GOP Reps Turn Their Backs On Montana Workers

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 30, 2015 | 2 Comments

Steve Lavin

Over the weekend the Montana Legislature rejected a motion to blast House Bill 13, the State employee pay plan. The motion failed 44-55 with only four Republicans voting to honor their deal with Montana’s state workers. Apparently, most Republican legislators just can’t be trusted.

Last week we covered Representative Pinnoci’s hypocrisy on the state pay plan. Today we will be highlighting another Representative’s total disregard for the employees who work under him and put their lives in harm’s way. We’re talking about Representative Steve Lavin, who doesn’t even think his secretary deserves a fifty cents raise.

Steve Lavin (R-Kalispell) was one of 55 Republicans to vote against a modest raise for Montana employees and guarantees that their out-of-pocket healthcare costs don’t consume their paychecks. Even though the pay plan is endorsed by people and groups across the political spectrum (from the Chamber of Commerce to organized labor), Lavin decided to spit in the face of his own employees.

Lavin is a District Captain in the Montana Highway Patrol. He oversees roughly 160 troopers. He also has a secretary who probably makes $12/hr. While Lavin gets to play politician in Helena, his troopers and secretary are stuck with stagnant wages and a healthcare plan that’s about to get really, really bad.

Not only is this a despicable thing to do to Montanans who risk their lives everyday, it’s just bad economic policy. Shame on Representative Lavin. Let’s hope he gets an earful when he gets home.

GOP Hypocrisy On State Pay Plan

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 24, 2015 | 0 Comments

 

Pinocci

Rep. Randy Pinocci puts in 16 hour days… on Facebook.

Governor Bullock, Democrats, moderate Republicans, state agencies, and business leaders have gathered together to push for a modest raise for state employees. The raise translates to about fifty cents an hour. As we said, that’s a pretty modest raise that could benefit the State of Montana in very significant ways. A raise could help the state recruit and retain high quality employees while injecting money back into the economy.

During a hearing on HB 13 (the state pay plan, which includes the 50 cents raise) on March 15th, leaders from Montana’s state agencies, universities, and business testified in support of the modest raise. Their message was clear: Montana is bleeding talent and losing out to other state. Furthermore, some of Montana’s state employees live on food stamps – how does that make financial sense? It doesn’t.

During the hearing on the state pay plan, two dozen Montanans spoke in support of the bill. There were no opponents, but that didn’t stop some legislators from ignoring reality and asking asinine questions, like, “how would HB 13 impact the average tax payer?” And therein lies the problem. Some legislators don’t view hardworking state employees as average taxpayers with families to support. They view them as a symptom of big government, which is ironic given that those same legislators depend on state employees to mow the grass around the capitol, feed them at lunch, and write their bills for them. Yes – state employees do all of that.

By failing to keep state employees’ pay in line with increased costs of living, Montana legislators are hurting the state economy and the budget’s bottom-line (i.e. paying for food stamps instead of generating revenue).

The position of some hardline legislators goes from asinine to offensive, especially in the case of Randy Pinocci. If you haven’t had a chance, read Don Pogreba’s great piece about Pinocci here.

Pinocci represents everything wrong with the Montana Legislature’s position towards state employees. During an interview with the Great Falls Tribune, Pinocci whined, “I don’t know any state employee who makes the wages I make, $5 an hour for 16-hour days,” he said. Yes, Pinocci claims that he works 16-hour days. Pogreba has put some pretty big holes in that claim with screenshots shwoing the Representative playing videogames on Facebook while the House is in session. Yikes.

However, let’s pretend Pinocci works 16-hour days, ok? State employees are taking care of almost his every need while he’s “working.” They’re cleaning the bathrooms (he uses), shoveling the sidewalk (he walks on), safeguarding the roads (he drives home on), and so on and so forth. Perhaps it’s time for people like Pinocci to start showing hardworking Montana state employees some respect.

Austin Knuden Is The Speaker That Only Says No

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 20, 2015 | 2 Comments

 

Knudsen2

 

Rep. Austin Knudsen, the Republican speaker of the house, has had a very busy legislative session.

Has he been sponsoring legislation to help Montanans? No, in fact Knudsen has only sponsored two bills this session, one to create tax giveaways to oil and gas companies, and another to take tax dollars away from public schools and give the funding to private religious schools (of course exempting his own school district from losing funding this way).

Has he been busy making healthcare accessible to Montanans? Or protecting public lands? Or improving Montana’s education system? Nope. He’s kept himself busy keeping good ideas and sound policies like these from even getting a vote, let alone passing. He’s created so-called “kill committees” by stacking them with no votes, and making sure that many bills with wide bipartisan support are assigned to them to be voted down and never see the light of day.

Knudsen’s only priority has been scoring political points and killing every Democratic bill he possibly can, no matter how popular the idea, and regardless of a policy’s merit. Instead of trying to reach across the aisle to work with both parties and create compromise, he has done nothing but say “no”. In fact, Knudsen has been so focused on this that earlier this year, he said that under him, the House of Representatives would be the “house of doom for Democratic legislation”.

