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

Archives Index, 2016 December 16–31


31 December 2016

Except for Bullock, Democrats ran dismal statewide campaigns

Democratic candidate for the U.S. House Denise Juneau won only eight of Montana’s 56 counties. Her Democratic colleague, Montana Attorney General candidate Larry Jent, did worse, winning only three counties. The difference is that Juneau raised over two million dollars and tried to win, while Jent took one for the team.

Below, I’ve prepared a table, based on a spreadsheet you can download, displaying the difference between the Democrat and Republican in each county for six statewide races. If the margin is negative, the value is in gray. If positive, it’s in bold blue. There are only three counties —Deer Lodge, Glacier, and Silver Bow — that all six Democrats won.

…read the rest


30 December 2016

GOP pay to play, and other political briefs

 New; 1802 MST.  Rep. Kelly McCarthy (D-Billings) wants to be Montana’s Congressman. McCarthy, just elected to his third term, announced today that he’ll seek his party’s nomination for the special election to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is expected to be confirmed as Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. McCarthy joins Rep-Elect Amanda Curtis (D-Butte) and Rep. Casey Schreiner (D-Great Falls) as candidates for the nomination, which will be awarded at a special nominating convention. In the 2015 legislative session, McCarthy worked to scale back the scandalous practice of legal stealing by law enforcement known as civil asset forfeiture.

Montana GOP’s pay to be considered as a candidate for a nomination scheme is sleazy and dangerous. The party, reports Mike Dennison and others, is charging $1,740 a head to be considered as the party’s nominee in the special election to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is expected to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.

All of the Republicans who have announced they’re seeking the nomination probably can afford to write a $1,740 check. But few, if any, could afford a million-dollar, or higher, pay to play fee. A party that can sell the right to seek the nomination for $1,740, the current price, could raise the price to a million or more, thus making a de facto award of the nomination to a millionaire who’s willing to self-fund.

If this fee is legal — and it might not be — it shouldn’t be.

We all have the right to make our grievances public. That includes Sherry Spencer, mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer, who made a public issue of her interactions with Whitefish realtor Tanya Gersh. Her doing so has stirred up a hornet’s nest, and perhaps could have been handled differently, but her son’s detractors have been very public in their opposition to him, and she has the same rights as everyone else.

At this point, the full story of what transpired between Gersh and Spencer should be made public, and all of the documents relevant to it should be published by and on the website of a neutral third party. The Daily InterLake, Flathead Beacon, and Missoulian, are best equipped to do this.

There will be a rally against hate next Saturday in Whitefish. Details.

Rep. Kelly Flynn (R-Townsend) wants to drive faster — legally. He’s requested a bill, LC2274, with the short title “Allow exceeding speed limit when passing on certain 2-lane roads.” I suspect this means he wants to avoid earning a speeding ticket for hitting 85 mph as he zooms around a slowpoke doing 68 mph in a 70 mph zone. If Flynn’s in that big of a hurry, he ought to travel by airplane.

Will Congressional Republicans rein themselves in before they damage government beyond repair? That’s the question raised at Think Progress by law professor Ian Millhiser:

The incoming House majority plans to schedule a vote on the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act) soon after new members are sworn in next Tuesday. A top priority of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the leading lobby group for big business, REINS would fundamentally alter the federal government in ways that could hobble federal agencies during periods when the same party controls Congress and the White House — and absolutely cripple those agencies during periods of divided government.

State Sen. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) mentions the REINS Act in the whereases for LC0498, his drafted but still not introduced joint resolution urging Congress to approve the crackpot Regulation Freedom Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I took Ankney to task for this on 3 December 2016, and he should consider himself taken to task again for supporting what amounts to a act of civic suicide. Rep. Forrest Mandeville also requested a bill, a request now on hold, to support the RFA.

The 2017 legislature convenes at noon on Monday, 2 January 2017. Calendar (PDF). Agenda for first week (PDF). The 90th day occurs on 29 April, although that could change. Almost 2,300 bill have been requested. Perhaps 1,200 will be introduced, meaning a baker’s dozen must be dispatched each legislative day. Flathead Memo will cover this session, but perhaps not as intensely as two years ago.

