Montana politics

In a debate that seemed as late as Friday not likely to happen, Republican Ryan Zinke met Democrat John Lewis in a statewide debate that focused on experience and education Monday night in Billings.

Montana PBS had already cancelled broadcast coverage after Zinke cited a scheduling conflict, but the Monday evening debate was available across the state on radio. You can listen to the debate from Yellowstone Public Radio.

Neither candidate has widespread name recognition – Zinke having served in the state legislature and Lewis as state director for former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus – so the debates are a vital piece of both men’s campaigns, according to University of Montana political science professor Christopher Muste.

I think Zinke will attack Lewis for being inexperienced and Lewis will attack Zinke for being out of touch and having extreme views on a number of issues,” Muste said in the pre-debate analysis with Montana Public Radio.

The debate, in the end, was largely a civil and substantive affair. Zinke stuck hard to the issues of education and energy independence, claiming that Montana “had enough coal to support the nation at peak consumption for the next 100 years.”

Lewis countered that Zinke would pursue oil and gas exploration at all times and criticized him for not support limits on energy exploration near Glacier National Park, a position supported by current U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.

On education, Zinke stated he rejected the increasingly controversial learning standards known as Common Core and wanted to boost more training for skilled labor.

Lewis focused his efforts in staking out support for higher education and reducing student loans. He said by financing student loans “much like you would a house” and ensuring continued access to Pell Grants, he could cut the amount of debt many Montana students have. He added that Zinke would cut support for higher education, making it more expensive for students.

The two meet again on Saturday for a debate in Bozeman.

Jonathan Motl is rewriting the rules for politics in Montana. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not.  The state's Commissioner of Political Practices has come out with a top-to-bottom rewrite of the rules that candidates, parties, and political committees must follow, partly because of Senate Bill 289, the so-called “dark money” bill passed by the state legislature this year.

A proposed initiative would allow Montana public school employees to carry concealed weapons in school.
Flickr user Ibro Palic (CC-BY-NC-2)

Signature gathering soon begins for a proposal to allow public school employees with a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon in school. Initiative-175 has cleared the necessary legal hurdles to appear on the 2016 ballot if sponsor Chet Billi can get the necessary number of signatures.

Eric Whitney

About a hundred people came to Missoula’s Har Shalom synagogue this morning to be part of a protest against a new shipping terminal on the coast of Washington. Opponents say the terminal will cause environmental problems.

Opinion: History Bodes Well for Bullock Reelection

Aug 27, 2015

Analyzing historical electoral patterns may seem like an exercise for the back rooms of a university political science department.  But active practitioners in the political arena dive into history to find patterns that are indicative, if not predictive, of what might happen in current and future election cycles. 

A proposed ballot initiative would require electricity suppliers to obtain at least 20 percent of retail sales from renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal or hydroelectric sources by 2020.
(PD)

Montana officials are reviewing a proposal that aims to put global warming mitigation to a statewide vote in 2016.

John Soderberg today submitted a ballot initiative to curb climate change by reducing the amount of CO2 released when generating electricity.

Billings Crowd Urges Approval Of Montana Medicaid Expansion Waivers

Aug 19, 2015
Tuesday's meeting in Billings on Montana's Medicaid expansion waivers drew about 80 people.
Jackie Yamanaka - Yellowstone Public Radio

Nearly 80 people turned out for a public meeting in Billings Tuesday afternoon on the state of Montana’s proposed waiver request for its Medicaid expansion program.

As Jackie Yamanaka reports, all of the two dozen people who offered comments want the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to approve Montana’s two waivers.

Bozeman software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte Monday filed paperwork to establish an exploratory committee that could lead to running for Governor. An exploratory committee filing allows a candidate to begin raising money to fund a campaign. MTPR News Director Eric Whitney sat down with Gianforte Tuesday for this interview.

Greg Gianforte filed papers today paving the way for a Montana Gubernatorial run.
Rowebotz (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Montana businessman Greg Gianforte Monday filed paperwork to establish an exploratory committee that could lead to running for Governor.   An exploratory committee filing allows a candidate to begin raising money to fund a campaign.

Courtesy Photo

NOTE: This post has been edited on 8/19 to clarify information about disenrollment from Medicaid related to not engaging in work or job training programs. 

Montana is holding public meetings this week to get input on its Medicaid expansion plans.

As the state prepares to ask the federal government to accept its version of Medicaid expansion, one critic of the proposal wants to make sure the state is telling the whole story.

Steve Jess

Montana Democrats re-elected their party leadership and heard pep talks about the coming election at their party convention over the weekend in Bozeman. 

Sen. Tester: Iran Agreement A Step In The Right Direction

Aug 13, 2015

Senator Jon Tester announced Wednesday he will support the Iran nuclear agreement when it comes before lawmakers. He says he came to that decision after personally reading the proposed agreement, talking with experts, and listening to Montanans.

Critics of the Clean Power Plan worry about its impacts on coal development and jobs.
BLM

News reports are saying that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan has set new targets for Montana that are twice as large as those floated last year in a draft of the plan. But the head of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality, Tom Livers, says it’s still unclear to him what exactly the new thresholds are.

The plan the White House unveiled today to reduce carbon dioxide emissions nationwide is meeting with strong and broad criticism in Montana.

