Better Know a Legislator: Sen. Robyn Driscoll and Sen. Janna Taylor

In today’s edition of Better Know a Legislator we’ll look at the records of two women who served 8 years in the House, and are now serving their first session in the Senate: Sen. Robyn Driscoll (D-Billings) and Sen. Janna Taylor (R-Dayton).

Sen. Robyn Driscoll, SD 26

Sen. Robyn DriscollSen. Robyn Driscoll is one of the unsung heroes of the Montana legislature. A strong and steady leader, Robyn says what Montana progressives are thinking and she never backs down in the face of opposition from the right. These strengths as well as her positive demeanor are why her colleagues in the Senate elected her as one of their whips for the session.

Sen. Driscoll was one of the true hero’s of the infamously bad 2011 House Judiciary Committee. In that committee women and students were constantly demonized, but Robyn never let the horrible comments of legislators and the right-wing public go unchallenged.

Robyn also was a hero on the House floor. One of her most notable actions on the floor was introducing an amendment to a Republican bill that would require trans-vaginal ultrasounds before a woman could have an abortion. Her amendment would require that men undergo an EKG heart health test before they are able to get a prescription for Viagra or other drugs to combat erectile dysfunction. Needless to say Republican heads spun. This amendment was effective in pointing out the insanity of the bill and helped to kill it on the House floor.

This session, Robyn will serve on the Senate Juciary, Rules, Energy & Telecom, and Education & Cultural Resources Committees.

Sen. Janna Taylor, SD 6

Sen Janna TaylorLike Sen. Driscoll, Sen. Janna Taylor is also serving her first session in the Senate. While in the House, Taylor served as the Speaker Pro-Temp in the disastrous 2011 legislative session.

During the 2011 session, Taylor’s hypocrisy was on full display. She led the charge against federal funds that were intended to help fund programs to benefit students, people with disabilities, seniors, rural health care providers and low-income Montanans. However, while leading this charge, she and her husband helped themselves to more than a million dollars in federal farm subsidies. When challenged about her hypocrisy, instead of taking responsibility for her actions she said, “I can control state tax dollars, but I can’t control federal tax dollars. You’d have to talk to Tester and Baucus about federal tax policy.” Congratulations Janna, for living up to your party’s mantra of “taking responsibility for your actions.”

Taylor also received national notoriety for her comments against the abolition of the death penalty. While testifying against the bill, Taylor said that we had to keep the death penalty because if we got rid of it, we’d have no way to punish HIV-positive murderers, who are currently in jail serving a life-sentence, who spit spit-balls at guards. I’m not joking.

Better Know a Legislator: Sen. Christine Kaufmann and Sen. Jeff Essmann

In today’s edition of “Better Know a Legislator” I’ll profile one of my favorite legislators, Sen. Christine Kaufmann (D-Helena), as well as one of my least favorite, Sen. Jeff Essmann (R-Billings).

Sen. Christine Kaufmann, SD 41

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Sen. Christine Kaufmann, is one of the few unabashed progressive champions in the Montana legislature. She constantly impresses me with her ability to think strategically, while maintaining her commitment to her values.

This year she’ll be beginning her second session representing Helena in the Senate. She previously also served in the Montana House. She is one of the first (and only current) openly gay women serving in the Montana legislature. I personally had hoped she would serve in leadership in the Senate, but unfortunately she did not seek one of these positions. Hopefully in 2015 she will seek a leadership positionSen. Kaufmann is arguably the progressive champion in the Montana Senate, a quick examination of her bill draft requests will show why. This year she is seeking to create an earned income tax credit, to revise the administration of oil and gas taxes , to increase the power of the state’s top political cop and to revise the so-called “castle doctrine” law. These are tough fights, and many of them are fights that (with the current makeup of the legislature) will not succeed. But Sen. Kaufmann understands the importance of beginning a discussion on these issues, because hopefully, that discussion will move political discourse in a more progressive direction.

When not serving as a legislator, Sen. Kaufmann works in the State Auditor’s office on health care issues for Montanans. She previously worked at (and was a founder of) the Montana Human Rights Network.

Sen. Jeff Essmann, SD 28

Sen. Jeff Essmann

I don’t want to take personal shots at legislators in these profiles, but I have to say Sen. Jeff Essmann is one of the most detestable people to ever be elected to office in Montana.

Essmann will serve as the Senate President in 2013–a position he acquired after staging a coup against the former Senate president Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo). Essmann and his fellow tea party extremists claimed that they were staging the coup because Peterson embarrassed them with his “Code of the West” bill from 2011. It’s worth noting that not only did Essmann vote for the Code of the West bill, but he also supported even more embarrassing bills that sought to legalize spear hunting, would give local sheriffs control over international terrorism investigations in their communities and he opposed a measure to remove the  unconstitutional law that criminalizes LGBT people in the state of Montana.

During his 2011 session, Essmann was also one of the leaders in the efforts to repeal the voter approved law allowing the use of medical cannabis in Montana. Montanafesto has covered his shady efforts on this front.

Essmann got his start in the Senate after Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger became part of Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s administration. He promptly trashed Bohlinger’s bipartisan record in that seat in order to become a partisan ideologue.

Essmann announced that he would run for governor in 2012. But after holding a bizarre conference call announcing his campaign, Essmann dropped out just a few weeks later, prompting some to suspect a scandal in his past.

Essmann will surely run an extreme Senate that will seek conflict over common ground when dealing with Governor-elect Bullock.

Better Know a Legislator: Rep. Bryce Bennett & Rep. Champ Edmunds

Last week I profiled two legislators who are diametrically opposed in their legislating philosophies, Rep. Edie McClafferty and Rep. Kris Hansen.

