, a German phrase that translates as “work makes you free” that was associated with certain unpleasant places in der Vaterland 70 years ago. Why the Montana State Fund needs to spend a cent on advertising, let along on billboards sporting an Orwellian phrase, escapes me.

There are State Fund posters, too. At Athena Photography, there’s an image of a poster with photograph of a burly guy in a hardhat and the quote “A joke from Bill in shipping, now that’s a painkiller.” In other words, stop taking opioids to kill the pain of your injury and get back to work, where Bill’s dirty jokes will replace the soothing arms of Mother Morphine and won’t cost the State Fund anything.



16 June 2014

How John Walsh should embrace the Affordable Care Act

Timidity costs votes. So does pussyfooting around issues. John Walsh is doing both, which to me explains in part why he’s running in place in the polls.

Here’s how he dealt with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) in his debate with Steve Daines and Roger Root, reports Charles Johnson of the Lee State Bureau:

Walsh said the United States must move to a system under which “all of our citizens can receive quality, affordable health care.”

“The president promised we would see health care costs come down,” Walsh said. “He promised that if you like your insurance company, you could keep it. He promised if you like your doctor, you could keep him. I’m hearing from Montanans that that’s not the case. So until I see the costs of health care come down in Montana, the jury is still out from my perspective.”

In other words, “Hey, don’t blame me for Obamacare’s problems. I wasn’t there when it was passed.”

Attention, Sen. Walsh. Listen up! You’re running as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. The ACA is a Democratic program — not a single Republican voted for it — and like it or not, you have an obligation to defend it. And defending it vigorously will help your campaign.

…read the rest

John Walsh is not moving the polling needle

Voting in the general election begins in 110 days — and that’s how long Sen. John Walsh has to make up a 15-point deficit. At this stage of the campaign, polls have less predictive power than at later stages, especially after Labor Day. But that doesn't mean the polls below can be dismissed. In November, 2013, Walsh trailed Daines 52–35 percent among registered voters, a 17 percent gap. In the weighted average of the last three polls, all of likely voters, Daines leads 51.4 to 36.2 percent. In the only poll conducted after the 3 June primary, he led by 18 percent.

For Walsh, closing that gap won’t be easy. It probably will require a rapid and extensive overhaul of his campaign; because what he’s doing and saying now isn’t getting the job done. The needle has barely budged in the last eight months. This will discourage potential donors, and demoralize Democrats. Unless he begins gaining on Daines, and unless Daines begins polling below 50 percent, he’ll enter a political death spiral near, I would think, the end of August.




15 June 2014

Raindrops keep falling on Flathead


Raindrops on the leaf of an African daisy serve as a natural magnifying glass.

Below, B.J. Thomas delivers the weather forecast for the Flathead.


14 June 2014

Expand Medicaid initiative needs more signatures

I-170, the Healthy Montana initiative that would expand Medicaid in Montana, is in danger of not making the ballot. With the 20 June deadline for submitting signatures six days away, the initiative’s backers have collected approximately 20,000 signatures, but need at least 24,175 (the formal requirement is at least five percent of the qualified electors statewide, and at least five percent in at least 34 legislative districts).

Organizers are making a final push in Flathead County this weekend, with plans to circulate petitions at the farmers market in Kalispell, at Costco, and at the Avalanche Creek parking lot in Glacier National Park. I’ll be interested to learn how the Glacier adventure works out.

This is coming down to the wire because (a) getting the initiative approved for circulation was delayed, partly by frivolous challenges, and (b) absentee voting reduces the number of signatures that can be collected at the polls. The adverse effect of absentee voting was foreseeable, but that didn’t deter Democrats and progressives from embracing early voting and encouraging voters to vote by mail.

Given the legislative district requirement, going door-to-door using the Democratic walking list might be more effective than working events such as the farmers market.

If you haven’t signed the petition, but want to, send an email message to If you oppose the initiative, and believe in Almighty God, get down on your knees and beg his forgiveness for denying 70,000 Montanans access to affordable health care.



13 June 2014

Ask Walsh, Daines, Lewis, and Zinke what the U.S. should do in Iraq

Iraq is disintegrating. Murderous jihadis have seized control of Mosul and are bound for Baghdad, lightly armed but capturing heavier weapons and encountering little or no resistance from Iraq’s American trained army. The Kurds have seized Kirkuk in the oil patch. The incompetent central government is cozying-up to Iran but calling for American air strikes to slow the jihadi's advance. American oil companies and interests doing business in Iraq want the protection of the American government.

So, John, Steve, John, and Ryan, what should we do? Why? What difference would it make? And how do you know?

