Sunday, April 22, 2007

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

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Tempers getting short in Helena: A frustrated Sen. Joe Tropila, D-Great Falls, made a symbolic gesture by proposing that the Senate adjourn and come back only after all compromises have been hammered out by legislative leaders and the executive branch. This was prompted by Speaker Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, having said that the House wouldn't consider voting on the appropriations bills sent back by the Senate until after the governor had signed the property tax relief bill that the legislature will eventually send his way.

The governor, of course, sticks by his position that he wants everything in front of him first before he'll sign anything. What is at stake is prioritizing, and it is no secret that priorities differ between the Republican controlled House and the executive branch -- and quite frankly there are probably more differences between the Senate, narrowly controlled by the Democrats, and the executive branch priorities than might meet the eye.

The order in which bills are sent to the governor for his up-or-down verdict are an important control that the legislature has over prioritizing spending and tax relief -- and this is doubly true now that the governor has shown a willingness to use very wide latitude in applying amendatory vetoes.

The press is making the House Republicans out to be the villains of the piece, and they have not perhaps mastered the skills of PR management enough to prevent this from happening. But as Charles Johnson points out in his Sunday "Horse Sense" column today:

The governor hasn't helped the situation much in recent days. He has been lobbing verbal bombs at the Republican legislators from California, where he has been raising campaign money, meeting with investors and appearing on a political talk show.

This was like having a batting practice fastball lobbed across the middle of the plate -- the fact that the GOP hasn't managed to hit that one out of the park, or at least deep into left field, is concerning.

One can only imagine what kind of press a Republican governor would get if he were off doing big-money fundraisers and playing rock-star while he and his legislature were in desperate need of working out some final compromises. One suspects that it would amount to more than a brief factual mention here or there.

But those are the ground rules, and Republicans need to figure out how to win some victories in spite of them. Maybe they still will, but a lot of Republicans are concerned about how badly to our disadvantage this deal is going to end up once it is finally closed. Until we find out, all we can do is wait, and keep rooting for the home team.

Multiple use under fire from East Coast Democrats: Montana Democrats like to get lots of mileage out of the fact that there is a history of big out-of-state corporations treating Montana's resources as though we are their colony.

Their point is valid, but all too often Democrats are blind to colonialism of the liberal sort. The proposal to turn much of the public land in the northern Rockies into wilderness areas is just another step down the path of incrementalist policies that ignore the fact that people actually live here.

The fact that the noted scientist Carole King (who apparently gained an in-depth knowledge of the needs and priorities of Montanans in between writing admittedly catchy pop songs) was involved in crafting the legislation makes the proposal difficult to ignore, we realize -- but we still feel that some critical thinking is in order.

In a recent episode of the Discovery Channel series Planet Earth, an ecologist living in Africa made some pretty harsh comments about people living in the developed world who "love the animals" from looking at pictures of lions playing with their cute cubs -- and don't have any idea (or really don't care) that in the particular part of Africa where he works, humans are a source of food for lions. Needless to say, the local whose children have been eaten by the noble lions have a different view about the beasts than does the environmentalist living in New York.

His point was not that lions shouldn't be protected (far from it,) but rather that if Westerners don't have any solutions that involve humans as part of the environment, they should just mind their own business.

We in the West like to make jokes about our ideas for reintroducing wolves to Central Park or the Berkshires, and we're only half-joking. Conservation and environmentalism starts at home, and eastern lawmakers should start telling us what to do with our land out west once they've taken some radical and very expensive actions in their own states (with their own money) to restore pristine wilderness.

As a side-note, it is interesting that this entire article went by without a single mention of one of the most emotion-laden uses of public land in Montana -- grazing. We realize that the Taylor Grazing Act (which isn't going anywhere anytime soon) protects grazing rights, even in wilderness areas, national monuments, and the like. But make no mistake about the fact that ranchers leasing public lands are in the cross-hairs. Rural Montanans need to keep this in mind when casting their ballots in 2008.

Selling out on immigration reform: Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, had some words for Republicans who voted against his measure banning state contracts with those who hire workers who are in the U.S. illegally.

"The Republicans sold out to the Montana Contractors' Association and the Chamber of Commerce," Shockley wrote in a newspaper editorial.

Well, of course they did. Both of those organizations certainly had valid concerns about the legislation, but we have two things to say about that: Shockley should have known that those organizations would have issues with the bill, and worked with them far ahead of time to find acceptable language for meaningful reform. The Contractor's Association and Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, should have enough economic patriotism to want to work with Shockley to come up with good legislation that accomplishes the desired goal of reducing illegal workers without putting honest employers at excessive risk.

