Sunday, May 20, 2007

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

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Guided tour of that lodge outside of Helena: Chuck Johnson tells us more details about the dealmaking session between a few Republican House members and executive branch staff, and what led up to it. According to Johnson:

(The governor) thought he negotiated a handshake deal with then-House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings, in the waning days of the regular session. Lange abandoned the deal after other Republican leaders trashed it. Then Lange attacked Schweitzer in a profanity-laden tirade to fellow House Republicans.

It will be interesting to hear Republican comments on that. Lange is understandably licking his wounds after the session and keeping a low profile, but it would be good to hear his side of that particular story -- Johnson doesn't tell us whether he tried to get Lange's version of whether it was reasonable for the governor to believe that he had a "handshake deal."

As a side note, Republicans had better not eat their own when it comes to Mike Lange. If he is willing to run again for the House, count Montana Headlines in for a vote of support. A review of Montana Headlines archives will show a consistent theme of the utter necessity for rhetorical restraint and discipline on the part of the Republican leadership -- and hence an unequivocal vote of no confidence after the YouTube incident. Such a review will also, however, show a consistent appreciation for Lange's hard work and approval of the discipline and restraint shown by Lange early in the session.

Lange had an impossible task, and he isn't the only guy who might have blown his top under conditions of fatigue and high pressure late in a session like this. If he can win his district, it would make no sense whatsoever not to have his experience as a legislator -- although probably not in leadership -- two years from now.

The title of Johnson's piece talks about the Republican party being "torn," which is probably an overstatement. One hopes that predictions of primary election challenges to the "moderates" doesn't turn out to be the case. We need every Republican we can get, especially ones that have proven that they can win a general election.

Someone else is hoping that Republicans follow a script of waging a civil war, though: "Schweitzer looks for 'a hotly debated battle for the heart and soul of the Montana Republican Party' over the next year."

Speaker Scott Sales is right to identify this and similar statements from Democrats as "trying to incite people."

Anyway, back to that lodge outside of Helena. "They divided into 'pods,' with each group of working on one topic: budget, taxes, school funding and energy."

In the end, Schweitzer was mostly pleased with what the special session did.


"Llew Jones and John Ward are tough negotiators," he said. "They got more done in a couple of days than the rest of the caucus got done in 85. When you shake hands with Llew Jones and John Ward, there's no question what you've got."

Because of the deal, $30 million in general fund spending requests was chopped from the budget passed by the Senate, including $10 million from the Corrections Department and $4 million from the Revenue Department. The way schools were funded was changed more to the Republicans' liking.

If that's tough negotiating, then Republicans are in real trouble if we ever get into negotiations when we don't have a $1 billion surplus to blow. It is also interesting to note how the numbers keep dropping. The first report was that the budget went down from $7.9 billion to $7.85 billion, or $50 million. Later reports cited a $40 million reduction. Now we are down to a $30 million reduction in general fund spending. That is a decrease of less than 1% in general fund spending, or 0.4% in the context of of a $7.9 billion dollar budget.

It is hard not to worry that it will be down to $20 million by next week.

To use the analogy of dickering over the price of a $30,000 car, 0.4% would be a savings of $120 dollars. Tough negotiating indeed. The very phrase "chopped from the budget" by Johnson is misleading, to be generous. "Lightly scuffed off the surface of the budget" is more like it.

Johnson says that Speaker Scott Sales "believes Schweitzer's staff snookered the Republican moderates at Ward's lodge. Schweitzer got virtually everything he wanted, he said, while Republicans would up with scraps."

At least one of the "moderates" involved in the deal doesn't have a view that is much different:

Asked if he was satisfied, (Rep. John) Ward said, "Satisfied is way too strong. It was time to be done. Some good things, from my perspective, came out of it. Obviously, I believe the governor got a lot more. He had two (the governor's office and the Senate) of the three power centers."

This is more like it. There was certainly a case to be made (whether one agrees with it or not) for just giving the executive what it wanted and being done with the session, since it was clear that real compromise wasn't going to happen. And Ward is to be commended for being straightforward in describing what happened as such.

It is also interesting that Ward describes the state Senate as being a power center that belongs to the governor. It is not, unfortunately, an inaccurate description, and that perhaps is the real story of this session.

Montana's Senators oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants: Holding their metaphorical fingers to the Montana political wind, both Senator Baucus and Senator Tester appear to be poised to vote against the grand "comprehensive immigration reform" bill.

Sen. Tester gave a reasonably clear statement through a spokesman:

"He does not support amnesty. He believes that we need to strengthen our ports and borders, that folks that want to come to this country need to get in line no different than his ancestors did, and we need to crack down on employers who are knowingly hiring illegals."