Gov. Steve Bullock said he's "disappointed" by President Obama's Clean Power Plan.
Christopher B. Allen

Governor Steve Bullock issued the following statement on the Clean Power Plan President Obama announced today:

Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.
Cheri Trusler

The City of Missoula has hit a speed bump in its effort to take ownership of the city’s water system.

The current owner, the Carlyle Group, is trying to sell Mountain Water Company of Missoula, and several other local water systems, to Liberty Utilities, a company that operates an assortment of water, electric and gas utilities around the country.

The vice administrator for China’s National Energy Administration says development of 'clean coal' is a top priority for China.
Flickr user Erin Kinney(CC-BY-NC-ND-2)

Critics say that for decades the coal industry has gamed the system to underpay its fair share of federal coal royalties. They say those alleged schemes have padded the bottom lines of coal companies while short-changing state and local governments of tens of millions of dollars.

U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield (Left) and Everett Dirksen conversing.
(PD)

It's hard to describe the career of this program's guest, but let me take a stab at it. Early on, grocery delivery boy. A little later, sailor, soldier, marine, Montana miner, history professor, United States congressman, United States senator, Senate majority leader, statesman, ambassador. You must have guessed by now, I'm talking about Mike Mansfield.

Montana Developmental Center
Dan Boyce

Since the Montana Legislature voted earlier this year to close the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder and transition its roughly 60 clients to community based group homes, a committee of lawmakers and community members has been working out the details of the transition. Thursday that committee took a tour of the MDC campus in Boulder.

States Could Lose Federal Highway Funds Without Congressional Fix

Jul 23, 2015
If Congress fails to act by July 31, the federal government won’t have the ability to process transportation funding payments that were promised to states.
(PD)

The clock is ticking again toward the expiration of the current federal transportation funding bill. This week, the Senate agreed to debate a long-term funding bill. If Congress fails to act by July 31, the federal government won’t have the ability to process transportation funding payments that were promised to states.

Montana’s Public Service Commission this morning voted to sue Century Link after rural customers complained of spotty telephone service.
Eric Whitney

Tuesday some rural Montana residents convinced the state’s Public Service Commission to do something about what one of them calls their "crappy phone service."

"Sometimes it doesn’t work. For instance, I run a small business out of my home, and I can run it with an answering machine….," says Ellis Misner, who lives near Craig between Helena and Great Falls.

Senator Jon Tester says a forest management reform bill co-sponsored by Montana Republican Ryan Zinke that recently passed in the U.S House will have a tougher time in the Senate.
PD

Senator Jon Tester says a forest management reform bill co-sponsored by Montana Republican Ryan Zinke that recently passed in the U.S. House will have a tougher time in the Senate. The bill scales back environmental reviews for some timber projects, and makes it harder to file lawsuits that delay thinning projects.

U.S. Capitol building.
Flickr user Tim McKee (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

The U.S. House has passed legislation designed to improve the health of national forests by scaling back the environmental reviews that go into some timber projects, and making it harder to file lawsuits that delay thinning projects.

Montana Republican Ryan Zinke is co-sponsoring the bill.

Billings businessman Steve Zabawa believes marijuana is a scourge that ruins lives.

Zabawa’s drafted a proposed initiative for the 2016 ballot that states all drugs illegal under federal law would also be illegal under Montana law. That would also include the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana, including medical marijuana.

As the Senate begins debating federal education policy, Montana Senator Jon Tester is trying to remove annual testing requirements from Washington, and Senator Steve Daines is seeking block grants of federal funding instead of money with specific strings attached.

The Senate is currently working on replacing the unpopular No Child Left Behind law, with one called “Every Child Achieves.”

A proposed ballot measure woul legalize recreational marijuana in Montana.
(PD)

A part-time sports reporter and medical marijuana patient from Glendive says legalizing pot for recreational use would be an economic boon for Montana.

Anthony Varriono has submitted a proposed ballot measure with the Secretary of State's office that would allow adults age 21 and older to possess limited amounts of pot.

Health centers like Missoula's Partnership Health Center hope Medicaid expansion will bring more financial certainty.
Josh Burnham

Montana’s legislature said yes to Medicaid expansion this spring, but the state’s expansion plan still needs approval by the federal government.

Today, the state made the details of its expansion plan public, and is giving the public 60 days to comment on the plan before sending it to the White House.

Rep. Ryan Zinke. File photo.
Eric Whitney

Montana's Representative in the U.S. House says a wildfire burning near Glacier National Park shows why comprehensive forest management reform is needed. Republican Ryan Zinke yesterday visited with crews fighting the 85-acre Glacier Rim Fire.

Sen. Daines at Chessman Reservoir with federal, state and local forest officials.
Steve Jess

Steve Jess is on the road, a few miles south of Helena, trailing a convoy carrying Senator Steve Daines and an assortment of local officials. They travel down about 20 miles of dirt road and the occasional cattle guard to a site just yards from the Chessman reservoir, where many of the surrounding hills bear the corpses of lodgepole pines killed by the mountain pine beetle.

Sen. Daines and other officials on a tour of the Tenmile watershed.
Steve Jess

Montana Senator Steve Daines toured a beetle-infested area of the Helena National Forest Tuesday, and praised a joint federal-state effort to reduce fire danger. 

Steve Jess

Montana’s Republican Party has a new leader. Delegates at the party’s convention over the weekend rejected the most conservative candidate, settling on an experienced lawmaker and party insider.

Pages