Those questions had better be put to these men in the debates in Butte tomorrow night — and none should be allowed evade direct and honest answers. Montanans have the right to know whether and why their representatives in Congress would bless U.S. policy that could lead to the deaths of our sons and daughters in the resumption of a war we never should have started.

Republicans unlikely to adopt Monforton ’s closed primary resolution

Matt Monforton

Updated (see end). Should Montana switch to primary elections closed to all but officially declared members of a political party? Republican legislative candidate Matt Monforton (Bozeman, HD-69, map) thinks so. Not pleased that Democratic crossover votes may have defeated tea partiers Scott Boulanger in SD-43 (map) and Mike Hebert in HD-11 (map), Monforton has drafted for next weekend’s Montana Republican Convention a resolution calling for closed primaries. If adopted, it would become part of the GOP’s platform.

In theory, a closed primary prevents crossover mischief and protects the right of a political party to choose its own candidates. In practice, a closed primary raises issues concerning the political privacy of individual voters.

I doubt Monforton’s closed primary resolution will be adopted, although the convention may well adopt a feel-good resolution denouncing those underhanded Democrats who had the temerity to cast legal crossover votes. There are three reasons why:

…read the rest


12 June 2014

John Lewis on energy jobs: all of the above and below


Democrat John Lewis waited until he won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House before releasing his All of the Above and Below: Montana Energy Jobs Framework (PDF). That was smart. He’s for virtually every kind of energy development — coal, natural gas, oil, etc. — that creates jobs in Montana. The only exception is subsidizing producing ethanol from corn, a boondoggle that probably consumes more fossil fuel than it replaces — and he’s against that only because he’s for producing cellulosic biofuels. Environmentalists will be furious.

Here’s an excerpt:

With a wealth of coal, oil, natural gas, wind, hydropower and timber, Montana is in the driver’s seat to lead the nation toward energy independence. In addition, the hard-working Montanans who harvest, mine, burn, refine, transport, and research our natural resources will continue to lead the Treasure State toward a new energy revolution. More than 2,000 Montanans work in coal. The oil and gas industry supports 4,000 Montana jobs adding billions to our state’s economy. At the same time, timber jobs that supported Montana families for generations have been slashed in half in the last 20 years as harvest volumes have dropped 64% since 1993. With many of our forests overgrown and ravaged by beetle kill, there’s no reason Montana’s biomass shouldn’t be contributing to our state’s energy portfolio. [Hi-lighting added, footnotes omitted.]

“Energy independence” is a dog whistle for “we’ll never have to suck up to them dirty Arabs again.” It’s also a chimera, as Intel founder Andy Grove observed when George W. Bush went begging to OPEC and returned empty-handed. And it’s standard campaign language for Democrats and Republicans.

Lewis debates Republican nominee Ryan Zinke and Libertarian Mike Fellows in two days. The timing of the release of his energy jobs framework is not a coincidence.

Disclosure. Although I take the dimmest possible view of the Keystone XL pipeline and development of the Athabasca Tar Sands, I’ve urged, and continue to urge, environmentalists to cut Lewis and John Walsh some slack for their support of the pipeline. The political reality is that opposing the pipeline would drive a wedge between Walsh and Lewis and organized labor to the detriment of their campaigns. Neither Montana nor the planet will become greener if next year our two newest blessings in Congress are Sen. Daines and Rep. Zinke.


The shooter and you — should you shoot back or squirt back?

Actually, you should skedaddle if you can; get the hell out of Dodge, and at warp speed. If you can’t skedaddle, hide. And be quiet. If the guy with the gun can’t see or hear you, he won’t know where to shoot.

Your last resort, experts agree, is fighting back with whatever weapon is available.

But if you’re forced to fight, and you have both a pistol and a can of pepper spray, which is the more effective weapon? In the recent shooting in Las Vegas, a man with a sidearm who tried to intervene was shot dead. But earlier in Seattle, a man used pepper spray to disable the shooter, who was captured alive.

…read the rest


11 June 2014

Additional observations on crossover voting

Some Republicans are alleging that Eric Cantor lost his primary election because Democrats crossed-over to vote for his opponent, a possibility I mentioned in a short post last night. Like Montana, Virginia has an open primary in which crossover voting can and does occur.

The key question, which I raised in a post last week, is whether the crossover votes mattered — and determining that is no easy task.

…read the rest

Plum Creek’s website failed to inform public on fiberboard fire

Plum Creek’s fiberboard plant. 1990s photo.

Plum Creek’s medium density fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls was damaged yesterday by fire and explosions. No one was injured. It’s happened before, and given the grain elevator environment, it will happen again. Both the InterLake and Flathead Beacon published stories on the fire.