By not working with Shockley to come up with acceptable language and getting the bill passed, those organizations are giving the impression that they really don't care. Even if they don't, they should try to pretend as though they do. Because "we don't care" attitudes aren't the sort of thing that is going to make for good relationships with the rank and file of the party that generally supports their legislative concerns.

The most inflammatory comments came from one of the usual suspects, however -- and no, we're not talking about Ed Butcher:

Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, opposed all of Shockley's unlawful-immigration bills and said they "encourage us to distrust people with dark skin." She agrees with Shockley that unlawful immigration could be a widely discuss topic in the next state election, but said it would be one without merit. "It is a created issue rather than a real problem," Kaufmann said.

A majority of Americans are concerned about the rule of law when it comes to illegal immigration. They feel that employers, state and local governments, and would-be immigrants should all obey immigration law, just as we citizens are expected to follow the federal laws that apply to us.

If Sen. Kaufmann wants to call Sen. Shockley and other such Americans racists, she should come right out and say so in so many words. It will win her a lot of friends here in Montana. Which is why she is instead calling Sen. Shockley a racist by using sly code-words.

Everyone knows it's windy: It really is hard to find a downside to full throttle development of wind power generation in Montana, so this Great Falls Tribune article about the possible development of transmission lines that will take power from the windy country north of Great Falls to connect with grids in Great Falls and Alberta is encouraging.

We understand that there are some noise issues, that rights of way for transmission lines have to be worked out, etc. There are things to deal with in every kind of energy development, and wind power is no exception. There was a concerning reader's comment attached to the Tribune story, though:

The next logical step after developing the transmission lines would be creating one or more large man-made lakes in the area for pumped-hydro energy storage. Such a project must be done in such a way as to not trample on but rather assist the needs of farmers and other land owners within the Golden Triangle.

The following link was provided by the reader. Why this provokes uneasiness, we're not sure, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that water is hardly in plentiful supply in this state. Storing energy, which is produced on nature's schedule, for use during peak periods that depend on our consumption schedules, is of course a key issue with wind power. Further manipulation of Montana's water supply to accomplish such storage is, however, something that should be approached with more than a little care.


Anonymous said...

Enjoy your blog. Also agree with your point that the press will never miss an opportunity to make out the House GOP as villains and the Democrats and governor as the good guys -- though that last part may finally be starting to change a bit. But knowing that's going to happen, why haven't the House GOP leaders been better prepared to wage the PR war? Any advice you'd give them in the session's closing days that they could use to recover ground and get in better stead with the voters?

Montana Headlines said...

Here and there I make observations that I think will be helpful, but frankly any advice I'd give at this point would be based in ignorance about the situation on the ground there in Helena.

Everything at this point is happening behind closed doors and is probably changing hourly.

The only piece of advice that I'd give now is the main piece of advice I've been giving all along: have rhetorical discipline. Make every word count. Maintain dignity and composure.

When Republicans do those things, it drives Democrats crazy, since we don't give them and the press the opportunity to follow the "crazy wing-nut Republican" script.

Republicans need to be concerned about long term strategy -- and that does not mean the 2008 election.

And the advice we should give each other is to hang tough in our support for our legislators no matter how things go. They're still the good guys.

Anonymous said...

I think this is pretty good advice:" ...have rhetorical discipline. Make every word count. Maintain dignity and composure."

Some leaders -- everyone knows who they are -- don't maintain composure and too oten play into the crazy wing-nut stereotype.

It also seems as if the GOP could use humor--or at least make its points wiith a smile instead of a sneer. Humor could make them look less harsh, and could be more effective, just as it is in TV ads. The GOP probably could have done something fun on the governor's trip to Hollywood/Bay Area, but the party probably squandered that chance by giving the press a chance to focus a lot of the attention on them for taking work time off over the weekend.

The GOP leaders should always be asking themselves: How will what I do or say look in a story on the front page of tomorrow's paper? Because the press always loves a chance to put them there.

Montana Headlines said...

Very good points regarding the need for humor.

Let's face it -- we Republicans are mean folks. We eat small children for breakfast, poor people for lunch, and endangered species for dinner.

So, we need to understand that when we criticize someone in a soft voice, it is heard as shouting. When we whisper, it is heard as a normal voice.

Your word "fun" was key regarding what the GOP could have done with the governor's trip. The impulse is to be bitterly sarcastic, and sarcasm by Republicans directed at Democrats sounds mean. The same words said by Dems about Republicans would be funny -- that's just how it is.

So humor needs to be used with caution. Self-deprecating humor seems to be what works the best for Republicans. Its effectiveness comes from the fact that Democrats truly believe that we Republicans are retarded wingnut idiots (unless we are pathologically evil geniuses like Karl Rove.)