Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

NWE has lobbyists in Helena: Yes, it's surprising, isn't it? Montana Headlines is all for encouraging legislators to cast a wary eye on any powerful entity that does full-court presses with a take-no prisoners attitude, whether it be a corporation like NWE or a special-interest group like the public education lobby. With any lobby, however, that healthy skepticism needs to be tempered with the fact that they do have an intimate knowledge of the issues involved that the casual observer doesn't. Mike Dennison's article quotes a Democratic lawmaker as saying that utility policy is one of the most complex issues facing lawmakers, and that few have an in-depth understanding of it. Well, yes -- that's why lobbyists can actually be helpful to legislators.

The politics of the budget: Charles Johnson's piece is a series of questions about the potential political fallout from the GOP decision to split up HB2 into 6 parts. The summary is, of course, that the politics could go in either direction. One thing is certain. If the Democrats strong-arm their budget through the process with a combination of gubernatorial vetoes and party-line Senate revisions, the economy had better be perfect and the revenues had better all materialize.

Republicans are probably going to make gains in both House and Senate in 2008 no matter what happens, since they are figuring out how to win in spite of the severely gerrymandered districts. As the Republican base is repeatedly reminded that nearly 40,000 more votes were cast for Republican legislators in contested elections than for Democrats in 2006, it is only going to get even more energized. Those gains will be even larger if the Democrats strong-arm their budget and everything doesn't go perfectly.

Another interesting side-note in the article is that our governor's picture made the Wall Street Journal in an article about the new breed of big-spending governors. With a proposed increase of at least 23% (depending on how it is calculated), we'd say that Montana Democrats earned that coverage.

Great wolfish idea -- poor funding: The House passed a measure to help reimburse ranchers for livestock kills by wolves, but a piddly $50,000 is delegated to funding it. Granted, the state shouldn't have to be paying for this. Environmentalist groups like "Defenders of Wildlife" should be required to continue to foot the bill in perpetuity. Liberals always say that they are willing to pay for services -- unfortunately, this usually means that they are willing for the rest of us to foot the bill for their pet projects. If they want wolves, they should pay for them. Predictably, Defenders of Wildlife is planning to stop paying damages once wolves are delisted -- and they have always made it difficult for ranchers to collect what they have promised to pay. We at Montana Headlines are glad that wolves have made a comeback in Yellowstone, but ranchers should always be able to control predators that attack their livestock.

Phased-in coal-bed methane: The BLM is going to go slowly on CBM development in Montana, as it should. Unlike traditional oil, gas, and coal development (which should be fast-tracked), CBM has features that are new to Montana. As Montana Headlines has said before, the concerns of ranchers along the Tongue and Powder River are more than justified. Anytime that there is a potential for damage to agricultural land that may not be easy to correct (or may be impossible to correct), caution is in order. The methane isn't going anywhere -- and demand for energy certainly isn't going to drop any time soon.

Government-funded art: According to the Great Falls Tribune, Rep. Franke Wilmer, D-Bozeman, is "ashamed" that Montana Poet Laureate Sandra Alcosser has to "pass the hat" for travel expenses, and claims that her proposal to pay the poet laureate only involves $4000 in federal grant money to the Montana Arts Council.

We realize that in her day-job teaching at MSU, Ms. Wilmer teaches courses like "Feminism and Political Theory," but still we imagine that basic math is somewhere in her educational background. There are 75 Democratic legislators in Helena, and by our calculation, this means that each would only need to contribute $53 plus change to raise $4000. Then our state poet wouldn't have to pass the hat.

Since some of the Democratic legislators are well-off trial lawyers, they could pick up the tab for those who can't spare $53. Or perhaps they could use their constituency accounts. Use some creativity -- just because a cause is worthy (and this one is) doesn't mean that there has to be a government expenditure to pay for it. It's a lesson that liberals can learn from conservatives.

It is shameful that our poet laureate has to pass the hat, when Ms. Wilmer could do it for her.

Yellowstone County Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner -- Stephen Moore speaks: Word on the Republican street is that Stephen Moore, founder of the powerhouse Club for Growth and now an editor at the Wall Street Journal, gave a tremendous address at last night's Lincoln-Reagan Day gathering in Billings. He told it straight: Republicans have lost their way fiscally on the national stage. Exit polls showed that fewer voters trusted Republicans to cut spending than trusted Democrats -- and that is a formula for Republicans getting blown out, as happened in 2006.

Brad Johnson announced his plans to seek a second term as Secretary of State, and Mike Lange lit up the crowd, reinforcing the suspicions of many that Democrats are right to be very worried about this guy. Other than the long-winded MC, who apparently detracted from Moore and the elected officials who gave remarks, all of the speakers got great reviews in our unscientific sampling of opinion.

Things are looking good for the GOP in Yellowstone County -- which along with Gallatin County, Flathead County, and (our personal favorite) heavily Republican rural Montana, is a key factor in any statewide Republican victory.

Misleading headline of the week:

This one goes to the Billings Gazette. The print edition headline read: "Panel endorses lifting birth control ban." Of course, birth control is not banned anywhere in Montana. What is at issue is whether the state Children's Health Insurance Program will pay for birth control measures -- a program that by definition covers children up to the age of 19.

The online headline is a little better, since it adds the word "CHIP," but again, there is no current "ban" on CHIP recipients using birth control. There is merely an absence of having the government pay for it. It is worth noting that only about 1/3 of private insurance programs cover birth control costs.

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