Austin Doom (1)

Speaker Knudsen is pretty proud of his work to create gridlock and discourage bipartisanship.

It’s one thing to support your party’s own legislative agenda, but making political games your only priority is entirely another. Montanans expect more from their elected representatives, and Knudsen isn’t showing much interest in living up to those expectations any time soon.

Gianforte Behind Dark Money Groups That Oppose Transparency

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

 

gianforte

Greg Gianforte is behind dark money groups that oppose transparency in Montana’s elections.

This week, a bipartisan bill to rein in dark money in Montana’s elections had a hearing before the house Business and Labor Committee. Senate Bill 289, sponsored by Senator Duane Ankney, and backed by Governor Bullock and numerous groups on both sides of the aisle, would require more financial disclosure from dark money groups operating in Montana.

Despite wide bipartisan support, Jeff Lazloffy of the Montana Family Foundation testified against the bill. The Montana Family Foundation spends tens of thousands of dollars to influence elections, particularly trying to defeat moderate candidates in GOP primaries.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, one of the group’s largest donors is Greg Gianforte, Steve Daines’ former business partner, and a far right-wing TEA Partier. Gianforte is a Bozeman billionaire who is well liked by the extreme wing of the Republican Party, and is probably best known for his anti-gay beliefs and the controversy caused when he was invited to speak at Montana Tech’s graduation ceremony last year.

It might not be popular among most Montanans, but you can bet Gianforte’s support for dark money groups in Montanan will win him even more love from the far right.

Nearly All Republican Legislators Get Government Healthcare While Denying Medicaid Expansion

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 16, 2015 | 1 Comment

 

Medicaid Republicans Healthcare

Although Republicans in the Montana Legislature have voted at every opportunity to block Medicaid expansion, it turns out nearly every one of them is receiving government healthcare themselves. According to Legislative Information Services, all but 6 Republicans in the House and 1 in the Senate chose to receive health insurance funded by Montana taxpayers.

In fact, every Republican on the House Health and Human Services committee receives taxpayer-funded healthcare, even though they are the ones that kept Medicaid expansion from even going to a full vote. That’s right, even Art Wittich and his pals are getting their insurance paid for by the state, but apparently they think they work harder and are more deserving of health care than the 70,000 Montanans who would benefit from Medicaid expansion. According to the Billings Gazette, Motnana taxpayers pay $887 dollars per month for each legislator’s insurance, and that’s for their entire term, not just during the session.

In his State of the State address this year, Governor Bullock raised this same point to the members of the legislature in order to make his case for the urgency of Medicaid expansion, saying:

“There are some who want to make Medicaid expansion about partisan politics and political ideology. They want to characterize it as a dispute between a democratic governor and republican legislative leadership. But the truth is, this isn’t about us. We all have health insurance already. Medicaid expansion is about 70,000 Montanans who aren’t offered and can’t afford health care“.

For your reference, here is the complete list of house members receiving state insurance or state stipends to buy private insurance. Names in bold are Republicans on the Health and Human Services committee, all of whom voted to kill Medicaid expansion. Here is the list of senators receiving state insurance.

It is shameful and an outrage that Republicans in the legislature can get their health insurance paid for by the taxpayers they represent, and then turn around and vote to keep Montanans from getting the same level of care.

 

#MTleg Republicans Refuse To Listen To Montanans

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 11, 2015 | 3 Comments

Dozens of Montanans testified for nearly four hours in support of Medicaid expansion. Only a handful of people spoke against it.

Dozens of Montanans testified for nearly four hours in support of Medicaid expansion. Only a handful of people spoke against it.

 

Republicans in the Montana legislature just keep refusing to do the right thing and expand Medicaid.

First on Friday, the house Human Services Committee shot down the proposal on a party-line vote after hours of moving testimony from doctors, hospital administrators, tribal leadership, business owners, and dozens of Montanans in dire need of access to healthcare. Only a small handful of people spoke against expansion.

Then yesterday, a majority of Republican legislators in the Montana house once again voted to block Medicaid expansion. Democratic legislators attempted to give the bill a full vote, which Republicans again shot down. A motion to overturn the committee’s decision and bring the bill to the House floor failed 59-41, on another straight party-line vote.

Despite the more than 70,000 Montanans currently unable to get health insurance, Republican legislators refuse to listen to voters’ wishes, and continue blocking Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion has been widely backed by citizens and groups all over the state, and is supported by a solid majority of Montanans. Montana’s major newspapers have come out in support of expansion, including the Billings Gazette, the Great Falls Tribune and The Missoulian.

It’s an obvious solution to a huge problem facing our state. Expanding Medicaid to cover those in the gap, in other words people who neither qualify for Medicaid currently nor are eligible for tax credits to pay for insurance, is the right thing to do and makes sense. It’s the right choice not only as a way to help our neighbors in need, but it makes economic sense as well.

If Republicans in the legislature are unable or unwilling to honor the wishes of their constituents and perform the duty they were elected for, then it’s a good bet that many of them won’t be heading back to Helena in two years.

 

 

Montana Press Slams Zinke

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 5, 2015 | 1 Comment

 

zinke boehner

Zinke with TEA Party House Speaker John Boehner.