Today, I’ll look at the records of two Missoula legislators, Rep. Bryce Bennett (D) and Rep. Champ Edmunds (R).

Rep. Bryce Bennett, HD 92

Rep. Bryce BennettRep. Bryce Bennett will be serving his second term representing the people of the Rattlesnake area of Missoula and the Seely-Swan area. This session, Rep. Bennett will also serve as part of the leadership team as the House Democratic Caucus Chair.

When elected, Bryce became the first openly gay male elected to the Montana legislature, and because of his work in the legislature and in his regular job, he was named to Out Magazine’s Power List.

While Bryce has been a champion on LGBT issues in the state, he’s also spearheaded efforts to improve access to voting and led the charge against attempts to make it harder for Montanans, particularly students, veterans, Native Americans and seniors, to vote. He was responsible for adding to voter registration forms the option to opt in to subsequent absentee ballots.

When not serving the people of Montana, Bryce works as the Political Director at Forward Montana, a progressive organization based out of Missoula that seeks to get young people involved and make sure they have a voice in politics.

This session, Bryce will serve as the vice-chair of the State Admin committee, as well as serving on the Education and Rules committees.

You can follow Bryce on Twitter @BryceBennett.

Rep. Champ Edmunds, HD 100

Champ EdmundsWhile Rep. Champ Edmunds also comes to the legislature from Missoula, that’s where his similarities to Rep. Bryce Bennett end.

Edmunds has led many of the efforts to make voting harder for Montana students, seniors, veterans and Native Americans. Last session he introduced a bill that would end the ability to register and vote on the same day. If he were successful, he could have kept thousands of legally eligible Montanans from casting their votes.

Edmunds went even further when he accused University of Montana students of attempting to steal ballots to fraudulently cast votes.

Edmunds also extended his absurdity beyond the access to the ballot, when he was one of the few legislators to vote against honoring Montana’s Vietnam War veterans and he also voted against naming a stretch of road after a fallen State Trooper, because it was a “slippery slope” towards naming all roads after people.

In his non-legislative life, Edmunds works as a mortgage broker for Wells Fargo Bank in Missoula.

This session Edmunds will serve on the Rules Committee, as well as the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, and perhaps the most important committee Appropriations–the committee responsible for drafting the budget.

Better Know a Legislator: Rep. Edie McClafferty and Rep. Kris Hansen

We’re less than a month away from the 2013 Montana Legislative Session. This session, much like the 2011 session, is sure to be a tough session for causes, issues and people that we value. It’s imperative that everyone who shares our values gets involved by either testifying, contacting your legislators, writing letters to your local paper or simply talking to your friends and neighbors about what is happening in the session.

As a primer for the session, I decided that I’d do a few short profiles on some of the legislators that are sure to be making news throughout the session–bot for good reasons and bad.

With that, I’m proud to bring you the first edition of From Eternity to Here’s “Better Know a Legislator” series, where I’ll profile one of my favorite legislators Rep. Edie McClafferty (D-Butte) and one of my least favorite legislators Rep. Kris Hansen (R-Havre).

Rep. Edie McClafferty, HD 75

Rep. McClaffertyRep. Edie McClafferty is serving her 3rd term representing the people of Butte and Silver-Bow County, and was recently elected as part of the leadership in the House, where she’ll serve as one of the Democratic Whips.

Rep. McClafferty is a Butte native, and is a public school teacher. Her commitment to a strong public education system is why I was thrilled when she was named vice-chair of the House Education Committee. In this committee she’ll almost certainly see attempts to divert public funds to private, unaccountable charter and religious schools. She’ll also serve on the House Tax and House Rules committees.

In addition to being a staunch advocate for Montana’s students, Rep. McClafferty has also been a strong ally to the LGBT community in Montana. In the 2013 session, as she did in the 2011 session, Rep. McClafferty will be sponsoring a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, hiring and public accommodations. While this bill faces long odds, Rep. McClafferty never backs down from an opportunity to stand up for her values.

Rep. Kris Hansen, HD 33

HansenI intentionally chose to profile Rep. McClafferty with Rep. Hansen because they are essentially polar opposites.

Hansen represents one of the two Havre House districts. She’s serving her second term, after barely winning her election.

Hansen formerly served as a deputy county attorney, but abruptly resigned last year in order to work on education policy. After resigning her job, Hansen promised to disclose who was paying her for her services, however she has never lived up to her promise.

The fact that we don’t know who is paying Hansen for her educational policy lobbying is especially troubling because she’s going to be the chair of the House Education Committee in 2013. As you watch her decisions and the bills that come out of the House Education Committee, it’s important to remember that she’s receiving her paychecks from an undisclosed educational policy group. This is corruption at its worst.

While writing this post I looked at Hansen’s financial disclosure form- something she’s required to fill out to run for office. Interestingly, she claims that her primary source of income is from a private law practice. However, when I looked at the Secretary of State’s database of registered businesses, it appears that Hansen’s private practice was established just two days before she filed to run for reelection. Not only that, Hansen’s private practice is registered out of her own house. It sounds to me like Hansen is trying to cover her tracks. It’ll be interesting to see if any reporters investigate this during the session.

However, if you’ve heard of Hansen, it’s probably not because of her corruption on education. It’s probably because Hansen sponsored a bill last legislative session that sought to prohibit municipalities from expanding protections beyond the state’s Human Rights Act. This bill essentially would have nullified the Missoula, and now Helena, nondiscrimination ordinance. Thus far Hansen has not requested a similar bill for the 2013 session.