Thanks for reading Flathead Memo. Happy New Year. I’m taking the weekend off. See you Monday.



29 December 2016

Casey Schreiner will seek Democratic nod to replace Zinke in U.S. House


Great Falls Democrat Casey Schreiner, just elected to his third term in the Montana House of Representatives, announced yesterday that he’ll seek his party’s nomination for the special election that will be held to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke when (and if) Zinke is confirmed as Secretary of the Interior.

Schreiner joins Rep. Amanda Curtis (D-Butte) as a candidate for the nomination. According to Logicosity’s Edward R. Burrow, with whom I agree, Curtis has the best chance of winning the nomination:

With but one legislative session (2013) and a riveting, but ultimately unsuccessful bid for the US Senate following her appointment less than 80 days before the election, Amanda has obviously made an impression. Her ambition coupled with Eric Feaver’s influence within the D Party gives her the edge. MEA-MFT is already sponsoring posts on Facebook on her behalf.

As Logicosity notes, a lot of familiar names — Denise Juneau, Monica Lindeen, Jesse Laslovich, even John Morrison — are being mentioned as potential Democratic candidates. All lost their last election. None will run. They’re being mentioned only because they’re familiar.

The Democrats need a fresh face and a fresh approach for this election. If the party nominates someone who uses the old median voter playbook that runs the candidate to the right on a platform of squishy and mealy-mouthed planks, trying to win the votes of mythical moderate Republicans, that candidate will lose, and by a three to two margin.

A Democrat who wins this election will win it by running a guerrilla campaign while preaching the party’s old time religion: support for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid; for an everyone covered for everything national single-payer health care system; for food stamps and nutrition assistance for women and infants; for clean energy; for clean air and water; for labor and unions; for tuition-free public colleges; for job security, a closing of the income inequality gap, and a rising tide that lifts everyone. Think Paul Wellstone.

Does such a candidate exist? I hope so. Would Montana’s Democrats, and their deeply conservative and cautious leaders, roll the dice and nominate that candidate? Only if they muster the acumen to recognize that however risky rolling the dice is, it offers a chance of winning while the median voter strategy ensures another defeat.



28 December 2016

Mary Moe will take hiatus from legislating, but not from writing


State Sen. Mary Moe (D-Great Falls) this week announced she will resign from the legislature in late January. Her daughter needs help in caring for triplets born prematurely.

But she will, she promised in a comment on Facebook, keep publishing essays on current events. That’s good news. Moe writes with unusual grace and clarity. Her essays, many published at Montana Cowgirl and Intelligent Discontent, improve our understanding of issues and politics.

Her most recent post, What Children Are These, describes the predicament of homeless children, some literally sleeping under bridges, and how they are being helped. It’s an essay both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I’m glad she isn’t laying down her pen.

But I’m worried that her departure from the State Senate will allow important bills to wither on the table, not moving because their primary advocate is no longer in the legislature. In particular, I’m concerned that no one will pick up the banner for LC0162, An Act Revising the Conditions for Compulsory School Enrollment and Attendance; Increasing the Age for Required Enrollment and Attendance to Age 18 or Completion of Requirements for High School Graduation or Equivalency of Completion of Secondary Education with Exceptions;…

Current Montana law (MCA Section 20-5-103) sets the high school dropout age at:

(a) the child’s 16th birthday; or
(b) the date of completion of the work of the 8th grade.

That’s a holdover from the agrarian past, when many thought an eighth grade education was more than enough schooling to work on a farm. Today, however, an eighth grade education and nothing more is a sure ticket to life long poverty, and perhaps a stint or two in the slammer. Moe’s proposed reform is long overdue.

In an ideal world, LC0162 would pass without a dissenting vote. In the legislature, however, it may meet with reflexive opposition from some conservatives, especially those who view education beyond reading, writing, and simple arithmetic, as indoctrination in secular humanism, communistic economics, and impudent disrespect for tradition and authority. And it may encounter impassioned opposition from home schoolers and some religious and ethnic communities.

