The Billings Outpost

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Koopman serves well

When the Public Service Commission recently approved the purchase of 11 hydroelectric projects by NorthWestern Energy, our own commissioner, Roger Koopman, reminded us once again why we should have such high confidence in his service.

While a candidate, Roger emphasized the need for the PSC to protect consumers and keep power bills affordable. The courage Koopman displayed during the hydro decision to advocate for the rate-paying consumers, even while opposed by the majority of commission colleagues, speaks to the seriousness of his commitment to public service.

Why was this so noteworthy? Because of all commissioners, Koopman (who represents Butte, the headquarters of NorthWestern Energy) faced the strongest political pressure to go along with the utility’s proposal.  Instead, he offered two amendments with the goal of protecting consumers and their energy rates. 

He, along with commissioner Travis Kavulla, were the only commissioners to offer amendments to reduce the overall rate hit to consumers, and put NWE in the position of reasonably sharing acquisition risks. NWE would have still gotten most of what they wanted, but to the commission majority, even these modest pro-customer adjustments were too much to require of the power monopoly. 

Koopman was right in asserting that consumers will be paying an excess price for these dams – partly because almost one-third of the NWE’s valuation was based on an uncertain prediction of future “carbon costs.”  He was also right in eventually supporting the acquisition itself. The purchase will doubtless still be a net gain for Montanans in the long run. 

But Commissioner Koopman did his best to make it a better deal that fairly balanced the interests of consumers and company. Roger deserves our thanks.

Bryce DeGroot



Last Updated on Thursday, 18 September 2014 15:04

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Change voter registration

There has been a lot of hyperbole in the press lately from people opposed to Legislative Referendum 126, the referendum that will appear on the ballot soon that moves the deadline for voter registration to 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day. This change will merely ensure that all properly registered voters are able to cast a timely ballot on Election Day.

Voting is a civic responsibility and we have a duty to ensure an orderly process that grants reasonable access to all voters. The current practice of allowing late registration has led to undue delays, voter confusion and election administration mishaps that disenfranchise voters.

In Missoula for at least part of the day, normally registered voters were forced to stand in line with same-day voters, leading to long delays in voting. Some people left without voting. The long lines and chaotic conditions that result in some polling places from same-day registration have allowed some groups and candidates to hand out free food and drink to waiting voters, which comes very close to crossing the line prohibiting electioneering at the polls.

In Billings voting by same-day registrants continued past midnight – despite polls officially closing at 8 p.m. Because voters were still waiting in line, local election officials could not report election results to the public even though regular voters were done voting by 8:15 p.m.

Tired Election officials were forced to concentrate their efforts on the small percentage of potential voters who procrastinated until the last possible moment to register to vote instead of concentrating on the task of running a fair and transparent vote counting process. Security of the ballots came close to being compromised.

LR 126 is a moderate solution that makes a minor change in the registration process that is common sense. It simply asks the relatively small number of people who register to vote on Election Day (an average of 7500 of a total of nearly 500,000 voters in a presidential election) to show that the vote is important enough to them to make the effort to register by the previous Friday at 5 p.m. LR 126 is the best way to ensure every registered voter is able to exercise their civic rights, while also greatly improving the administration and integrity of our election process. Please vote yes.

Jeff Essmann


Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 13:00

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Keep Election Day registration

Your ballot for the general election offers important choices. Each of us has the freedom to vote for the candidate who best represents our beliefs.

And, we have the option to vote NO on Legislative Referendum 126. This referendum eliminates your freedom to register to vote on Election Day.

Election Day voter registration, as many refer to this privilege, began in Montana in 2006 and allowed hundreds of voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The referendum places unnecessary time restrictions on a person’s ability to register to vote.

The question is not why someone did not register prior to Election Day. The issue is that a voter currently has the right to register on Election Day and that right should be protected, not eliminated.

Consider the referendum proposed on the ballot as a question of your right to register and vote on Election Day. A NO vote secures your rights as a voter.

Susan Lubbers


Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:59

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Ducking debate disrespectful

I noticed an unfortunate item in the newspaper last week. One of Montana’s nominees for Congress is refusing to debate his opponent. This is not good.

