- There’s Still Time To Take Care Of This…. (dgsmith.org)
- Being Gay or Lesbian Isn’t a Crime! It’s Time to Pass SB 107! (dgsmith.org)
- MONTANA: Openly Gay Rep. Bryce Bennett Intros Bill To Decriminalize Gay Sex (joemygod.blogspot.com)
- Montana GOP legislators think homosexuality is a crime (watchdog.org)
- Gay Montana Lawmaker Makes Emotional Plea to Decriminalize Homosexuality: I am Not a Felon – VIDEO (towleroad.com)
An excellent post by The Montana Cowgirl (reposted with her permission)
Montana lawmakers who have spent the entirety of their paltry careers voting against equality now find themselves on the wrong side of history. In the wake of the upcoming supreme court decision on equal marriage, no one who reads a newspaper can come to any other conclusion. Even Rush Limbaugh says marriage equality is inevitable.
The nutjob wing of Montana’s Republican Party aren’t just wrong, they’re way out in right field, and soon to be there alone. Montana is one of only four states that has a law on the books that makes being gay an imprisonable offense. This fact alone is despicable, but when you consider what else the Montana Legislature has done you start to wonder if the Montana legislature isn’t among the most bigoted in America.
Consider this: During the past 21 legislative sessions least 32 bills have been introduced to make all Montanans equal under the law. Some, like Sen. Facey’s SB 107 attempted to repeal the “deviate sexual conduct” law, other would have prevent discrimination in housing, or stopped the bullying of young people in schools. Many have been introduced by Sen. Christine Kaufmann, of Helena.
Not a single one of these bills has ever passed in the history of this state.
But it’s worse than that. The Montana legislature isn’t content with blocking equality bills. They’ve tried year after year to make things worse.
Look what they did in 1995, when Republican Senator Rick Holden added an amendment to a bill to require gay men and lesbians to register as felony sex offenders. Democrats tried to remove the amendment, but 32 of 50 Senators voted to keep it in.
It was only after twenty-four hours of scathing national press coverage from CNN that the Republicans were finally forced to take the sex offender amendment out. But not before Billings GOP Sen. Al Bishop decided to share his beliefs with the world. He said consensual activity between people of the same sex was “a worse offense than rape.” (The bill was HB 214 and predates the online legislative search.)
Anyway, the Chick-Fil-A munching bunch was not happy to be denied a “felony sex offender registry” of gay citizens. A couple of days later anti-gay slurs and graffiti were “scrawled across the doors of the capitol, and a famous statue was defaced. With no sense of irony, and no mention of the anti-gay nature of the spray-painted slogans, Senators introduced a bill to make defacing the capitol a felony.”
And who could forget what happened ten years later in 2005, when the all-day kindergarten was opposed by religious right Repubs, who claimed bill was part of the “gay agenda.” “The purported evidence given by these groups was that gay activists were NOT at the hearing, proving it was part of the activists’ secret agenda.”
Public sentiment is now so firmly behind equality that the reaction to democratic politicians who announce their support at this late date ranges from “who isn’t” to “where were you earlier.” The Montana Senate even voted, finally, to erase our “anti-sodomy law” which makes it an imprisonable crime to be gay. Although invalidated by our state supreme court in 1997, the law has remained on our books because Republicans have always refused to go along with efforts to scrap it.
Now, SB 107, a measure to strike the offensive language from our statutes finally passed the senate. That said, the vote was far from unanimous. Ten Republicans voted no.
Any day now the bill will be voted on in committee, and then on the Floor of the House. No assumptions can be made about body which includes Verdell Jackson, Krayton Kearns, David Howard and Jerry O’Neil, so start contacting the lawmakers in the House of Representatives, which you can do via this online form. FYI, you can always use the back button after submitting your message, which allows you to skip retyping all your info when you contact multiple legislators. Or you can cut and paste this list of House GOP legislators.
Conservatives were on the wrong side of history with women’s suffrage, they were on the wrong side of segregation. Let’s see whose side they’re on now.
- Bullock includes Medicaid expansion in budget (billingsgazette.com)
- Medicaid, health care issues likely to be contentious at 2013 Legislature (missoulian.com)
- Groups push for Medicaid expansion (thegazette.com)
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion (my.firedoglake.com)
- UM economist touts Medicaid expansion; legislator says Montana solution needed (missoulian.com)
On the surface, lawmakers in the 63rd Montana Legislature appear to be working to get along and to advance bills both parties can live with.
But below the surface, a simmering ideological battle is threatening to boil over onto the Senate floor.
The turmoil isn’t between Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, and their Democratic counterparts. The most heated political power struggle under way at the Capitol right now is between the conservative and moderate factions within the GOP caucus.
It’s a power struggle that has played out in local legislative primary races. It is often bantered about in the halls of the Capitol and in the watering holes around Helena.
Emails recently obtained by the Tribune pull back the curtain and give the public a glimpse of the seething intra-party acrimony that has infected the Legislature’s most powerful body.
The documents show key members of the Senate Republican caucus, including members of the current leadership team, began plotting their power play as early as September of last year.