But you won’t learn about the event from Plum Creek’s corporate website. Plum Creek apparently supplied all its information through a spokesperson who dealt only with the mainstream news media. That was a mistake, a lesson in how not to manage public information in a crisis. Rumors of dozens of deaths were rife on local social media, reports the InterLake — yet Plum Creek used neither its corporate website nor a crisis management Facebook page (at least no crisis management page that I could find) to keep the public informed. A simple but prominent link from the corporate website’s home page to a Facebook page and/or crisis management page would have sufficed.

…read the rest


10 June 2014

Teabagger dethrones Eric Cantor in GOP primary

“All politics,” said Tip O’Neill, “is local.” Rep. Eric Cantor, majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, just learned that the hard way, losing to a hard right professor of economics by a 55–45 percent margin. That’s a solid loss. Apparently the turnout was higher than in 2012. If so, that’s a red flag that could indicate an aroused and aggrieved tea party electorate, and/or crossover voting from Democrats. Larry Sabato and his number crunchers at the University of Virginia should have the answer for us shortly.

A depressing column chart for Democrats

Yesterday I directed your attention to Charles Johnson’s fine report on party differences in turnout in primary elections in Montana. The Missoulian’s table of primary votes by party becomes truly arresting when converted to a column chart of the differences.

…read the rest


9 June 2014

Montana Democratic primary votes used to outnumber GOP votes

Charles Johnson reports in today’s Missoulian that from 1960 to 1994, more Democrats than Republicans voted in Montana’s primaries. His excellent story is accompanied by an excellent table that I recommend downloading.

After 1994, Democratic primary voters outnumbered Republican primary voters only in 2006 and 2008, both throw-the-bums-out elections.

…read the rest

Flood of 1964 history and hydrographs

The great Flathead flood of 1964 began with a once in a century gullywasher parked over the continental divide — and ended with the highest water ever for the Flathead River north of Flathead Lake, and the highest water in Flathead Lake since Hungry Horse Dam was closed in 1951.

Interestingly, the flood of 1948, which peaked at 102,000 cubic feet per second at Columbia Falls, pushed Flathead Lake to 2895.93 Somers Datum, almost two feet higher than did the flood of 1964, when the Flathead River peaked at 176,000 cfs at Columbia Falls. That’s because the flood of 1964 lasted only a few days while the 1948 magnitude floods of 1948, 1933, 1928, and 1916 lasted longer and pushed the lake to approximately 2896. The flood of 1927 may have been comparable to 1948, but no records are available for the critical period. In 1894, the river peaked at 142,000 cfs and the lake may have reached 2900.

Below are hydrographs of the Flathead River at Columbia Falls for the floods of 1948 and 1964, their effect on Flathead Lake, and a hydrograph of the reservoir behind Hungry Horse Dam. At the peak of the 1964 flood, the reservoir rose five feet a day, a very rare rate of fill.

…read the rest


8 June 2014

Exactly what climate change language did MT Democrats approve?

Apparently the 2014 Montana Democratic Platform will contain climate change planks not much different from the climate change planks in the 2012 platform. I use the word “apparently” because none of the proposals for modifying the climate change planks has been made public.

It’s in the best interests of both the Democratic Party and Montana voters that the disputed language, and the final language, be made public immediately. Speculation on what went down is always worse than what did go down.

If you are willing to share the proposed climate change modifications and/or the climate change language finally adopted, please send them to me at jrc[at] Neither your name nor information leading to it will be revealed.



7 June 2014

Democrats embarrass themselves in Butte

I don’t know whether drill and dig Democratic State Senator Jim Keane of Butte is a global warming denier, but I do know that if he’s ever opposed an energy development or natural resource exploitation project he’s kept that opposition well hidden from public view. So it’s no surprise that Mike Dennison reports that Keane’s leading the opposition to putting new climate change language in the platform of the Montana Democratic Party:

…read the rest


6 June 2014

Where does John Lewis stand on I-172?


Updated with response from Melissa Lewis. Working wives can make campaigning interesting for politicians. John Lewis, the Democratic candidate for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Lewis, and the first Democrat since 2000 with a fighting chance of winning that seat, may have what I would call a conflict of interest problem with Initiative 172, which would lower taxes for Charter Communications. Both Montana Cowgirl and the Helena Vigilante have excellent stories on the issue, and there’s even a new website devoted to the matter, FU CI-172.

If I-172 makes the ballot, and voters approve it, the net result is that the taxes lowered for Charter probably will be offset by higher taxes on the rest of us.

The potential conflict of interest problem for Lewis is that his wife, Melissa, receives money for lobbying for Charter. The Vigilante reports:

…read the rest

Sgt. Bergdahl’s return is character test for Walsh and Zinke

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may not have been a model soldier before he became a prisoner of war held by the Taliban. But model soldier or not, he was — and is — an American soldier. Our soldier. Ergo, when an opportunity to obtain his release arose, President Obama rightly seized it.

