Found on the internet:
Found on the internet:
Found on the internet:
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.
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.
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.
These “patriots” would rather withdraw from the Union than recognize the reality of a lawfully elected democratic government. I’m having visions of cranky children taking their toys and going home, telling their parents that they’d rather move than play with the other kids in the neighborhood….
As the founding fathers of the United States of America made clear in the Declaration of Independence in 1776:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
“…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government…”
The Frontline special “Big Sky, Big Money” was pretty amazing. The dark money issue isn’t going away- and the cloudier the issue becomes, the longer it will be with us- and it is getting cloudier. But first, I wanted to share a few things about one of the key figures of last night’s broadcast.
Jim Brown, the lawyer for Western Traditions Partnership intrigued me.
From The Atlantic:
When asked about the documents found in Colorado, Jim Brown, a lawyer for the group, said he was unfamiliar with them.
After being shown some of the documents by Frontline, Brown, in a follow up email, said his review indicated that they appeared to belong to a company called Direct Mail. Direct Mail and Communications is a print shop in Livingston, Montana, run by a one-time key player in WTP and his wife.
Brown urged Frontline to turn over the documents. “If the documents are purported to be what you say they are, then you may knowingly be in possession of stolen property,” Brown wrote.
The records are in the hands of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, which considers them public and reviewable upon request.
Who is this Jim Brown- the Republican Party’s legal counsel- AND the legal counsel to Western Tradition Partnership? The Commissioner of Political Practices website allows you to track who registered lobbyists are working for. The list of his clientele is VERY interesting…
On Monday, LeFer also confirmed the documents found in a meth house were stolen from his wife’s car and belonged to him and his wife, Allison. The documents included material from outside groups and candidates, and communications between LeFer and candidates. There were surveys of candidates by outside groups and drafts and final copies of mailers marked as being paid for by the campaigns.
“These stolen documents appear to be a mix of those from my consulting and volunteer work and from my wife’s independently owned and operated mail and printing shop,” wrote LeFer, whose wife runs a company called Direct Mail and Communications in Livingston, Mont. “Both my wife and I have scrupulously endeavored to avoid any possibility of illegal coordination.
“The stolen documents, which were in the process of being transferred to storage when the theft occurred, have been mingled to infer that the work of two separate people is in fact the work of one person and therefore improper. This is false.” (Here is LeFer’s full response.)
Like I said: cloudier.