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

28 February 2017


The legislature’s transmittal break starts Thursday. Meanwhile, there’s a desperate push to address non-revenue bills before the transmittal deadline takes effect. This push, made necessary by the foolish 90-day restriction on legislative sessions, makes legislators weary, grumpy, and prone to mistakes.

Amanda Curtis’ press censorship bill tabled in committee. HB-553 was clearly unconstitutional, but seven Republicans voted for it anyway to send a message of disapproval to Montana’s news media. Curtis, by offering a bill she had to know was blatantly unconstitutional, significantly diminished her reputation as a serious legislator, and established herself as an enemy of civil liberties.

Rep. Jeremy Trebas (R-Great Falls), an accountant, loses attempt to let merchants punish customers who pay with credit and debit cards. Tabled in committee, HB-506 would have allowed businesses to add three percent to bills paid by plastic:

Section 1. Card transaction fee. A merchant, vendor, creditor as provided in 31-2-102, or other party may charge a card transaction fee of up to 3% of the total amount of a transaction if a purchase or other payment is made with a credit or debit card. A financial institution or credit card company may not prohibit collection of the card transaction fee as provided in this section.

There are still business owners who hate credit and debit cards because the banks issuing those cards charge a small fee for each transaction, thereby slightly reducing the profit. To some owners, those who pay with cards are thieves. Other, smarter, more decent, owners take the transaction fees into account when setting their prices.

For lower income people, the Trebas Plastic Tax would have been a three percent cut in income. Trebas won in 2016 by only 110 votes. The voters in his district will hear about HB-506 when he runs for re-election.

Ryan Zinke will be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior this week. As soon as he resigns his seat in the U.S. House, Montana must call a special election to replace him. At this point, it looks as though the election date will occur sometime in late May or early June. Montana’s Secretary of State has a single page fact sheet on nominations and fees. Both political parties should schedule their nominating conventions for this weekend.

We may be condemned to an all mail ballot election. Democratic leaders, and county clerks and recorders, love all mail ballot elections, but I do not. With early voting, the campaign will be very short, a 45–60 mass media and direct mail blitz.

At this point, the leading Republican candidates appear to be State Senator Ed Buttrey of Great Falls, and Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte, who blew almost $6 million of his own money losing the gubernatorial election to Steve Bullock last fall.

The leading Democrats are Rob Quist, Rep. Amanda Curtis, and Rep. Kelly McCarthy. Quist may have a lead in convention delegates, but he does not command a majority of delegates. Curtis’ supporters, keeping in character with the darker reputations of Butte and of labor unions, are playing rough in the comment sections of liberal political blogs. Quist’s and McCarthy’s supporters are less vocal and much more civil.

If the Democratic convention is deadlocked initially, McCarthy is the likely compromise candidate.

There are other Democratic and Republican candidates, but I see none as a serious contender. These candidates are engaging in self-promotion, and depending on how they handle themselves, may derive some benefit from their candidacies. None strikes me as having sufficient followers to be a kingmaker.

House shoots down packin’ in the schoolhouse. The vote on the second reading on HB-385 was 43–57. Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell) voted against the bill, delivering a short but very effective speech in opposition.

The Gunpowder Caucus will learn nothing from this defeat. Instead it will remember everything, and return with a similar or identical bill in 2019. Packin’ in the schoolhouse is one of those bad ideas that enjoy eternal life because they are based on philosophical beliefs as strong or stronger than religious convictions, not on practical considerations of real world conditions.