In an editorial today, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle slammed Congressman Ryan Zinke for his vote this week to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Chronicle’s editorial board criticized Zinke for joining with the extreme wing of the Republican party and contributing to congressional gridlock, writing that he has joined with the “delusional” members of Congress. They also pointed out that this move, like much of Zinke’s voting in his short time in office, goes against his campaign rhetoric of working to find bipartisan solutions:

 

“It’s disappointing to see that Zinke, who campaigned on a promise of compromise and getting things done, has chosen this route … Zinke, just sworn into his first term last November, campaigned on a promise to work with colleagues across the aisle on legislation that would move the country forward, that would do what’s best for Americans and Montanans. Instead, he has apparently chosen to align himself with the extreme right of the Republican Party and cast our state’s lone vote in the House in a disturbingly misguided statement of futility”.

 

Zinke’s off to a rough start if this is the kind of feedback he’s getting from back home just a few months into his term in Congress. If Zinke hopes to get a second term in Congress, this is not the way to go about it. Montanans don’t put up with this kind of extremism and partisan games from their representatives.

 

Republican Fighting Continues

By Montana Street Fighter, on March 4, 2015 | 0 Comments

Halfway through the 2015 legislative session, the TEA Party and Republican fighting continues. The split in the GOP caucus seems to have grown even wider, with right-wing outside groups now coming in to support the extreme TEA Party minority, attack moderate Republicans, and try to dictate policy in Montana.

This past week Americans For Prosperity, the Koch Brothers-backed group trying to keep tens of thousands of Montanans from getting health care, started releasing adds attacking moderate Republican legislators like Rob Cook in an attempt to keep them from supporting reasonable, popular proposals like Medicaid expansion.

AFP ad

Responsible Republicans like Rob Cook have survived this type of extreme attack before, and this type of TEA Party warfare seems to be backfiring. By giving even more attention to the TEA Party’s extreme stances, groups like AFP and ALEC (the masterminds trying to bring “Right to Work” legislation to Montana) are only emboldening moderate Republican legislators who have the guts to buck their extreme party leadership, and making them realize that while out of state groups may want the legislature to do one thing, Montanans stand firmly behind Medicaid expansion, and against policies that will hurt working families.

If AFP keeps running negative ads and pushing extreme stances, soon Montana’s Responsible Republican legislators will know how to vote as soon as AFP comes out in support of a bill. It’s not hard to see that if the Koch Brothers and their cronies support a policy for Montana, the right thing is to vote against it.

 

The Latest Fight Between #MTleg Republicans

By Montana Street Fighter, on February 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

 

rosendale pic

 

If it seems like we post a lot of stories on Republican infighting in the Montana legislature, that’s because we do. It seems like every week they are finding new things to fight over, and new ways to attack each other publicly and behind the scenes.

Yesterday, a major division in the Republican caucus became very clear on the senate floor, when Sen. Chas Vincent’s CSKT Water Compact bill was up for debate. After several hours of discussion, the senate voted in favor by a comfortable margin, with Republicans pretty evenly split on the issue. More interesting than the floor debate through, is what happened behind the scenes leading up to the vote.

Standard etiquette in the legislature is to notify a bill’s sponsor of amendments that you plan to offer, especially if that person is a member of your own party. But, according to a tipster at the Capitol, Republicans led by Matt Rosendale who were serving with Vincent on the senate Finance and Claims committee took advantage of his absence while in another committee meeting and attempted to derail his bill by proposing amendments. Essentially, members of Vincent’s own party waited until he was out of the room to try to sink his legislation. Our source says that a Democrat on the committee had to propose that Vincent be notified of what was taking place.

This is just one more example of the Republicans’ extreme TEA Party leadership trying to punish members of their caucus that are willing to work across the aisle, even if it means keeping sensible legislation from passing. Members of GOP leadership like Rosendale continue to put partisanship ahead of getting any work done for Montana.

 

Art Wittich Is Having A Tough Year

By Montana Street Fighter, on February 23, 2015 | 4 Comments

Wittich

 

Art Wittich is having a tough year. To start, the state senator-turned-representative from Bozeman is facing the possibility of being removed from office for violating campaign finance laws in 2010. Despite claiming that the charges are nothing more than a bipartisan plot to discredit him (although he does a great job of that all on his own), his trial date has been set for one year from this week and his imaginary accusations of conspiracy were dismissed by the court.

As if the law breaking and paranoia weren’t enough embarrassment, today Wittich was the only person to testify in favor of his own “right to work” bill, without even any of his Republican colleagues speaking in support of it. While Wittich stood alone trying his best to screw over working class Montanans, dozens of people spoke in opposition to the legislation. Adding insult to injury, even a number of Republicans testified against Wittich’s bill.

Things just really aren’t going Wittich’s way this year, from his very public legal troubles to his lack of legislative support from his own party. It almost makes you feel bad for the guy. Almost. Until you remember that he’s the guy trying to cut funding for child abuse prevention, subpoenaing state employees, and trying to derail Medicaid expansion.