LC0162 will not pass itself. I hope Moe succeeds in passing its custody and advocacy to another legislator who will work like the devil to make it become law.

As for Moe, I suspect — and hope — she’ll return to the legislature in the not too distant future. Montana needs more politicians like her.



27 December 2016

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down today.


26 December 2016

First Amendment issues raised in Skokie are visiting Whitefish

Skokie Resources
The legal, moral, and social, issues raised by Skokie are described in Philippa Strum’s When the Nazis Came to Skokie, and Aryeh Neier’s Defending My Enemy: American Nazis, the Skokie Case, and the Risks of Freedom. A made for television dramatization, Skokie, was released in 1981 and is available on DVD. It featured an outstanding performance by Danny Kaye. In 2013, a one-hour documentary, Skokie: Invaded But Not Conquered, was released. It’s still available on PBS for free online viewing.

Will 200 armed skinheads from California goose-step down Whitefish’s main street next month in support of white nationalist Richard Spencer? That’s what the Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin claims may happen, although the Missoulian reports he may be backing away from that provocation.

I think Anglin’s march is possible, but not likely. He’s based in Ohio, not the ideal location from which to organize 200 skinheads in San Francisco for a 1,200-mile bus ride to Whitefish; if, indeed, there are 200 skinheads in the Bay Area, let alone 200 willing to be organized and able to behave themselves for a journey that long.

Anglin might, however, apply for a permit to hold a parade in Whitefish, hoping it would be denied or encumbered with conditions impossible to meet.

That was among the strategies employed by the city of Skokie, IL, in 1977, when a dozen or two Chicago based Nazis announced they would march through the town, home to many Holocaust survivors, in uniforms emblazoned with swastikas. The Nazis, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued.

Thanks to overly permissive open carry laws, men with firearms marching or assembling to make a political statement is, with few exceptions, legal in Montana and much of the nation. Were Whitefish to deny a parade permit for the proposed march of skinheads, Anglin would have solid First Amendment grounds for challenging the denial. I think Whitefish’s leaders are wise enough to try to avoid that trap, but they might be pressured to move in that direction by Spencer’s detractors, some of whom, I’m convinced, want to run him and his parents out of town.

Brandishing guns to make a political point is, of course, reprehensible. When I rebuked Chet Billi, who lost to David Fern in the House District 5 election, for making a campaign speech while dressed in military style clothing with a long gun slung over his shoulder, I said:

Weapons have no place at political events. We employ political campaigns to settle our differences through the exchange of ideas, arguments, and information. A candidate who delivers a speech while carrying a rifle and wearing camouflage violates the social contract, and through his conduct, declares himself bereft of the judgment we require in elective office.

Whitefish needs to be mindful of the lessons of Skokie when reacting to Anglin’s provocations.

Thirty years after Skokie, University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone observed:

The Skokie controversy triggered one of those rare but remarkable moments in American history when citizens throughout the nation vigorously debated the meaning of the United States Constitution. The arguments were often fierce, heartfelt and painful. The American Civil Liberties Union, despite severe criticism and withdrawal of support by many its strongest supporters, represented the First Amendment rights of the Nazi. As a young law professor at the University of Chicago, I had the played a minor role in assisting the ACLU. In the end, the Illinois Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court contributed to the conclusion that Skokie could not enjoin the Nazis from marching.

Northwestern University law professor Martin Redish, interviewed on Chicago Tonight, explained why the Skokie issues captured, and still capture, the public’s attention:

The reason this case is so significant isn’t in its legal precedent so much but because it so strikingly underscores the disconnect between emotive reaction of individuals to the logical implications of the First Amendment, and the important intellectual commitment we have to have to the underlying constitutional values.

Will gun-toting skinheads strut through downtown Whitefish? Probably not. But if they do, I hope they choose the most miserable day of winter for their parade. Jackboots click on cobblestones, but are silent in snowdrifts.



