A Flathead Valley, Montana, based independent journal of observation, analysis, and opinion.

Archives, December 2006

20 December 2006

Toole, Kaufmann, & a bad odor in Helena

Christine Kaufmann, a Democratic state representative from Helena, ran for re-election and won. Ken Toole, a Democratic state senator from Helena, ran for the Public Service Commission and won.

That left Toole’s seat in the Senate vacant. Under Montana law, the vacancy is filled by the county commission in the county in which the district is located. The commissioners choose from a list of three candidates submitted by the political party to which the former office holder belonged. So to fill the vacancy left by Toole’s switch to the PSC, the Lewis and Clark County Commission selected from a list of three Democrats submitted by the local Democratic central committee.

One of those three Democrats was Christine Kaufmann, who, like Toole, works for the Montana Human Rights Network, a bastion of political correctness and occasional good works. And whom did the Lewis and Clark commissioners select to replace Toole? You guessed it: Kaufmann, who quadruples her power by moving from the chamber in which she was in the minority to the senate, in which she joins the majority, and by serving in the chamber in which she is one of 50 instead of one of 100.

Now, this is legal — any politician would jump at the chance — but it is not without odor. It is impossible not to wonder whether this game of musical chairs was planned from the moment Toole filed for the PSC. And it leaves the voters of Helena with not one but two legislators who were appointed, not elected, to their positions (Kaufmann’s replacement will be chosen by the same process by which she was chosen). Voters in Toole’s senate district who voted for him knew he would be replaced by appointment if he was elected to the PSC, so they have no complaints. But the same cannot be said of those who voted for Kaufmann. Those voters expected to be represented by Kaufmann.

This sort of tawdry maneuvering — both political parties do it — is what causes voters to lose faith in government and the political process.

10 December 2006

What’s the matter with New Orleans?

What’s the matter with voters in New Orleans and surrounds? First they re-elect Ray Nagin, the mayor who bungled the response to hurricane Katrina. Now they return to office William Jefferson, a politician who kept $90,000 in cash in his freezer for no possible good reason, and who may be destined for an involuntary stay in the hoosegow.

For people who unashamedly demand that the nation pay for rebuilding New Orleans, returning these strutting scoundrels to office is the functional equivalent of extending the middle finger to the rest of the county while extending the other hand in a “gimmie money” gesture. It’s a mind boggling combination of effrontery and shooting oneself in the foot.

New Orleans wants help, and needs help, but when it returns to office the likes of Nagin and Jefferson, New Orleans is proving to the rest of the country that it is both beyond help and undeserving of help.

Republicans decide to teach educators a lesson

The right-wing Republicans who control Montana’s house of representatives declared war on Montana’s education community by appointing Rick Jore, the Constitution Party state representative elect from Ronan, and one of the least progressive individuals ever elected to public office, to chair the house’s committee on education.

Let us be clear about Rick Jore. Contrary to a half-baked theory advanced by Helena based reporters, Jore will not be a swing vote in the next legislature. Jore is no more likely to caucus with the Democrats than he is to sodomize sheep in the Capitol rotunda at high noon.

Therefore, let us dispense with speculation that Jore was appointed chairman of the house education committee to prevent his defection to the Democrats. He’s as close to a crackpot on education as you’ll find in the legislature, and he was selected to chair the education committee to send Democrats, Governor Schweitzer, educators, and even the public, a simple messsage: “tax cuts, you bet; more spending for education, not even if hell freezes over.”

Mike Lange, the house Republican leader from Billings, confirmed that this is political payback: “I don’t recall the education community supporting the speaker, or myself either. They didn’t win. That’s the bottom line. If they want to control the committee, my recommendation to them is to be better at campaigning than they were. We owe them no explanation whatsoever.”

And just in case anyone wasn’t listening, Bozeman’s Scott Sales, the next speaker of the house, who says “my job is to show no quarter to the Democrats as they try to push their liberal agenda,” and his cronies appointed Jack Wells to chair the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Jore and Wells usually score zero, or next to it, on the Montana Education Association’s scorecard.

Worse, Jore, an affable home schooler who opposes compulsory school attendance, opposes financial help for Montana’s schools if it originates outside of Montana. On his website, he says:

“I am not of the persuasion that the schools need more money. I believe that emphasis should be placed on accountability rather than more funding. The Federal government has no Constitutional authority to fund or interfere with education and I will oppose all federal funds appropriated for education.”

That claim is not found in the platform of Montana’s Republican Party. But by choosing Jore to chair the education committee, the Republican leadership has tacitly endorsed this beyond the bell curve notion and served notice that it has declared war on Montana’s system of public education.

If this brand of belligerent, in-your-face, mean spirited, toxic partisanship is the Republican approach to governing in Montana, it will be a miracle if the house passes any legislation that is in the public interest. It appears that the Republicans in Montana’s house of representatives learned nothing from the thumpin’ national Republicans received from the voters a month ago

Therefore, it’s time to remind Sales, and every other member of the legislature, that they were sent there by voters to work together to solve the problems that bedevil Montana, not to be a Pavlovian obstructionists or partisan bully boys who subordinate good government to jockeying for partisan advantage for the election of 2008.

