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

30 April 2017 — 2122 mdt

Campaign like Hillary, lose like Hillary

Hillary Clinton’s campaign probably was doomed from the start (see Shattered), but whatever slim chance of winning she had she threw away by shining the spotlight on Donald Trump instead of on middle class Americans. In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, voters focused on Trump because she told them to, and they liked what they heard when he promised to restore the rust belt’s economy of yore.

Rob Quist’s campaign is making the same mistake. He’s focusing on Greg Gianforte instead of middle class Montanans. Worse, he’s making the risible argument that Gianforte’s two-bit investments in Russian equities somehow make the Bozeman businessman a Benedict Arnold or a stooge of Vladimir Putin.

Repeating what I wrote yesterday, there’s no bowl of borscht here. There’s not even a baby beet in a shot of weak vodka.

But there is a massive failure to make Montana’s voters the focus of Quist’s campaign. Voters want to know what Quist will do for them. If Quist does not focus on his fellow Montanans and their needs, his campaign will do down in flames, just like Hillary’s did.



29 April 2017 — 2037 mdt

Come on, Montana Democrats — GG is not the KGB

Greg Gianforte, reports the Guardian, is worth $65–315 million. Of that, $242,400 — less than one-tenth of one percent — is in Russian equities:

According to a financial disclosure filed with the clerk of the House of Representatives, the Montana tech mogul owns almost $150,000 worth of shares in VanEck Vectors Russia ETF and $92,400 in the IShares MSCF Russia ETF fund. Both are indexed to the Russian equities market and have significant holdings in companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft that came under US sanctions in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

That’s not a big deal, let alone a BFD. It’s not a little deal. It’s not even chicken feed. It’s simply proof that Gianforte diversified his holding, a practice that even most Democrats think makes good sense.

…read the rest


29 April 2017 — 1551 mdt

Barack is smarter than Hillary, but he’s just as greedy

After Hillary Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State to begin her second run for the Presidency, she began buckraking with gusto, delivering speeches for tens and, in the case of Goldman-Sachs, hundreds of thousands, of dollars. Those who paid these exorbitant sums were investing not in her immediate words of wisdom, but in a future HRC presidency. But by cashing-in early, she gave the appearance of accepting laundered bribes, an appearance reinforced by her refusal to release the transcripts of the GS speech.

Now former President Barack Hussein Obama is cashing in. Last month he and Michelle cut a $65 million deal with Penguin Random House for writing their memoirs. But just to make sure he has pocket change, he’s accepting a $400,000 fee for a speech this fall, and there are reports he’s already delivered a speech for that amount.

…read the rest


28 April 2017

Saturday driving music: Why you been gone so long?

Nikki Lane joins Nashville Jam’s Jim Lauderdale and guests in belting out Mickey Newbury’s Why you been gone so long? The song comes alive as country rock, accompanied by drums and electric guitars, but artists such as Tony Rice, the Desert Rose Band, and Della Mae, perform it bluegrass style with acoustic instruments.



28 April 2017 — 1127 mdt

Quick legislative note

Montana’s legislature adjourned this morning after the MT House refused to approve SB-367, the $80 million infrastructure bill. The MT House also killed HB-8, which funded rural water projects. The demise of these bills was the consequence of ideological intransigence and payback partisanship at their worst.

Most, perhaps all, legislators worked hard and sincerely tried to do what’s best for Montana. For that, they have Flathead Memo’s thanks. For their legislative product, Flathead Memo awards them a politician’s C.


27 April 2017 — 1106 mdt

Gov. Bullock should sign SB-94

Introduced by Whitefish Republican Sen. Keith Regier, and supported by Whitefish and Hungry Horse Democrats Reps. Dave Fern and Zac Perry, SB-94 provides tax relief to a narrow class of property owners, mostly near Whitefish and Flathead Lakes, whose taxes have increased as much as an order of magnitude thanks to trophy homes being built next door.

Most Democrats voted against SB-94, apparently because they want the money for programs they support, and because they fear some rich people will get tax breaks they don’t deserve.

But if the bill is vetoed, Montanans who are not rich will not get tax relief they need and deserve.

Updated. This bill is not perfect. A means test to limit the relief to those who really need it was stripped out by the conference committee. But on a balance of equities basis, it’s still good enough to sign. The means test, which Director of Revenue Mike Kadas recommended, can be restored in the 2019 legislative session.


Emerson College poll should not be dismissed as a GOP trick

Yesterday, Montana Public Radio reported that a poll conducted by a student at Emerson College in Boston last week found Greg Gianforte leading Rob Quist 52–37 percent. The poll was conducted by interactive voice technology, better known as robopolling, and sampled only Montanans with landlines who said they were likely to vote. The sample size was 648, with 636 registered, and 12 unregistered, voters.