Christmas, 2016


23 December 2016

A few notes before Christmas

Another review of blogging in Montana. At the Last Best News, David Crisp has an excellent review of blogs, including Flathead Memo, in Montana, identifying a few blogs of which I was unaware. I thank Crisp both for mentioning Flathead Memo, and for his generous assessment of it. Crisp’s is the second review — Mike Dennison’s at KXLH was the first — of Montana blogs by the professional news media this year. At least for me, the reviews are tangible proof that independent blogs are becoming recognized as bona fide members of Montana’s extended news and commentary establishment. And for me at least, that brightens my Christmas.

Santa starts his rounds in less than 48 hours, but Scrooge starts his national rounds on 3 January 2017. That’s when Congress reconvenes and the reactionary radicals who have a death grip on the Republican Party start introducing bills to gut Social Security, privatize Medicare, mutilate Medicaid, repeal the Affordable Care Act (the planned eventual replacement is the status quo ante), cut food stamps, rescue the rich from what they think are confiscatory taxes, and either restore our nation to a state of Libertarian nirvana that never existed and never will exist, or convert it to the economic condition of Kansas.

Members of Montana’s 2017 legislature have requested 2,223 bills, and the number will keep rising. The legislature convenes on 2 January 2017 (calendar). Next week, I’ll begin examining some of these bills, both introduced bills and those still in the drafting stage, probably concentrating on Scrooge and crackpot bills, and of course focusing on legislation being proposed or carried by Flathead legislators..

Rep. Tom Burnett (R-Bozeman), who never saw a square meal he didn’t consider fattening and character sapping, requested two bills on food stamps. Derek Skees (R-Kalispell) requested a bill on nullification. Kalispell Reps. Frank Garner and Steve Lavin requested bills to eliminate daylight saving time. Rep. Zach Brown (D-Billings) requested a bill to restrict opioid prescriptions. If he’s successful with that, he might not feel your pain, but chances are you will. Rep. David Howard requested a bill for a “Referendum to exempt religious communications from campaign finance reports.” I think it should be called the “Official Holy Exemption from Political Accountability Act of 2017.” Howard also wants to “Prohibit local governments from enacting sanctuary policies.”



22 December 2016

Did security concerns cause Montana’s governor
to chicken-out of a press conference in Whitefish?

Gov. Steve Bullock was supposed to be in Whitefish today, holding a press conference concerning the online campaign by anti-Semites to blacken the reputation of Whitefish businesses. But according to the Whitefish Pilot, he’ll write an oped instead:

The governor had been scheduled to address the media regarding the online harassment of Whitefish businesses and Jewish families have been receiving from neo-Nazi followers of part-time Whitefish resident and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer. Bullock instead is issuing an opinion piece “on a global subject” to area news media outlets.

Ronja Abel, deputy communications director with the Governor’s Office, would not say whether the cancellation was related to reported security concerns, but noted it “was the way things unfolded.”

Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial said he had communicated with the Governor’s Office, and said there was a “cooperative effort in communications” among the Governor’s Office, Whitefish Police, the FBI and other federal partners. Dial also said he could not directly address the security issue, but added “we told them what our experts say; the FBI told them what their experts say.”

Bullock needs to come clean on this. So do the Whitefish police department, the Flathead County sheriff, and the FBI. Was there a credible threat to harm Bullock? Were the resources and skill of law enforcement authorities so meagre they couldn’t protect him from a spitball? Or is he hiding behind security concerns to avoid flying to Whitefish so close to Christmas?

Whatever his reasons, his decision to stay in Helena makes Whitefish look like a dangerous place and law enforcement authorities look like incompetent fools. That’s not what Whitefish needs.

Even if there was a threat, that’s no reason to cancel a visit. To the contrary, it’s more reason to carry through with the visit, which because of the threat becomes an opportunity to prove how men of courage respond to bullies and thugs, and to honor the citizens of Whitefish for their fortitude and decency.



21 December 2016

Amanda Curtis says she'll seek Dem nomination for U.S. House


Rep-Elect. Amanda Curtis (D-Butte) announced today she’ll seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for the expected special election to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is expected to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior sometime in early 2017. She’s the first Democrat to declare a candidacy.