Sen. Baucus had a similarly clear response -- with the usual, and reasonable, caveat that he hasn't seen the legislation -- he shouldn't feel bad, neither has anyone else:

"But I will not support any legislation that does not include strong border enforcement for both the northern and southern borders," Baucus said in a prepared statement. "I do not support amnesty for illegal aliens, and any immigrant who wants to become a citizen must pay back taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line." (Our emphases)

While progressives/liberals are perceived as surging in Montana, it is gratifying to hear our Democratic Senators, for now, using talking points about this immigration bill that could have been published in American Conservative -- they must know something about the Montana electorate's opinions on this subject.

For Baucus in particular, such a clear statement is telling, since it puts him at odds both with his K-Street corporate donors and with the amnesty-friendly progressive mainstream. We suspect that he's reading Montana voters quite correctly.

Likewise indicating his understanding of the views of most Montanans is Baucus's vote, joining Republicans, against requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to factor in global warming into all project analyses.

It is the last two years of Baucus's term, so he'll be voting with Republicans a lot.

Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting: Ya just gotta love a good water war out here in sagebrush country. For folks new to the intermountain west, the water war between Montana and Wyoming may seem esoteric, but this is serious business --

Wars have been fought for less.

In its lawsuit, Montana Justice Department attorneys describe the conflict as "a dispute between states of such seriousness that it would amount to 'casus belli' if the states were fully sovereign. Casus belli is defined as an act or circumstance that provokes or justifies war."

The compact, which was endorsed by Congress, constitutes a treaty, Montana argues.

"Violation of a treaty is one of the classic occurrences giving rise to war," the lawsuit said.

The battle will be fought in courtrooms, and the weapons will be thousands of pages of legal documents. And it's likely to stretch on longer than the wars in Vietnam or Iraq. Some interstate water disputes remain unsettled for decades.

Settle back with a whiskey (put that water on your vegetable garden) and watch this one -- and find a comfortable chair.

For those who are curious about the historical aspects of western water law, a couple of good books to read while waiting for dispatches from the front in this particular water war are Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Plains and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert.

Renaming Glacier National Park: The Missoula-based National Environmental Trust is having a contest to rename Glacier National Park. Now we know where Sen. Tester got that line.

As the Daily Interlake editorial points out, Glacier's glaciers have been melting for thousands of years, and that "it is misleading to suggest that... policy changes, no matter how draconian, will 'save' Glacier’s glaciers."

There are good reasons to keep working rationally on decreasing emissions of all kinds into the atmosphere -- a stunt like this isn't, however, one of them.


gop girl said...

As for Mike Lange..... Has he been a hard worker in his time in the Montana Legislature? Yeah. Was he a good leader in Helena? Maybe. The thing is, halfway through the session it became glaringly obvious that he was working hard for one person. He was looking out for himself and his potential run against Max. It was clear he was going to cut a deal to get his name on the Education package, but whether or not the people of Montana would get screwed by his deal was only determined when his deal was rejected by those Republicans who really were looking out for the people. I hope Mike rules out a run against Max and continues to work hard for the people in HD 55. Only time will tell if he is worthy of a leadership position in 08.

Montana Headlines said...

If the session had gone well and the Republican leadership had managed to force Democrats into reasonable compromises on spending and taxes -- and if Lange hadn't had his YouTube moment -- we would all be cheering his triumph and would be glad that he had made himself look good in preparation for a run against Baucus.

There will be no run against Baucus for Lange. He has to know that -- nothing that he did after YouTube was going to change that, unless there was a real compromise forced. And that wasn't going to happen.

But he should run for his House seat again, unless it is clear that he can't win it. As you say, leadership will have to be determined in '08. A lot can happen between now and then, and we don't know who will be elected.

What would be good to see is some of the more able term-limited Senators go back to run for the House. We need the experience.

ayn rand said...

As voters and taxpayers in Missoula, we should all take a collective breath of relief for the end of the legislative season, and then thank all our Missoula representatives for their hard work and dedication to their values. We have little to worry about with these fine folks in the legislature. They never wavered and deserve many accolades from all Missoula residents. Those that should step up to the plate and give a big thank-you are the business owners in Missoula, your employees and all your customers. The very representatives, they supported and voted for, voted against every business related bill in the last sessions that would have allowed you business owners to increase wages, keep costs down and donate more to their community. The following names deserve your support. Next time they come into your business thank Representative Erickson, Furey, Hamilton, Hands, Henry, Sands, McAlpin, Reinhart and Raser.