According to Emerson’s press release:

Gianforte had 90% of the Republican vote, and 38% of the Independent vote. Quist picks up 69% of the Democratic Party’s vote, with 26% of Democrats report planning to cross party lines and vote for Gianforte. Gianforte is getting 87% of Trump voters, while 88% of Clinton voters are likely to vote for Quist.

Emerson released the poll’s crosstabs and raw data.

The robocalling technology raises caution flags because it excludes cell phones (robocalling cell phones is illegal). But the poll should not be dismissed because of the technology employed.

Nor should the poll be dismissed because the student conducting it has ties to Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts. The student, his faculty advisor, and Emerson College, all benefit most from running an honest poll and getting accurate results.

At Fivethirtyeight, Nate Silver gave Emerson an overall grade of “B” for quality. His colleague, Harry Entan, does warn that special elections are hard to poll. And he reports that an analysis of polls for other special congressional elections indicates that the actual error rate is approximately double the theoretical MOE:

…special election polls (like all polls) are inexact. We collected 54 polls from special House elections that have taken place since 2004 and for each compared the leading candidate’s share in the poll with the final election results, taking into account undecideds. We found the true margin of error to be about +/- 8.5 percentage points. That’s almost double the theoretical margin of error posted for most of the polls conducted for the Georgia 6 special election. Even if we compare the average polling share that the leading candidate received in the 22 races that these 54 polls were taken in, the margin of error is still about +/- 7.5 points.

Emerson’s poll is not good news for Rob Quist’s campaign. It will close the wallets of donors, and dampen the enthusiasm of volunteers. Therefore Quist’s campaign and/or the Montana Democratic Party, may try, directly or indirectly, to discredit the poll. That’s human nature. It’s also a mistake.

Given the history of elections for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House, Emerson’s numbers are not unreasonable. But they come with very wide error bars.


This gig was not a cover-up

The Washington Free Beacon, probably neither the most reputable nor the most restrained publication, reported yesterday that Rob Quist is a “frequent performer” at the Sun Meadow Resort, “Idaho’s premier nudist resort for guests seeking a ‘family nudist experience.’”

Quist was chaperoned by his daughter, Halladay, and her by him, and both performed fully clothed.

If Gianforte’s campaign features this gig in an attack ad … Lord have mercy, the brown paper wrapper possibilities are endless.



26 April 2017 — 1107 mdt

Update on paying for pre-school by taxing hospitals

At Logicosity this morning, Edward R. Burrow delivered a scathing analysis of this tax, which the legislature dishonestly calls a “Community Benefit Fee:”

…read the rest


25 April 2017 — 2106 mdt

Taxing hospitals to fund pre-school may be
a scheme for laundering Medicaid money

Mike Dennison at KXLH and Matt Voltz at the Associated Press are reporting that a last minute deal struck by Gov. Steve Bullock and legislative leaders will slap a tax on Montana’s largest hospitals to provide $6 million in funding for private pre-school operations, a priority for Bullock.

…read the rest


25 April 2017 — 1631 mdt

MS termination accusation is big trouble for Gianforte


When he owned Brightworks 27 years ago, did Greg Gianforte fire a crackerjack salesman after learning that he had multiple sclerosis? Raw Story reports that he did, and has published the legal documents on which the report is based.

If true this is major league trouble for Gianforte because it goes to character, depicting him as a man for whom making a fast dollar is the highest reason for doing anything.

Frankly, it suggests he may be the kind of man who would have fired Rob Quist from his band for having had gall bladder surgery — as a man who has more gall than compassion and decency — and as not the man Joe and Jane Montana would want voting on health care legislation.

Thus far, Gianforte’s response has been “no comment.” That buys him 24 hours to pull together a response, but it does not refute Raw Story’s report. Unless Gianforte provides a compelling response that survives vigorous fact checking, this revelation will cost him votes, possibly a lot of votes, possibly enough votes to lose the election.



25 April 2017 — 1429 mdt

Don’t mark your congressional absentee ballots before 18 May

Updated 29 April. Absentee ballots will be mailed on 1 May, enabling voters to start voting in the 25 May special congressional election almost 20 days in advance of the end of the election. Ten years ago, I observed that this is not a good idea:

[Allowing voting 30 days before the end of the election] turns election day into election month (or some extended period). If ballots are cast during a long period of time instead of on a single day, voters are no longer making a decision after having been exposed to the same events. They are no longer applying their knowledge and beliefs to a shared set of facts. I know that reality departs a bit from that ideal, but the principle is sound and I think we should make every attempt to observe it.

