In One of His First Acts as Congressman, Daines Supports Unconstitutional DOMA

DainesToday, the country bid a not-so-fond farewell to the 112th Congress (including Denny Rehberg), and swore in the new 113th Congress with Steve Daines.

What was the first thing this shiny new Congress did?

Well, Daines, who ran on a “more jobs, less government” platform, cast one of his first votes in favor of the House continuing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which denies hundreds of benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Apparently when Daines said “more jobs” he meant “more jobs for lawyers defending blatantly unconstitutional archaic laws.”

DOMA is the Clinton-era law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. This law denies benefits to the same-sex partners of military members killed while fighting for our country. It also prohibits the federal government from recognizing bi-national same-sex couples in immigration cases, which has led to several high-profile deportations. It also refuses to acknowledge same-sex spouses in relation to Social Security survivor benefits.

This law is clearly unconstitutional, which is why in early 2011 the Obama administration’s Department of Justice announced they would no longer defend the law. Our illustrious House members though chose to pick up the torch of bigotry and continued to defend the law at the taxpayer’s expense. Thus far, Steve Daines, John Boehner and the Republicans in the House have spent more than $1.7 million defending this law.

The latest expenditure in support of DOMA was actually buried within the House of Representative rules that the new Congress approved today. Generally these rules simply lay out the process for how the House will run. To bury an appropriation inside this bill is an unprecedented abuse of the process.

This is just the latest example of the clear hypocrisy of Daines and his tea party colleagues advocating for smaller government except for when they don’t.

DOMA, ruled as unconstitutional ten different times in seven different cases, will face the US Supreme Court later this year.

 

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.

A Tale Of Two Polls

…from The Montana Democrats:

The red "GOP" logo used by the party...

Image via Wikipedia

Dennis Rehberg’s supporters tonight are pushing a new GOP poll about Montana’s 2012 Senate race.  But a second poll released today—conducted by the same GOP polling firm—tells a much different story.

The first poll, conducted by the firm Public Opinion Strategies for Karl Rove’s secretive organization American Crossroads, shows questionable and uncharacteristic results for the race between Jon Tester and Congressman Dennis Rehberg.

The second poll released today, also conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, has much different results.  It shows the race much closer—well within the margin of error.

“Montanans don’t trust Crossroads or Dennis Rehberg, so why would they believe numbers from a firm that can’t even decide which numbers are accurate,” said Ted Dick, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.  “Congressman Rehberg believes secrecy and unlimited corporate spending belong in Montana’s elections, and he and his allies will stop at nothing to try to influence the people of our state.”

Fascinating.

“25 Things Montana Voters (And Media) Need To Know About Dennis Rehberg”

Don Pogreba over at Intelligent Discontent, has an excellently ordered post about vital Rehberg activities that need to be noticed by voters- and covered by media (The media is, apparently and statistically, securely in the back pocket of Rehberg’s designer jeans):

Denny Rehberg - Caricature

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

I’ll admit that typically when I write about Montana’s sole representative in the House it’s to criticize him for not really doing anything. This year, however, no doubt inspired by his desire to move up an office, Rehberg has been a dynamo of activity. Unfortunately, most of it has been bad for Montana and the nation.

Back home, he’s made such poor business decisions that his net worth somehow dropped by over 50%, he’s claimed to struggle with the burden of being cash poor,  he’s pursued a failed lawsuit against the City of Billings and its firefighters, and he’s managed to get Montana’s media to ignore many of his terrible decisions in Washington.

Honestly, guys, you need to do better. When Rehberg makes national news, you need to cover it.

While I’m sure I’ve missed more than a few Rehberg actions this year, these are simply 25 Things Montana Voters Should Know About Dennis Rehberg:

READ THEM HERE.

LGBT Youth, Immigration Equality Reform & Montana Queer Politics

This week Joe and Phil are at the Haas Jr. Foundation LGBT writer, journalist and blogger summit in San Francisco California, however they wanted to share a few special interviews this week while they’re away.

This weekend Joe and Phil will be speaking with leaders around the nation about LGBT youth and family issues–and our interviews will help accent some of these conversations. First Phil speaks with Kelly Huegel, the author of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens–just now releasing its second edition–about the challenges faced by LGBT youth in schools, as well as the victories achieved by young queer kids. Then I interview Michael Contorno about the struggle of LGBT youth in coming out, and his inspirational moment meeting his hero, Greg Louganis on the Oprah show.

We also have two extended interviews. First Noemi Masliah and Lavi Soloway–founders of Immigration Equality and top immigration lawyers for same-sex binational couples–talk about their new project: Stop the Deportations–the DOMA Project. Finally, I’m back with Jamee Greer, lobbyist and community organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network, and Mike Wessler, Research Director for the Montana Democratic Party about rural politics, anti-discrimination, LGBT rights, equality and the importance of Montana in the national political landscape.

Listen here. It’s good stuff.

The Cowardly Lions That Refuse To Roar

Wow.

It’s not even Halloween and Montana’s political leaders are scared shitless.

Our political leadership has been strangely silent on the subject of the recently discovered homophobic/murderous rants by a leader and members of the Montana Tea Party.

Dennis Rehberg, who is a member of the US House of Representatives Tea Party Caucus should be particularly enthusiastic about these revelations.

And yet, surprisingly, given his homophobic historysilence. Which is probably to be expected given his non-response to the Montana Republican Party’s platform plank calling for the criminalization of homosexual acts. Self-serving at it’s very best- which represents his entire political career, basically.

However, more deeply disappointing  and disturbing is the non-response of Max Baucus, a man whose national campaign for the health of all Americans doesn’t seem to give two shits about the safety of his constituents back home. Or maybe he is too frightened to upset a homophobic voter in Central Montana. Or a lobbyist in Manhattan (not the Montana town, that other one on the East Coast). Being politically correct pays the bills – being morally couragous. Not so much.

Maybe Denny and Max are afraid for their safety. But they’re not alone.

Take it from me, some of those constituents are definitely scared. In Montana, apparently, being gay means being the target of violent words advocating the displaying of your tortured body as a decoration or sport for everyone else. That’s scary. One of the most beautiful places in the world, and suddenly I’m not admiring the mountains or the scenery as I’m driving. I’m looking at people in the cars around me wondering, “If they knew me would they would want to kill me and hang my body on a tree like a piece of strange fruit?”

And it’s not okay.

Whose fear is more relevant here? Whose safety is more important? A political leader who has lost touch with his constituents, or the constituents themselves?

If someone targeted any other group of human beings – say, Native Americans, women, children, the handicapped, etc., the cries to heaven and the media would be deafening. The voices would be politicians, clergy, parents, doctors, bankers, rodeo cowboys, hunters and car dealers.

But it’s The Gays. They’re not people- they’re a political liability. Fuck them.

It’s not okay.

And someone who’s been elected as a leader in this state should say so. Brian Schweitzer? Jon Tester?

Who’s the Wizard going to give courage to?

Anyone?