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.

Last week Governor Steve Bullock announced a new, multi-million dollar initiative to reform child protective services in Montana.

That’s the system that follows up on reports of child abuse and neglect. About 1,400 reports a year like that come in. Montana’s Child and Family Services Division can recommend that kids in those situations can be placed in foster care for their own protection.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund which uses fees paid by offshore oil and gas drilling companies for conservation programs, has suffered a significant defeat in Congress.

Brad Johnson, former Montana secretary of state, current chair of the state Public Service Commission, and now candidate for governor.
Josh Burnham

Last week Brad Johnson formally announced his candidacy for governor. A former Montana secretary of state, he currently serves as chair of the state Public Service Commission. He joined Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney for an interview.

Republican candidate for governor Brad Johnson says his political experience makes him a better choice for his party’s nomination than the other high profile Republican candidate in the race, Bozeman Businessman Greg Gianforte.

Gov. Steve Bullock. File Photo
Christopher B. Allen

Governor Steve Bullock today said he’s taking action where the state legislature chose not to, to reform the state’s system for protecting abused and neglected children.

Former secretary of state Brad Johnson will formally announce his campaign for governor next week.  Johnson in July announced that he might run.

The sign outside the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Office
Steve Jess

Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices has dismissed a complaint against Greg Gianforte, a Republican Candidate for Governor in the upcoming election.

Montana State Senator Diane Sands.
Courtesy Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, University of Montana

Montana lawmakers are wondering how to track the effectiveness of nearly $20 million being injected into the state's mental health care system this year.

An Interim Committee Monday heard positive feedback on the funding package. But health care providers say they're not sure what data to collect to demonstrate whether new and expanded programs are successful.  

The Director of Montana’s Medicaid program expects the state to offer expanded Medicaid coverage at the start of the New Year. Mary Dalton told state lawmakers Monday morning that her staff is working at "breakneck speed" to get all the paperwork filed.

William Marcus

It was a rare event Thursday at the Montana capitol: A public hearing brought together a panel of state lawmakers and an audience packed with coal and electric industry representatives, yet very few people had anything to say. Even the group’s chairman, Butte Democratic Senator Jim Keane, found it odd:

Corey Stapleton has entered the Montana Secretary of State race.
Courtesy Corey Stapleton

A former state Senator from Billings has announced he’s running for statewide office.

Republican Corey Stapleton served eight years in the Montana Senate, and since leaving office he’s run unsuccessfully for Governor, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate. Now he wants to be Secretary of State.

Kevin and Marti Murphy and their children at their home in Colstrip.
Amy Martin

Kevin Murphy has worked at the Rosebud coal mine for 15 years, running a bulldozer which works in tandem with a dragline – a machine as big as a ship with a giant boom that extends 300 feet up into the air. The dragline perches on the lip of an open pit, scraping away hundreds of feet of rocky soil to reveal the black seam of compressed prehistoric peat that humans have been burning for fuel for millennia.

William Marcus

Montana’s proposed rules for political campaigns need rewriting. That was the opinion of several public interest groups that testified during two days of public hearings Wednesday and Thursday at the state capitol. The rules proposed by Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, define when a public interest group qualifies as a "political committee".

Several groups voiced concerns today about proposed new rules that govern Montana political campaigns.

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.

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.

Greg Gianforte at his home in Bozeman
Eric Whitney

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.

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. File Photo
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.