The Billings Outpost

The emperor-elect

I have served in the Montana Legislature in four different decades. As the sun sets on my legislative career and rises for the start of the 2015 Legislature, I am aghast at a new House rule proposal that would wrest power from individual members of the Legislature and consolidate it in the hands of the speaker of the House. Already the speaker is very powerful, with unilateral authority to constitute committees, appoint chairmanships and assign bills to particular committees.

In past sessions, the speaker’s decision to assign a bill to a particular committee could be overturned by a simple majority vote of all members of the House of Representatives. This “check” discouraged assigning bills to “kill committees” composed of handpicked legislators willing to follow the speaker’s bidding. Once assigned to these committees, popular legislation that is out of favor with the speaker can be “executed” quietly – out of sight of the public.

Even with this “check,” in recent sessions the use of “kill committees” to prevent floor debate became so pervasive that efforts were already under way to reinstate the pre-term limit process whereby a simple majority could extract a bill from a committee with a “blast” motion.

Once free of the “kill committee,” a bill can be deliberated by the entire elected body. This change would return power to the people and we should ask: Why has Knudsen been working so hard to defeat this effort?

Rather than empower the people, House leadership has done the opposite by proposing an ominous rule change. In an audacious move that mimics what Harry Reid has done in the U.S. Senate to prevent debate on legislation, Knudsen has proposed that he be given “imperial power” by removing the “check.” In doing so, Knudsen has declared that his unilateral decisions are beyond the reproach of a simple majority. Instead, nothing short of a super-majority would be able to overturn his decisions. Throughout Montana’s long and storied history – no other speaker has been granted this level of power.

Why is Speaker-Elect Knudsen advocating for a rule designed to prevent a simple majority from even debating, let alone passing, legislation? In our nation of representative government, why would Knudsen, a young man in his 30s, need to create a scenario where his power is so absolute? Why should Montanans accept having their own elected representatives, and ultimately their own concerns, disenfranchised and relegated to second-class status?   

I urge every Montanan and every legislator to demand answers as they carefully consider this newly proposed “Imperial Power Rule.” History reveals that little long-term good results from empowering a single individual with such authority. We only need to look to D.C. to see that power, once abdicated to an executive, is lost to the people forever.

Rep. Jesse O’Hara

Lakeland, Fla.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 12:40

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Honor Montana Constitution

In the spirit of the Missoulian’s recently adopted editorial terminology of huckleberries and chokecherries, I would like to award a fresh load of horse apples to the House Republicans’ laughable arguments that Montana’s open meetings laws no longer apply to party caucuses.

The arguments are those of House GOP lawyer Mark Parker, attempting to clean up the mess made by legislators caught red-handed, secretly caucusing in the basement of a Helena motel last month. Montana news media, including the Missoulian, filed a lawsuit to stop this nonsense.

It’s hard to decide which of Parker’s arguments smell riper, but we have to start somewhere. He claims that public notice of the meeting wasn’t necessary because the 1998 court order (that opened caucuses after a news media lawsuit) didn’t specifically order caucuses to give public notice of their meeting.

Public notice of a meeting is an integral and indivisible part of the open meeting process for a basic reason — if the public doesn’t know about a meeting, people are not going to attend, and thus will not be able to exercise the right to know what is going on in a meeting of elected officials, a right guaranteed in Article 2, Section 9 of the Montana Constitution: “No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.”

Second, Parker makes the bizarre argument that “a fresh group of legislators should have a fresh say” in the laws that apply to them. Legislators can’t willy-nilly ignore lawful orders to suit themselves. There’s this little thing called the Constitution that they have to smash first.

To say that a district court order issued in 1998 doesn’t apply in 2014 is the height of absurdity. It is legal precedent that applies until the state Supreme Court, which has the ultimate constitutional authority, says it doesn’t.

Courts regularly order legislatures to fulfill their responsibilities in terms of school funding, civil rights, redistricting and a host of other things. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if “fresh” legislators could shrug off previously issued valid court orders?

Parker argues that what Montanans want more than anything is for their “trusted representatives to ‘go in a room and figure it out.’”

Wrong. What Montanans want more than anything is for their constitution to be honored. We want to preserve the Right to Know the deliberations of public bodies, including party caucuses, part of the legislative process where important public-policy issues are discussed. We are not mushrooms and we refuse to be fed horse manure.

