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.

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

Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl today formally filed the state’s new campaign-finance rules with the Secretary of State. The new rules, that define how candidates and political committees report their contributions and spending, take up more than 50 pages.

Patrick Barkey, Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research
Courtesy UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research

Last week a study of what could happen to Montana’s economy under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan came out of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Opponents of the carbon dioxide reduction plan say it proves dire consequences. Backers of the plan say the study merely reached the predetermined conclusion of the utility company that sponsored it.

Patrick Barkey, author of the study and director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research joined us for an interview about it.

The Montana Republican Party has sued the state to force closed primary elections in Montana.
Montana Republican Party

Both sides in the Montana Republican Party's lawsuit to close its primary elections appeared in Federal Court in Helena today. Judge Brian Morris presided over a motion hearing. The actual trial, if there is one, will happen later. But it provided a preview of arguments both sides might use at trial.

Colstrip power plant as seen in the early 1980s.
David T. Hanson (CC-BY-SA-2)

A study released Wednesday says that complying with President Obama's Clean Power Plan will cost Montana more than 7,000 jobs and more than $2 billion in wages and sales. Those numbers were quickly trumpeted by Montana elected officials who oppose the nationwide plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, including Attorney General Tim Fox, who has joined Montana to a multi-state lawsuit to halt the plan.

A University of Montana study funded by the state’s largest electric utility predicts dire economic consequences to the state because of the president’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The study is drawing sharp criticism from advocates of alternative energy.

Zinke, Daines Urge Gov. To Block Syrian Refugees From Montana

Nov 18, 2015

A group of Missoula residents is working to bring a resettlement agency to the city in order to help refugees. But two Montana Republicans today urged Governor Bullock to prevent those refugees from coming to Montana.

  Chalk up another victory for Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, Jonathan Motl.

“I think it's a good day for Montanans and the people in Montana,” Motl said outside a hearing room at the state capitol Tuesday. “I think that this will be a step towards transparency that’s the greatest step we’ve taken as a state.”

Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border 50 miles from Aleppo, Syria (3 August 2012).

Republican lawmakers are taking steps to keep Syrian refugees out of Montana, and the rest of the country as well. Meanwhile the governor says it’s a moot point, for the time being.

Montana lawmakers will review proposed new campaign-finance rules Tuesday. The rules, written by political practices commissioner Jonathan Motl, are controversial. Steve Jess reports that they might be delayed.

Power line

Governor Steve Bullock has responded to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

That plan asks Montana to reduce its emissions by 47 percent, that’s more than any other state. Bullock now says he’s appointing an advisory panel to draft Montana’s plan.