One of my jobs as Montana’s elections chief is to ensure that voters have maximum access to the ballot and that democracy is convenient to them. Part of this means helping citizens be informed.

For example, my office prints the Voter Information Pamphlet that sets out arguments for and against each ballot initiative, which serves as a printed debate forum with arguments written by both sides.

I certainly don’t have the power to arrange debates, but I must take this opportunity to stress their importance. Campaigns in America have become dominated by money, and candidates speak to us mostly through mass media, TV ads and piles of mail. They sometimes do interviews or press conferences or give speeches, these reach the voters only in brief snippets, sound-bites.

Debates are different. They are rare occasions when a candidate can be directly cross-examined by reporters, moderators and even their opponent, in front of a live TV audience. What is said by the candidate is unfiltered and any voter can tune in to watch or listen. It is an adversarial proceeding, almost like a courtroom, which means that a candidate cannot hide or run.

Often times, a candidate will avoid attending debates for strategic reasons.  I have always detested this as an outrageous disservice to voters. I’ve run for office seven times and have never turned down a debate. The congressional debate in Billings must go forward, and the same goes for the U.S. Senate race, the races for Public Service Commission, judicial races, legislative races, County Commission races, and every other political contest in Montana.

Anyone who refuses to debate an opponent at least once (and for statewide races, at least once in each major city), shows a terrible disrespect for voters and democracy.

Linda McCulloch

Secretary of State

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:57

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Vote for Democrats

I have a message for hunters and fishermen as well as others who use and enjoy our public land or are engaged in the business of tourism:

Not only has the Republican Party, including candidates for national office, pledged to get rid of our National Forests and other public land, their voting record stinks. Here are some examples of votes that show actions speak louder than campaign ads.

The Dirty Ditch Bill would have destroyed the opportunity to fish or float many streams in Montana. This bill passed the Montana House with 55 votes from Republicans. It was killed in Senate.

Senate Bill 400 would have added 2,000 nonresident big game licenses to the existing 20,000. It passed the Senate with 29 votes. Of those, 27 were Republicans. It was killed in the House. 

Republicans voted to destroy the Habitat Montana Program but that was vetoed by the governor.

Steve Daines opposes the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act developed by a broad sweep of Montana citizens and businesses. This act would be good for our  business economy and  outdoor recreationists.

Democrats are the ones who are on our side in the Legislature and Congress. Republicans such as Steve Daines and Ryan Zinke are still around wanting your vote.

We must elect more Democrats this November, before these Republicans dispose of our public land and turn our wildlife over to wealthy interests.

Mike Penfold


Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:17

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Wild and Scenic Rosebud

The East Rosebud valley is one of the most beautiful places in Montana. I remember being astounded when I rolled into this part of the Beartooth Mountains for the first time as a teenager.

In the past couple of years, controversy erupted in that valley after a Bozeman-based company filed for permits with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to put a hydroelectric dam in both the East Rosebud and in its sister stream, the West Rosebud. Locals on the East Rosebud turned out in surprising numbers to fight a dam in their neighborhood and the project was dropped.

East Rosebud Creek is one of several stretches of rivers in Montana that are eligible for Wild and Scenic protection – a federal designation that preserves special rivers from degradation, including damming.

The idea was actually born in Montana. The Craighead twins – famous for their Yellowstone grizzly studies in the ’70s – came up with the idea when the Army Corps of Engineers was planning on putting a dam in the middle fork of the Flathead River near Glacier Park in the ’50s. The idea was not that development of dams was bad, but that they needed to be balanced with setting aside and protecting the best free-flowing rivers.

In 1976, the Missouri River Breaks and the three forks of the Flathead were officially designated as Wild and Scenic. But Montana has apparently forgotten about this idea since then and has not added a single stream, despite its incredible heritage of rivers. This is a shame.

Fortunately, this spring Sen. [John] Walsh introduced a bill to designate 20 miles of East Rosebud as Wild and Scenic. Whether the bill comes from Walsh, [Sen. Jon] Tester or [Rep. Steve] Daines, the truth is that protecting Montana’s free-flowing rivers is not a partisan issue. It’s no accident that a state that produced “A River Runs Through It” also produced the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It’s time to remember that and bring the act home to Montana.

Joel Harris


Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:16

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