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.

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.

Josh Burnham

Bozeman's Stacey Haugland never thought she'd live to see the day when gay marriage would be legalized nationwide. The Supreme Court today guaranteed that right.

courtesy Montana Republican Party

This weekend, the Montana Republican party will choose its leader, and chart the course for its future. Delegates from all over the state are meeting today and tomorrow in Helena for their annual convention.

U.S. Supreme Court
Flickr user: Marty Stone (CC-BY-NC-2)

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies for people to buy health insurance means nothing really changes in Montana’s health insurance market. And that’s pretty big news.

William Marcus

Budget officials from the Montana Governor’s office faced an angry panel of state lawmakers Wednesday morning. Members of the Legislative Audit Committee demanded to know why a crucial report on the state’s finances was issued in May instead of March, but also contained multiple mistakes, with the potential to cost taxpayers money.

James St. Goddard announced his candidacy for Montana's lone House seat Tuesday at the state capitol.
Steve Jess

The 2016 election is more than 16 months away, but the race for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House already has its first candidate.

James St. Goddard, a former Blackfeet Tribal Council member, announced he’s running for Congress as a Democrat.

Susan Cahill says she had over 400 regular patients that came to her for general family practice medicine.
Corin Cates-Carney

When Zachary Klundt broke into and vandalized All Families Healthcare in Kalispell, in March 2014, he destroyed the only clinic providing abortions in the Flathead Valley.

Now, over a year later, the clinic remains closed, and the building is now used to help people file taxes.

What Drives A Montana Lobbyist?

Jun 17, 2015

Between them, Mona Jamison and Stuart Doggett have almost sixty years' experience lobbying in the Montana Legislature. "Lobbyist" isn't a word that wins any popularity contest. Why do they do it?

Greg Gianforte speaking to the Conrad, Montana Chamber of Commerce
Eric Whitney

Not everybody's summer road trip around Montana generates headlines at every stop, but Greg Gianforte's does, and Gianforte is not just anybody. He's been meeting with local chambers of commerce, like a group of about 10 people at the Sport Club restaurant in Shelby recently.

Gov. Bullock was joined by tribal leaders from across Montana as he signed an executive order creating a state office of American Indian Health.
Courtesy Office of the Governor

The lifespan of Montana’s Native Americans is twenty years shorter, on average, than others in the state.  Montana Governor Steve Bullock is launching an effort to close that gap by finding and fixing the shortcomings of the health care system for the state’s Indian population.

East Rosebud Trail map.
U.S. Forest Service, Custer-Gallatin National Forest

Montana’s Congressional delegation today introduced a bill to give Wild and Scenic River status to East Rosebud Creek, which drains the Absaroka-Beartooth range northwest of Red Lodge, Montana.

Montana Developmental Center
Dan Boyce

Monday in Helena, an appointed committee began preparations to close the Montana Developmental Center (MDC) and put its clients into community-based treatment. The panel is also being asked to deal with sinking employee morale.

Eric Whitney

An attempt to strip a bonding provision from a new forest management bill failed Thursday on Capitol Hill.

The bill, co-authored by Montana Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke, would require people who aren’t part of collaborative timber projects to post a bond before they could sue over over the projects.

Solar panel installation.
Wayne National Forest (CC-BY-2)

Update 06/08/15: In an earlier version of this story we misattributed a quote from Sen. Pat Connell to Rep Tom Steenberg. The story has been updated to correct this error.

A panel of state lawmakers is looking into a renewable-energy issue that died in the 2015 legislature.

The eight-member, bi-partisan panel will spend most of its time looking into “net metering”, the technology that lets electricity users get paid for contributing excess power generated by their solar panels or wind turbines.

Senator Daines' office

In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Montana Senator Steve Daines lambasted President Obama for what he says are huge increases in the price of health insurance in Montana, but he didn't get the facts exactly right.

Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

Congressman Ryan Zinke says federal forests don't have a fire problem as much as they have a land management problem.

Zinke, Montana's lone Representative in the U.S. House, introduced a forest management reform bill this week.

Rep. Ryan Zinke. File photo.
Eric Whitney

Congressman Ryan Zinke has introduced a forest management reform bill that he says would prevent unnecessary litigation, improve forest health and help prevent wildfires.

At least one Montana environmental organization says it would instead be a waste of federal tax dollars.

Monday at the Montana Capitol the Legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee raised questions about new federal clean water rules intended to give the Environmental Protection Agency a say in regulating many streams and ditches that are now the domain of state and local regulators. Montana lawmakers from both parties say they’re troubled by the new rules.

Two Medicaid Expansion Opponents Named To State Oversight Committee

May 29, 2015

Governor Steve Bullock and Legislative leaders named their picks for the 9-member panel that will oversee the roll-out of Medicaid coverage for Montana’s working poor. The oversight committee includes two opponents of Medicaid Expansion.

Sen. Tester Talks Infrastructure In Eastern Montana

May 28, 2015
Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
Courtesy photo

Senator Jon Tester met with local officials in Sidney Thursday to talk about the Bakken-area boom town’s strained roads, water and sewer systems.

Tester has made numerous trips to and held field hearings in Bakken-impacted communities. He’s wanted a first-hand look at how these communities are coping with what was rapid growth. The most recent field hearing was last fall.

Monica Lindeen
Courtesy Monica Lindeen

State auditor Monica Lindeen hit the campaign trail this week, announcing her bid to become Montana's next secretary of state. Fellow Democrat Linda McCulloch currently holds that position and was re-elected back in 2012.

A revised federal water pollution rule issued today is earning praise from Montana conservationists and condemnation from the agriculture and building sectors.

Chuck Johson with Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
William Marcus

As you might have heard, the Lee newspaper chain, which publishes most of Montana’s larger papers, is closing its state bureau in Helena. Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison, the two veteran reporters who staff the bureau, are leaving the company.  The news stunned many Montanans who follow politics. Johnson and Dennison have been honored with blog posts on the internet and speeches on the floor of the U. S. Senate.

Recently I sat down with Chuck Johnson in his Helena office to talk about his 43 years covering the state of Montana, starting with how he found out it was coming to an end.

Fewer state and federal dollars are filling Montana school district coffers, so school officials are turning to local voters for help.

Bob Vogel of the Montana School Boards Association says bonding requests are becoming more common.

Bill Gallagher, former Montana Public Service Commission Chairman
Montana Public Service Commission

The chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission remembers his predecessor, Bill Gallagher, as a man of courage and grace.

Gallagher died of pancreatic cancer late last week.

Jonathan Motl, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices speaks during a forum about the "Disclose Act" in Missoula, MT
Josh Burnham

Montana’s new campaign finance law still has at least one loophole that needs to be addressed. That’s according to state Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl.

A Montana lawmaker is praising President Obama’s decision to restrict the kinds of military surplus equipment that go to local police departments.

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