…read the rest


24 April 2017 — 0638 mdt

Legislative notes

Montana’s legislature will adjourn sometime this week, but it won’t be until mid-May that we’ll fully know how much damage was done, and how much mischief was avoided. There were some minor victories:

…read the rest


23 April 2017 — 2112 mdt

Flathead Memo considers withdrawing endorsement of Rob Quist


On 4 January 2017, I endorsed Democrat Rob Quist for Congress. Today, I’m considering withdrawing that endorsement because Quist’s campaign is wrongly and in my judgment, mendaciously, claiming that his Republican opponent, Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte, is a New Jersey multimillionaire. Here’s a paragraph from a press handout under his campaign’s letterhead that was emailed this evening:

…read the rest


23 April 2017 — 1941 mdt

Sunday roundup

Two Flathead legislative seats will be open in 2018. Republican Reps. Steve Lavin (HD-8, Kalispell) and Randy Brodehl (HD-9, Evergreen) are serving their fourth terms. Because of term limits, they cannot be on the ballot for the MT House next year (but Article IV, Section 8(3) of Montana’s constitution allows them to run for a fifth term as write-in candidates).

These are long shot districts for Democrats, but they are not out of range districts, especially in turbulent times. With good candidates, hard work, and a few breaks, these districts might turn blue. Ergo, Democrats should begin recruiting candidates and welcome contested primaries.

Potential candidates should begin raising money now, and walking and, from time-to-time, door knocking, these districts this summer. Democrats should not, incidentally, recruit reluctant, dour, candidates. Voters don’t enjoy voting for candidates who aren’s having fun and don’s radiate hope and joy.

Now is an especially good time for recruiting because the talents of activists are on display as they work to send Rob Quist to Congress. There’ll be plenty of interest among Republicans.

Tammi Fisher, the former mayor of Kalispell who lost to Sen. Mark Blasdel in the 2014 GOP primary for SD-4, is a possibility for HD-8. Taylor Rose, who lost to incumbent Democrat Rep. Zac Perry in HD-3 last November, is a possibility for HD-9.

Seven Flathead legislators cast anal retentive votes on SB-319. Five years ago, Aspen Many Hides came to her Polson High School graduation wearing a mortarboard decorated with beads sewn into by her mother. But just before the grand march began, a school official laid down the law: if you want to be part of the ceremony, the beads must go. And so, with Many Hides weeping, her frantic mother removed the beads.

Not Many Hides.

Thanks to Sen. Jen Gross (D-Billings), that injustice, that act of official sanctioned racial discrimination, won’t happen again in Montana, at least not legally. Friday, 21 April, Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law SB-319, Gross’ bill that explicitly permits “…wearing traditional tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance at a public event … ‘Public event’ means an event held or sponsored by a state agency or a local government, including but not limited to an award ceremony, a graduation ceremony, or a public meeting.” The bill takes effect immediately.

The Flathead’s legislative delegation split on the bill, with three members of the MT House voting Aye, and six voting Nay (full vote: 67–33). In the MT Senate, four of the Flathead’s five senators voted for the measure (full vote: 38–12). Sen. Keith Regier, a former educator and school board member, voted for the bill. His son, Rep. Matt Regier, voted against it.




22 April 2017

Always carry a camera


This intense fragment of a double rainbow appeared in the east-southeast sky near Lone Pine a few minutes before sundown as I was walking northwest of Kalispell after dinner yesterday. Often the full arc of the rainbow is visible, but if it was I missed it while I was walking west. When I turned east and spotted it, only these golden arcs were visible. But what a sight, with the snow capped Swan and Mission Mountains in the distance. This is why we live here. Enjoy Earth Day.


21 April 2017 — 1739 mdt

Rob Quist’s “I love guns” ad channels Rosendale’s “I shot the drone” ad

Rob Quist’s campaign express is rolling faster every day. Money is rolling in, more than $2 million so far. National Democrats are finally rolling in, mostly so they won’t be blamed if Quist crashes and burns. And television ads are rolling out. The latest ad (below) proclaims Quist’s undying love for the Second Amendment. More on that in a moment.

…read the rest


21 April 2017 — 1014 mdt

A song for those who looked north, saw hope, and risked everything

Artists from Willy DeVille to Willie Nelson have recorded Ry Cooder’s powerful Across the Borderline, which was written for The Border and sung for the movie by Freddy Fender. Here, Calexico and Ray Wylie Hubbard join Nick and Helen Forster in a soulful performance.



