Monday, April 9, 2007

No more Mr. Nice Guy

Much e-ink has been spilled over Rep. Mike Lange's reportedly boisterous behavior and ultimatums to Democrats.

Lange should, of course, know that going into Democratic offices with finger pistols wouldn't get good press. Maybe there's a method to the madness. It remains to be seen -- but not, so far, by us.

One thing that hasn't gotten much play is the fact that Montana legislators and our political parties appear to have no living memory of this kind of divided government. It seems that the last couple of decades, at least, have seen the legislature controlled entirely by one party or another.

Democrats are naturally certain that their people would be oh, so much more cooperative, if the situation were reversed and they had the House while Republicans controlled the Senate and governorship.

We imagine that it would probably be the kind of Democratic cooperation that we saw in Washington from Tom Daschle's narrowly-held Democratic Senate for two years when Republicans controlled the White House and the House of Representatives. Whether things would be different in Montana with our brand of Democrats is an untestable proposition.

What we do know is that Democrats have known from the beginning of the session that Republicans' had two goals: permanent across-the-board property tax relief and at least somewhat lower spending than proposed by the governor. Democrats know that Republicans have serious objections to growing the size of the state government payroll through new permanent employees -- especially in the Dept. of Revenue.

Montana Headlines has made this point repeatedly: given the position of strength in which Democrats found themselves, why weren't they quick to come up with negotiated compromises on key issues at the beginning of the session? Such compromises would be undoubtedly in their favor, and part of the deal would be cooperation from the GOP.

Given the fact that Democrats seemed to be playing all-or-nothing from day one, it is hard to escape the impression that Democrats in Helena are at least as interested in provoking Republicans to outbursts as Republicans are in being deliberately cantankerous.

Montana Headlines has also repeatedly said that the GOP would do well not to be drawn out into unwinnable fights, and that it should keep its hotter rhetoric holstered.

It would unfortunately appear that this kind of hot partisan conflict is what is desired by both parties -- both parties apparently believe that they will benefit from such conflict in the next election. One party may be right, and at least one is dead wrong. What is undeniable is that the state of Montana is going to come up a loser unless things take an unexpected turn.

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