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

Archives index, 2016 November 16–30


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.