20 April 2017 — 1815 mdt

New MT turnout spreadsheet, labor v. MEIC, K. Regier v. Sherman

New Montana voter turnout spreadsheet. You won’t find all of these data at the website of Montana’s Secretary of State. I’ve updated the absentee ballot fields, and added records for Montana’s last two statewide special elections, which were held in November, 1971, and June, 1993. The 1971 special election was the first statewide election in Montana in which 18-year-olds voted.

Labor versus the Montana Environmental Information Center. The MEIC, the Sierra Club, the Northwest Energy Coalition, and Renewable Northwest, climbed into bed with Big Energy and the Montana Chamber of Commerce, and other business and right wing interests, to oppose SB-338, Sen. Duane Ankney’s (R-Colstrip) bill to hold the owners of Colstrip responsible for the damage closing Colstrip will do to the displaced coal miners and powerplant employees and their communities. SB-338 passed the MT Senate 43–6, but was tabled in a tie vote in the MT House’s Energy, Technology, and Federal Relations Committee. On 18 April, an attempt to blast the bill from the committee failed 40–59.

…read the rest


19 April 2017 — 1358 mdt

Turnout in Georgia’s 6th, mail ballots in Montana’s 1st

Turnout in the jungle primary for Georgia’s sixth congressional district approached midterm election levels, reports Ed Kilgore, who worked there many years as a high level politico. Democrat Jon Ossoff won 48 percent of the vote, not enough to avoid a runoff, but it was an impressive showing all the same. Ossoff, notes Kilgore, probably did not benefit from early voting.

Republicans won an estimated 58 percent of an elevated election-day turnout, and as was the case in several states last year, it appears Democrats were harvesting early votes that would have been cast for them in any event, not adding to their totals.

Montana’s 25 May special election will be a hybrid of absentee mail ballots and traditional election day voting at the polls. Speaker of the MT House Austin Knudsen, reports Mike Dennison, refuses to schedule a floor vote on HB-83, which contains Gov. Bullock’s amendatory veto allowing county clerk and recorders to hold the election by an all-mail ballot. In theory, the bill could be blasted onto the floor with a 60-vote supermajority, but the all-mail ballot supporters lack the votes.

Montana’s Democrats are in high dudgeon over the all-mail ballot election’s demise, righteously proclaiming that opponents are feckless spendthrifts who are costing Montana a whopping $750,000, and suppressing votes.

…read the rest


18 April 2017

Montana Associated Press flunks News Reporting 101

Here’s the lead (I neither like nor use “lede”) paragraph from an Associated Press story in today’s Missoulian, Senate endorses utility cost-sharing plan in surprise vote:

The Montana Senate has endorsed a bill that would require NorthWestern Energy to absorb some of the financial burden that results from unexpected outages instead of passing all of those costs to its customers.

What’s missing?

  1. The number of the bill, and its short title.
  2. The name of the legislator who introduced and is carrying the bill.

Okay, I’ll concede those data need not be in the lead paragraph — but if they’re not in the lead, they ought to be in the second paragraph — and they sure as hell ought to be somewhere in the story.

But — inexcusably — they’re nowhere in the story.

I think the bill is HB-193, “Revise utility electric cost recovery,” jointly sponsored by Reps. Tom Woods (D-Bozeman) and Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings).

Delete “I think” and the paragraph above fits nicely after the lead.

Contrary to what the Associated Press obviously believes, a bill’s number and short title, and the name of the sponsoring legislator, are important to readers.

A student at any reputable journalism school who wrote a story omitting a bill’s number, short title, and sponsor, would receive a huge, red, “F” on his assignment and fail News Reporting 101.

So why are MT AP writers getting paid to omit vital information from their stories, and why are the Missoulian’s editors not correcting the AP’s mistakes before publishing the story?



17 April 2017 — 2316 mdt

Note to readers

Flathead Memo had to stand down today.


16 April 2017

May Easter’s bunny bring a day that’s sunny


Last year, Easter was early. This year, it’s 20 days later — not the latest possible, but late enough. Moreover, it’s on the same day as Easter for the Eastern Orthodox Church, which bases its calculation on the Julian calendar instead of on the Gregorian calendar used in the west. You’ll find more information at Flathead Memo’s Calculating the date of Easter.

At The Conversation, you’ll find The very strange history of the easter bunny, a light-hearted but not for little children look at fertility, rabbits, eggs, and a symbolic bunny.

Forbes has The curious history of Easter eggs from birth to burial, a serious but enlightening read. Tomorrow, the 139th White House Easter Egg Roll will be live-streamed, but reportedly not an especially trumped-up affair. Will all the eggs be white? Will the event’s level of organization be consistent with the level of organization thus far endured in this administration?