Clem Work

Montana FOI Hotline


Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 12:39

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Congrats to Edwards

I would like to thank the Outpost for honoring me at the 2014 Magic City Music Awards. I was sorry that I had to leave the show for work before the presentation, which I only learned about after the fact. It was a generous gesture and much appreciated.

The inscription, “15 Years of Giving to Music,” takes me back to my first weekly “In Tune” column in 2000. 

I still sincerely appreciate David Crisp’s acceptance of my first contribution to the Outpost in 1998, which developed into a weekly column that then provided me with the opportunity to see and hear countless live performances - from local acts international stars.

It also provided a launching board for my “In Tune” and “Montana Muse” radio shows and subsequent projects. I am grateful for the opportunities I was given to write about and report on the Billings music scene for a decade.

I was glad that the Tuneys continued on with Anna Paige and Kjersten Olsgaard at the helm before its revision as the Magic City Music Awards a few years ago.

Billings has been blessed with a music scene that has ebbed and flowed through the past decade-and-a-half, but one of the most consistent aspects has been the support of the Outpost through the Tuneys. I am pleased to be a part of that legacy and thank whoever it was who was responsible for giving me a nod this year.

I would also like to commend the choice of Brad Edwards for this year’s Freeman Lacy Award, “For Outstanding Contribution to the Billings Music Scene.” Brad has been a constant presence ever since I first saw him with Soulbrat almost 25 years ago; and his involvement goes back more than a decade before that. Whether bringing jazz to the airwaves; playing drums, acoustic or electronic percussion; recording others or doing sessions; or just showing up to support other musicians, Brad Edwards has contributed much to the local scene.

Thanks also to this year’s Magic City Music Awards organizers, Ray Pavek and Shan Cousrouf, and to George Moncure and his crew at Yellowstone Valley Brewing’s Garage Pub for hosting.

Scott Prinzing



Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:51

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Letting off steam

How can anyone believe we have a democratic government when it’s clear we have dictatorship?

It starts with the conservative branch of the Supreme Court allowing corporations the same rights as individuals to spend billions of dollars to influence voters to vote Republican. The Democrats get very little, if any, donations because they’re not in the pockets of those big corporations like the Koch Brothers, big oil, gas and coal, the National Rifle Association, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.

This letter is too little, too late and Is just to let off steam – I am so angry!

One more thing. How can anyone believe the bad things said about our president? He was made a scapegoat for the Republicans to try to win the election. I guess it worked.

But how said it is because he’s been a good president despite the fact that he had to try to work with a “do-nothing” Congress.

Lois Principe


Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:50

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Worst that can happen?

Our present prosperous society is built on modern medical care, abundant natural resources, high-yield agriculture, cheap energy and a credit-based financial system.

The whole thing is completely dependent on a stable, predictable climate.

In his brilliant little book “What’s the Worst That Could Happen? The Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate,” Greg Craven uses the analogy of a bridge with trusses and supporting beams. If one of those trusses buckles, as the banking system did in 2008, our bridge comes very close to collapse. What if the main support – our current climate – were to drastically change and become completely unpredictable and unstable?

That’s what the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The National Research Council, the CIA, FBI, the National Security Agency, and the Pentagon have been warning us about for years. We are hurtling toward a future we know little about and leaving the consequences for our children to figure out.

Sen.-elect Steve Daines believes that our climate is changing and also that humans have something to do with it. However, he thinks that the price we would pay now to fix it is too high. Compared to what? The scenarios of what could happen are far worse than anything we could suffer now.

We wouldn’t be discussing hundreds of jobs lost or even thousands but no jobs at all. We wouldn’t be facing a few bad fire seasons but twice as many as we have ever seen.

We wouldn’t just have arguments about water but wars about water. How do you know, Sen.-elect Daines, what the future holds? Do you have better information than the best minds in the country? How can you be so sure that the worst won’t happen?

Anne Greene


Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:50

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Column gets it right

I would like to express my deep and sincere appreciation for David Crisp’s comments in the Editor’s Notebook that appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of the Outpost (“What? American voters stupid? How dare you”).

I do not know how many words Mr. Crisp used in expressing his opinion, but I can say that I am in full agreement with every one of them!

Given the discord that has occurred in Congress over the last six years between Republican and Democratic members of Congress and the amount of blatant, caustic and unjustified criticism many members have for our current president, it is very difficult for many of us to explain why the last election went the way it did.

It is also somewhat difficult for some of us to adequately express our feelings concerning those election results. Mr. Crisp, however, said it much better than I ever could. In fact, he took the thoughts right out of my head.

Larry Robson


Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 12:23

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