If Sales and the Republicans do not stop behaving like political hacks on steroids, and start behaving like responsible legislators who work for the best interests of the people of their districts and the State of Montana — even if that means working with Democrats every now and then — they’ll find themselves in the minority when the legislature convenes in 2009.


6 December 2006

Historic preservation run amok

When does a falling-down, run-of-the-mill 56-year-old vacation cabin qualify for a spot on the national register of historic buildings? Apparently when the cabin is located in a national park.

In Glacier National Park, for example, there’s the Roberts Cabin, built around 1950 on an inholding near Lake McDonald by Edna S. Graham. According to a scoping letter from the National Park Service:

Mary Agnes Roberts, daughter of Edna Graham, sold the property to the federal government in 1975, reserving a 25-year lease. The lease ended in 2000 and the cabin has remained uninhabited since that time. The cabin is in poor condition and presents a safety hazard in its present state.

Furthermore, according to the park’s news release, and reported by Jim Mann in “Glacier plans study on removing old cabin,” in the 5 December 2006 issue of Kalispell’s Daily InterLake:

Mary Agnes Roberts sold the property to the federal government with the understanding that the building would be removed and the property restored to its natural state.

Unfortunately for Ms. Roberts, the historical preservation crowd that devotes itself to preserving every artifact of humankind in Glacier, no matter how insignificant or mundane that artifact is, evidently thinks the Roberts cabin is an important historic structure:

Public scoping for this project [removing the Roberts cabin] was completed in July 2003. The project has been delayed, while a determination of eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places was prepared. A National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation for all recreational camps on Lake McDonald was completed in 2006. The Roberts Cabin was determined to be a contributing resource within the Glacier Park Villa Sites Historic District. We are now proceeding with the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act Finding of Effect to analyze the impacts and effects of removal of the Roberts Cabin.

So far the park has identified three alternatives that the EA will examine: removal of the cabin using NPS crews, removal of the cabin using contracted crews, and no action. The no action alternative — leave the cabin on the land, and do nothing to repair it — is a legal requirement. The two removal alternatives actually are variations of a single policy objective, removal of the cabin, and should, in my opinion, be treated as single alternative. A true third alternative would be restoring the cabin to its original splendor, preferrably using the materials, tools, techniques, and carpenters from the era in which the original construction occurred.

In evaluating the alternatives, the NPS needs to remember that Glacier was created, in 1910, not to preserve “historic” structures that were built after WWII, but to preserve the park’s natural resources and beauty. And, the park needs to honor its agreement with Mary Agnes Roberts. The only defensible course of action is for the NPS to raze the cabin.

This situation illustrates, and illustrates nicely, how much the implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act (1966) has spun out of control. All of the incentives are on the side of adding objects to the national historic register. Owners of listed structures can get tax breaks. Bureaucracies charged with executing the act welcome additions to the list, for additions allow the bureaucracies to grow, creating opportunities to advance careers and to move into higher pay grades. Living next to Glacier, we think of the NPS as an agency that manages parks such as Glacier, Mt. Rainier, or the Grand Canyon, but in fact the NPS also manages a multitude of cannonball parks and little local embarrassments that were inflicted on the NPS by ambitious members of Congress who knew an opportunity to procure pork when they saw it.

Add to that a potent lobby of well-heeled sentimentalists who confuse age with historical merit — if it’s old, it’s important — who recoil in horror at the thought of burning down an old outhouse, and who quietly but effectively agitate for the preservation of everything, and one understands why a simple project such as razing the Roberts Cabin has to jump through hoop after silly hoop after silly hoop, running up the tab for the taxpayers and driving managers to distraction.

There’s also another side to this, perhaps even more absurd. New NPS structures, even comfort stations, now are being designed and built as historic structures, intended to survive for the ages and to quickly end up on the national historic register. This keeps architects and historic preservation officers employed. It also drives up costs and makes a mockery of the National Historic Preservation Act, which never was intended to protect Uncle Elmer’s ramshackle boathouse on Lake Inholding.

The NPS seeks your comments on its plan to raze the Roberts Cabin — and given the power of the history buffs, it needs your prayers.


4 December 2006

Ballot counting problems, continued

The recount of the Toole-Taylor contest for a seat on the Public Service Commission uncovered a serious blunder by Flathead County’s elections department, according to the 1 December 2006 edition of the Daily Interlake:

Election Supervisor Monica Eisenzimer said Taylor picked up 62 votes during the recount while Toole picked up 38 votes. Most of the additional votes, Eisenzimer said, came from one precinct where absentee ballots had been reported incorrectly. Results from other counties involved in the PSC election should be available Monday.

On the one hand, I’m glad the blunder was caught and corrected. On the other, I’m dismayed that it occurred. Flathead County is having a hard time counting ballots in a manner that inspires confidence. The problem is not the technology that the county uses. The problem is mistakes by managers; human error.