Curtis was just elected to her second (but non-consecutive) term in the Montana House of Representatives. She was the Democrats’ choice to replace John Walsh as the party’s 2014 candidate for the U.S. Senate after plagiarism charges (proven true) forced him to withdraw as a candidate. Curtis drew 40 percent of the vote, losing to Steve Daines.

Many younger Democrats hold Curtis in high regard, both for her feisty style and for her willingness to become the party’s doomed to defeat replacement for Walsh. Her constituents in Butte may be less than thrilled by her willingness to abandon her district so soon after being elected to represent it, but most Democrats will be grateful just to have a candidate.

Curtis undoubtedly has started seeking the support of probable delegates to a nominating convention. My advice to the probables: don’t make any commitments before the new year begins. Other candidates may step forward.

Two more Republicans announced their interest in the Republican nomination to replace Zinke: State Judge Russell Fagg of Billings, a former state representative, and Bozeman real estate developer Eugene Graf IV. They join State Senators Ed Buttrey and Scott Sales, and Rep. Daniel Zolnikov.



20 December 2016

Democrats! We’re at legislative DEFCON 1 —
Focus on Congress, not Trump’s damn cabinet

Yes, most of President-Elect Trump’s nominations and appointments are, from a progressive’s perspective, awful, and in some cases downright scary (Gen. Flynn, I’m looking at you) — but not one of these men and women can introduce or vote for legislation, or sign a bill into law. Only Congress and the President can do that.

And do that they will, straight from the gitgo.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will try to ram through bills to lower taxes on the rich, gut the Affordable Care Act, convert Social Security to a means tested welfare program (and cut benefits bigtime), privitize Medicare and Medicaid, cut nutrition assistance, keep the minimum wage at a rock bottom minimum. And that’s just the first act.

Don’t expect cooler heads to prevail. There aren’t any.

Here’s Ed Kilgore at New York on 9 November:

One of the things that bothered me in the run-up to this shocking election night was the general feeling that even if Republicans won Congress, President Hillary Clinton would stop them from wreaking havoc just like President Obama did — and that if Donald Trump somehow became president, Congress would stop him from doing much harm, at least on the legislative front.

That last assumption is probably dead wrong. With Trump in the White House and the GOP controlling Congress — the condition that will prevail in January, based on the results of Tuesday’s election — Republicans are now in a position to work a revolution in domestic policy. It will likely be at least as dramatic as anything we’ve seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, and perhaps since LBJ and congressional Democrats enacted the Great Society legislation that is now in peril.

For all the talk of “feuding” or even “civil war” between Trump and congressional Republican leaders, they are actually on the same page on a lot of very radical ideas. These include, of course, the linchpin of Republican domestic policy: a big upper-end tax cut rationalized by the imaginary economic boom it will be advertised to create. Beyond that, however, there is a big increase in defense spending that both Trump and congressional Republicans have promised, and then the decimation of the low-income safety net. Every analysis of Paul Ryan’s various budget proposals — quite likely the building block of what Republicans will try to enact — indicates savage consequences for poor people. Think the expanded Medicaid coverage created by Obamacare will survive? Hah! The bigger question is whether Medicaid itself survives, since both Trump’s platform and the Ryan budget would dump the program on the tender mercies of the states through a block grant sure to bleed funding regularly.

The radical Republicans who control Congress plan a legislative first strike. They’ve already tipped their hand. We know what’s coming. They’ll get away with it, too, unless Democrats wrench their eyes from the cabinet freak show, and get organized for legislative combat … get organized double damn fast. Congress convenes in two weeks, and the bills to repeal the ACA, the Great Society, and the New Deal are already written. Therefore, don’t become distracted by his personnel choices. The greater and more immediate danger is the Republican legislative agenda. Act accordingly.



19 December 2016

Republicans Ed Buttrey & Scott Sales say they want to replace Zinke

State Sens. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) and Scott Sales (R-Bozeman) seek Republican nomination to replace Zinke in U.S. House. Mike Dennison has the story at KXLH.

Two assessments (one, two) of Buttrey by Logicosity are still online, as are two Logicosity posts about Sales (Speed and Mind Traps and A Task So Simple Almost Anyone Can Do It).