According to one former state senator who was defeated in a three-way Republican primary last June, conservative members of the Senate caucus began identifying allies and enemies and painting political targets as early as July 2011, just a few months after the session adjourned.
The emails and documents — which feature a lengthy discussion between Senate President Jeff Essmann of Billings, Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich of Bozeman, Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge, Majority Whip Frederick “Eric” Moore of Miles City, Sen. Ed Walker of Billings and Sen. Dave Lewis of Helena — outline the strategy the conservative Republicans in the Senate caucus used to seize power from the 2011 leadership team in order to advance their policies in 2013.
The goal of the new conservative leadership team, as Essmann detailed in one email last September, was to advance a “long game strategy” that “involves changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court” so the high court “does not find a constitutional block to every conservative policy initiative and will give (Republicans) a better shot at redistricting in 10 years.”
“(Republican Redistricting Commissioner) Jon Bennion was able to draw a map with 63 safe Republican seats,” Essmann wrote on Sept. 13 in an email with the subject line “Agenda control.”
“If we can implement the long term strategy we will be in a position to actually elect a majority of conservatives in both bodies, adopt conservative legislation and have a court that will uphold it,” Essmann wrote.
- Essmann may provide ‘sharper edge’ as state Senate president (billingsgazette.com)
- Inexperienced legislators work to get up to speed for 2013 session (billingsgazette.com)
- Senate leadership fight turns friendly (krqe.com)
- Better Know a Legislator: Sen. Christine Kaufmann and Sen. Jeff Essmann (dgsmith.org)
- 2013 Montana Legislature: GOP lawmakers choose more conservative leaders (missoulian.com)
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 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
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.
Paul Vestal received a scholarship from Pride Foundation last year to help him pursue a career as an attorney. His passion for civil rights issues made him a standout in the highly competitive process. And Paul is already giving back to the community who supported him by drafting a bill to allow civil unions for same-sex couples in Montana. The bill will be introduced during the upcoming Legislature in Helena.
A third year law student at the University of Montana, Paul enrolled in a legislative drafting class last fall. It was taught by David Aronofsky, former University of Montana legal counsel, Mike Halligan, former legislator turned director of the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, and John Bennion, who serves as counsel to the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
“I went in knowing what I wanted to do,” Paul said. “I decided to go the civil unions route due to our constitutional ban on marriage equality for same sex couples. Even though it may die, I feel something like this should be presented every session. If we are silent, nothing will happen.”
Paul’s good friend and Pride Foundation supporter, Representative Ellie Hill (D-Missoula), is co-sponsoring the bill, along with Pride Foundation Leadership Action Team member and first openly gay man to serve in the Legislature, Representative Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula).
“Equal access to civil unions was not pursued last legislative session, and it probably would not have been introduced this upcoming session, if not for the courage and academic fortitude of Pride Foundation scholar and Montana law student, Paul Vestal,” Hill said.
The Montana Legislature hasn’t seen a civil union bill come up since 2009. Paul is hopeful the “conservative angle” he tried to take in crafting the bill will help give this version a longer life than past efforts.
“It’s not to amend the marriage code,” he explained. “My rationale going into this was to create a new chapter rather than even touching marriage. I tried to stay away from associating it with marriage as much as possible. There’s a bigger tent for folks who support the rights associated with marriage but don’t want to change marriage.”
While this tactic may not please all activists in the movement, Paul says it’s not the liberals and the LGBTQ community that need convincing, it’s the conservatives.
“When we go at it as human rights or gay rights, it falls on deaf ears,” he said. “Opponents of equality know all the arguments at this point. I tried to address how the bill will be aligned with some of their own libertarian beliefs, such as keeping government out of people’s lives, the need for equal property rights, that you can transfer your property to your person. Equal protection is still a big part of it.”
Paul said he also hopes that legislators will see that the writing is on the wall in terms of marriage equality. Passing this bill could pre-empt future challenges, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court decides the so-called Defense of Marriage of Act (DOMA) or Proposition 8 court cases in ways that favor equal marriage rights. For example, Paul wonders what will happen when same sex couples in Missoula drive three hours to Spokane, Washington to get a marriage license. What will that mean for jointly owned property and paying taxes in Montana?
“I would ask [opponents], do you want to be like New Jersey and have equality come down from the court, or do you want to draft a Montana solution that would actually strengthen the ban more because it would give equal access without changing marriage.”
Paul will graduate this spring and hopes to stay in Missoula, where he will continue to be involved in nonprofits and politics, regardless of the type of law he decides to practice. He also is considering working as a lobbyist.
- Tim Sweeney, Kris Hermanns to Attend Billings Pride Foundation Benefit (dgsmith.org)
- Is This The Year Montana Comes into the 20th Century? (dgsmith.org)
- IL Governor Pat Quinn Hopes to Get Marriage Equality Bill in January (towleroad.com)
- What State Could Be The Next Marriage Equality Battleground? (queerty.com)
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
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
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.
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 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
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 (dgsmith.org)
- Lawmaker: Tweak Constitution to affirm gun rights (wnd.com)
- GOP picks conservative Senate leaders, elects Blasdel as speaker (billingsgazette.com)
- Laws approved by Montana voters take effect with new year (billingsgazette.com)