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

Archives Index, 2016 December 1–15


15 December 2016

A U.S. House vacancy can be filled only by special election

Contrary to what I reported on 13 December, a vacancy in a U.S. House seat must be filled by a special election. The U.S. Constitution does not allow a governor to appoint a temporary replacement pending an election. See Tyler Evilsizer’s post at Intelligent Discontent, and Tom Lutey’s story at the Missoulian. Montana’s law, SB-169, that provided for an appointment to the House, was unconstitutional from the gitgo. If you’re wondering how in hell that bill got passed, I have the same question.



14 December 2016

All speculation on the Ryan Zinke front


 Updated at 1031 MST, 15 December.  The Flathead Beacon reports that Trump’s transition confirmed Zinke was offered the position, and that Zinke accepted. Before becoming SecDOI, Zinke must be vetted and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. While confirmation is highly probable, it’s not a certainty. Zinke will not resign his seat in the U.S. House until he’s confirmed as SecDOI.

Previously. As of 1250 MST, yesterday’s report that President-Elect Donald Trump offered Rep. Ryan Zinke the post of Secretary of the Interior has not been confirmed by Trump or Zinke. The uncertainty did not deter Montana’s Democrats from issuing a statement assuming Zinke has been appointed to the job:

“Congressman Zinke has a tremendous responsibility ahead of him in protecting access to our public lands and clean water, and serving Indian Country. But it is important to remember less than 40 days ago, he asked Montana voters to re-hire him to be our voice in the U.S. House,” said Nancy Keenan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party. “Yet again, his personal ambitions have trumped Montanans decision and voice. We wish him well and will continue to hold all leaders accountable to Montana values. Congressman Zinke is no exception.”

Even if Zinke accepts the nomination — he might thank Trump for the honor, but decide to stay in Congress and run for the Senate in 2018 — he must be vetted and confirmed by the Senate. That could take a couple of months.

Assuming Zinke does move to Interior, I suspect the special election to replace him would be held in spring, probably after the legislature adjourns. Although that might coincide with school board elections, combining school board elections with a special Congressional election, must not be legally or politically possible, although it would make a great deal of sense.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of speculation about potential replacements for Zinke. At Big Sky Words, Greg Strandberg considers some possibilities. There will be a plentitude of Republicans seeking the job, and a scarcity of Democrats. The odds of a Democrat’s winning a special statewide election are perishingly low.

The news that Zinke may leave Congress, and the uncertainty it brings 11 days before Christmas, must be unsettling to his staff, who would be prudent to bring their résumés up to date. If their commander seals the SecDOI deal, they could be marching to the unemployment office.



13 December 2016

Trump reportedly offers Zinke Sec. of Interior post UPDATED


Politico has the details, reporting at 1300 MST that Trump offered Zinke the job and that Zinke is expected to accept when the flight he’s on lands. If true, Zinke’s appointment may be further proof that Trump is easily and deeply impressed by the crispness, confidence, and can-do attitude of career servicemen, and that he’s willing to tap mere commanders as well as bemedaled generals.

Trump could do much worse than Zinke. For example, Rob Bishop of Utah. Or Jennifer Fielder (a candidate for the Bureau of Land Management if the position’s not being reserved for Ammon Bundy?).

If Zinke becomes Secretary of the Interior, Gov. Bullock will appoint a replacement from a three-person list chosen by the Montana Republican Party. There’ll be plenty of competition.

Update. A vacancy in a U.S. House seat must be filled by a special election. See Tyler Evilsizer’s post at Intelligent Discontent, and Tom Lutey’s story at the Missoulian. Montana’s law, SB-169, that provided for an appointment to the House, was unconstitutional from the gitgo. If you’re wondering how in hell that bill got passed, I have the same question.

If Zinke moves to Interior, would he still run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Jon Tester? That’s possible, but perhaps not that likely. Zinke’s move to Interior might also clear the way for a Senate run by Greg Gianforte.



12 December 2016

Sen. Tom Facey drafts bill eliminating death penalty


The Missoula Democrat's bill would replace the death penalty with life without parole. A bill with a similar title, “Replace the Montana death penalty with life without parole sentence,” that was requested by Sen. Douglas Kary (R-Billings), is now on hold.

In the 2015 legislative session, House Bill 370, by Rep. Eric “Doc” Moore (R-Missoula), and co-sponsored by Kary, failed on the second reading in the House on a 50-50 tie vote.

Most Democratic legislators oppose the death penalty, while most Republican legislators support it, but the division on the issue is not strictly partisan.

Does Facey’s bill have a chance of passing? Yes, but given the heavy Republican majority in the Senate, probably not a very good chance.

The death penalty is an issue on which public opinion is important — if you support eliminating the death penalty, let your legislators know — but, in my experience, perhaps not as important as a legislator’s personal values, religious beliefs included, and level of knowledge on a penalty that most civilized nations and states have retired.

Sen. Facey can be reached at TFacey@mt.gov.



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.