The deal that returned Bergdahl already is mired in politics, so how the issue is handled by two retired career military officers turned politician — Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat, and Ryan Zinke, a Republican — will be interesting.

…read the rest


5 June 2014

Was there significant Dem crossover in GOP primaries? Did it matter?

The short answers: Yes, in some GOP primaries, and No in most cases. In Ravalli County, Democratic crossovers may have helped defeat tea partier Scott Boulanger in Senate District 43, and may have helped defeat some tea party affiliated candidates for the county commission. But I have not performed a statistical analysis of these contests.

In the Flathead, there’s a strong statistical case that relatively large numbers of Democrats voted in the Republican primaries in House Districts 7 and 11, and in Senate District 4. Crossover voting probably didn’t matter in HD-7 and SD-4, but it may have helped Dr. Albert Olszewski defeat hard right Mike Hebert in HD-11.

There was a strong case for Democratic crossover voting in the Kalispell and Somers-Lakeside legislative districts, but also a case for Democrats voting in their own primaries to ensure the defeat of U.S. House candidate John Driscoll, who was trying to reprise his 2008 takedown of Jim Hunt (Driscoll won that primary, then endorsed Republican Denny Rehberg that fall), and to make a difference in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator.

In the Flathead, Bill Baum wrote opeds and letters-to-the-editor urging Democrats to crossover to support Cal Scott for county commissioner. It was clear pretty much from the gitgo that Scott would lose the primary in a landslide, so I doubt that Baum generated many crossovers.

Crossover voting seldom makes a critical difference unless a political party endorses it, and puts some money and political muscle behind it. That didn’t happen in Montana, although a key Democratic ally, the MEA-MFT union, did urge its members to consider voting for the least conservative Republican candidates in targeted districts.



4 June 2014

Montana 2014 primary turnout comparable to 2010 primary turnout

According to Montana’s Secretary of State, one of three registered voters cast ballots in the 3 June 2014 primary election — and that’s the best case scenario. The most useful turnout statistic is ballots cast as a percentage of the Voting Eligible Population — and by that statistic, Montana’s primary turnout was 27.6 percent, just two tenths of a percent better than the turnout in the 2010 primary.

…read the rest


3 June 2014

Where to go for near realtime election results

Not here. We’re equipped for live blogging, but we’re leaving that to others. I recommend checking the Flathead Beacon, the Daily InterLake, and the Montana Secretary of State’s elections results website (Flathead County page). We’ll have analysis in the morning.

GOP 4-corner honk-n-wave in Kalispell

It was an all Republican show at the entrance to the Flathead County Fairgrounds this afternoon. Not all campaigns were represented. Among the missing were Tammi Fisher, Mark Blasdel, and Frank Garner. There was one Cal Scott sign.


Ryan Zinke, candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives. His opponents include Matt Rosendale, who spent a million dollars of his own money on a mud-slinging campaign so toxic it should be declared a Superfund site.

…read & see the rest

Absentee ballots sent and received as of 2 June

Red sky at morning, voters take warning

I awoke early this morning, took this photograph, and then suffered a rare computer crash that generated some purple commentary. Here’s the photograph. My election day posts will be delayed until afternoon. And yes, it’s raining in the Flathead Valley.


2 June 2014

Election eve updates

Throughout the day, I’ll be posting pre-election briefs during my breaks from mowing the lawn and tending to my flower beds.

Fisher has “A” NRA rating, Garner a “B-”

Tammi Fisher supports the Second Amendment as understood by the U.S. Supreme Court, and has the NRA rating to prove it. That may not be good enough for Gary Marbut, but it ought to be good enough for the voters of Senate District 4.

Frank Garner, the former Kalispell chief of police running for the Republican nomination in House District 7, only received a B- from the NRA, which gave an A rating and endorsement to his opponent, Ronalee Skees. Garner isn’t going to take away your firearms. He’s just going to have the courage to disagree with the NRA on some issues.



1 June 2014

Tammi Fisher refuses to kiss Gary Marbut’s gunstock

Updated 2 June 2014 with response from Tammi Fisher.

In other words, she refused to fill out and return the questionnaire sent to her by the Montana Shooting Sports Association. Now, readers should be aware that MSSA differs from Marbut in one very important way: the names are spelled differently. Otherwise, there’s no practical difference. Just so you know.

How did Gary MSSA react to being dissed by Fisher? He sent the voters of Senate District 4 a little red postcard endorsing Fisher’s opponent, Mark Blasdel, who makes no secret of his love of deadly weapons:

…read the rest