Dennison also reported that State Auditor-Elect Matt Rosendale, who lost to Zinke in the 2014 primary, and gubernatorial also-ran Greg Gianforte have been mentioned.

Scratch Rosendale. If he vacates the Auditor’s office, his replacement will be appointed by Gov. Bullock.

Montana House Speaker Austin Knudsen’s name has emerged, and Public Service Commission member, and former Secretary of State, Brad Johnson seldom misses an opportunity to run for office. At The Western Word, Mike Brown likes Buttrey, but reckons PSC Commissioner Travis Kavulla and GOP operative Aaron Flint would be good choices. Kavulla also occurred to me.

Buttrey, who can get things done, may have the edge if the GOP can overlook his willingness to work with Democrats to govern. Otherwise, Sales, whose far right bona fides are rock solid, probably would be considered the safer choice.

A Democratic candidate will be hard to find

No Democrat has won Montana’s U.S. House seat since 1994, and not with a majority since 1992. In 2000, Nancy Keenan came the closest. Last month, Denise Juneau, received 41 percent of the vote despite raising a bit more (in current dollars) than Keenan. In 2014, John Lewis received 40 percent of the vote against Ryan Zinke. In 2012, Kim Gillan, underfunded and overmatched, received 43 percent against Steve Daines.

Brown opined that Juneau and Jesse Laslovich, who lost to Rosendale last month might be good candidates. They’re good people, but I would be mighty surprised if either one volunteered to be the Democrats’ sacrificial lamb for 2017.

Brian Schweitzer’s name also has surfaced, but I do not believe he will run for office again. And I’m certain he has absolutely no interest in becoming a member of the minority in a 435-member legislative chamber.

Any Democrat who runs should understand that the Republican will win. The real reasons for stepping in front the of firing squad are upholding the Democratic Party’s battered honor, and preparing for a future run at a statewide office.

I suspect that a former legislator such as Pat Noonan or Chuck Hunter will be nominated. But I’m mindful that each morning, everyone who will serve in the 2017 legislature looks in the mirror and sees a future U.S. Senator, Congressman, Governor, or even a President.

And the party always is looking for a fresh, loyal, face with political potential and the ability to self-fund (self-funding is a vice when the other party’s candidate does it, but it’s a virtue when your party’s candidate does it).



18 December 2016

Developments on the Richard Spencer front, and words of caution

Richard Spencer’s parents repudiate his politics. After the apple falls from the tree, it can roll downhill so far that it bears little relationship to its origins. That seems to be the case with white identity politics pontificator and publicity hound Richard Spencer. In a letter published in today’s Daily InterLake, his parents wrote:

…read the rest


17 December 2016

If proud to be white Richard Spencer runs for Congress,
will he run wearing a white sheet or a brown shirt — or both?

Whitefish’s whitest resident, Richard Spencer, is at it again, generating free publicity by being outrageous. His latest publicity ploy? Expressing an interest in running for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives the yet to be called special election to replace Rep. Ryan Zinke, who’s joining Donald Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of the Interior. Zinke will resign his seat in the House when and if he’s confirmed.

No qualified for the ballot political party in Montana, not even the Libertarians, would nominate Spencer for the special election. He’d have to make the ballot by gathering approximately 15,000 valid signatures, probably in less than two weeks.

If he worked by himself, he’d have to collect a signature every 40 seconds for 12 hours a day. He’s never worked that hard in his life, and he’s not going to start now. Nor is he going to recruit a squad of canvassers, let along a squad of paid canvassers, to knock on doors, get signatures, and tell the fools who signed, “Thank you, ma’am, that’s mighty white of you.”

He’s just going to say he’s contemplating running and get free publicity in the form of news reports. Cheekiness pays.

And if he does run? Well, I’m reminded of Sammy Davis’ reply when Johnny Carson asked him whether he thought George Wallace would run for President again: “I hope he runs, and I hope they catch him.”



16 December 2016

Note to readers

Flathead Memo is standing down today. We’ll return tomorrow.