The Billings Outpost

Running sees progress on climate

By BARBARA BRYAN - For The Outpost

Speaking as part of a climate change panel in Bozeman on Nov. 6, University of Montana Regents Professor of Ecology Steve Running said he’s had a good year — his best, in fact, since 2007.

That year, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its fourth assessment report, for which Running was a chapter lead author. When the report came out, earning a Nobel Peace Prize for IPCC, Running thought, “Well, we’ve shown the science of climate change. Now we can get down to doing something about it.” 

The world then proceeded to “waste another decade stewing about whether the science was real or not,” he said. “It would have been better if we’d started earlier,” he continued, referring to action on the IPCC’s 2007 recommendations. But maybe, finally, we have reached the tipping point.” 

Running noted as evidence of that tipping point the day’s breaking news of President Obama’s denial of the Keystone pipeline permit. Designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to existing U.S. pipelines feeding Gulf Coast refineries, the pipeline has been promoted as a jobs creator and an aid to U.S. energy independence.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 November 2015 19:56

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Juneau taking on Zinke in U.S. House race

Gov. Steve Bullock, along with a group of Montana-based organizations, is seeking nominations for the Montana Neighbor Awards.

The awards give recognition to landowners who work collaboratively with their neighbors to enhance Montana’s sense of community.

The group is seeking nominations of landowners from across Montana. Winners will receive specially printed and framed Montana Neighbor Award certificates signed by Gov. Bullock and awards committee members.

The Montana Neighbor group includes Artemis Common Ground, The Nature Conservancy of Montana, Montana Council of Trout Unlimited, Montana Association of Land Trusts, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and the Office of the Governor.

“It’s no secret that land ownership in Montana has been in transition,” said Chris King, Winnett rancher and member of the Montana Neighbor Awards Committee. “There is tension out there between landowners, public resource agencies, and sportsmen. Those situations get press. But the fact is there are many new and longtime landowners who are great neighbors in the Montana tradition. We want to give them recognition.” Award criteria include cooperation, neighborly land access, land stewardship and conservation ethic and community leadership.

Nomination forms can be obtained from any office of the participating organizations and from FWP regional offices. Send nominations to: Montana Neighbor Awards, c/o Jennifer Bond; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701; or email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 November 2015 19:52

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Kaiser selected as Y’s CEO

Greg Ando, president of the YMCA Board of Directors, has announced the appointment of Kim Kaiser as the YMCA’s chief executive officer effective July 14.

A news release said that Ms. Kaiser brings more than 20 years of relevant experience to her new role, having previously served as senior adviser of Major Gifts and Campaign of St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation and executive director of RiverStone Health Foundation.

Her resume includes experience in administration, executive planning, fundraising, and marketing in the nonprofit sector. She has led multimillion dollar campaigns, including the RiverStone Health Hospice Home campaign and St. Vincent Healthcare’s Heart and Vascular and Pediatric campaigns. 

Ando also recognized Wayne Moller for his service as the interim director.

“Wayne has more than 20 years of experience at the YMCA, and has effectively served as the interim director in the past. As always, he has done a tremendous job.”

 and we are very fortunate to have him on our staff.”

Kim Kaiser earned a bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion from Montana State University Billings and is a Certified Fundraising Executive. She currently serves as board chairman of PLUK (Parent’s Let’s Unite for Kids), is a trustee of the First Interstate Bank Centennial Youth Foundation, serves as an advisory council member for the Billings Gazette Magic Magazine and serves as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. 

Nationally, she serves on the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy Journal Advisory Council. Sheis a Billings Leadership and Montana Leadership alumnae, past president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Montana Chapter Board and a member of Billings Downtown Rotary Club.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 July 2015 14:08

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Bleak future seen for Colstrip coal plants


COLSTRIP – The energy market has been tough on coal-fired power, according to research from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. A new look at data for the two oldest coal-fired power plants at Colstrip, 1 and 2 raises questions about their profitability, based on energy price trends and demand.

David Schlissel, the group’s director of resource planning, said there will continue to be profits for the two companies that own the plants, but he predicted that those profits will stay small.

“When you’ve got a situation where the price of making your product goes up and the price you can sell it at goes down,” he said, “it doesn’t bode well for the future.”

Looming regulations on existing coal-fired plants to install more pollution controls have been blamed as a reason why many facilities could move into deficit territory, but Schlissel said his group’s analysis shows those expenses would be just a fraction of the problem for Colstrip. He cited production prices, increased demand for renewables and low natural gas prices as the major reasons for reduced profits.

Colstrip is a major employer, and Schlissel said this fact is one reason his organization is calling for a serious discussion of what will happen if the plants go dark.

“It’s certainly better for the workers and better for the community that they address retirement in a planned and just manner,” he said.

Schlissel said the future profitability challenges for Colstrip aren’t unique; they’re similar to what many coal-fired facilities are facing. The plants are owned by Talen Montana and Puget Sound Energy.

The report, “A Bleak Future for Colstrip 1 and 2,” is online at

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 June 2015 13:32

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Church plan withdrawn


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has withdrawn its proposal to build a new meetinghouse near its temple on the West End of Billings.

In a letter from the church delivered to the city-county Planning Department on Monday, a spokesman said the church was honoring verbal statements it made nearly 20 years ago, promising to build “no additional religious facilities” in the Rim Point Subdivision.

Harvey Bonner, one of the temple neighbors who had strongly opposed plans for the meeting house, said a representative of the church handed out copies of the letter, dated June 4, to neighbors on Friday.

Zoning Coordinator Nicole Cromwell confirmed that a copy of the letter was submitted to the Planning Department on Monday. It was signed by J. Roberto Hernandez, the regional director for temporal affairs for the LDS Church in Salt Lake City.

The church had applied for what is known as a special review to build the meetinghouse, and it was that application that was withdrawn. On May 5, the Billings Zoning Commission voted 2-2 on the special review, and the application was originally supposed to be considered by the City Council on May 26.

In mid-May, the church asked to postpone that consideration until June 22. Plans for the 16,558-square foot meetinghouse, which would have been built just southeast of the temple at 3100 Rim Point Drive, drew heated opposition from people in the neighborhood.

They argued that church representatives, during the contentious process surrounding plans to build the temple in 1997, had said they wouldn’t build any other religious structures in the area.

The letter from Hernandez said the church recently conducted “due diligence research” and found that nothing to that effect was stated formally. However, the letter continued, “we learned that there were verbal statements made that no additional religious facilities would be constructed on the remaining 46 residential lots in the Rim Point Subdivision.”

“Latter-day Saints strive to live with integrity,” Hernandez said, “and we feel it is right to acknowledge the concern of our neighbors based on their interpretation of our information that was not clearly conveyed at the time.”

He said the church commonly puts meetinghouses close to its temples, and that is still the preferred location, but it will now be seeking another “suitable site.”

Bonner said he was “surprised and pleased” to see the letter on Friday. It was delivered by Spencer Zaugg, a Billings dentist and a stake president for the local Mormon Church. Cromwell said the letter was delivered to the Planning Department by Zaugg’s wife, Beverly.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 14:25

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Democratic candidate denounces GOP extremism

EDITOR’S NOTE: Chris Goodridge, a Democrat, has filed official paperwork to run for the Montana Legislature in House District 52. Here is his edited statement:

Chris Goodridge, a longtime community member, is a certified transportation broker for a local small business and has been a vocal advocate for better schools in Montana. He also works closely with other family members to bring the Magic City Blues festival to Billings every year.

“It’s unacceptable that the Legislature failed to pass a plan to fix Montana’s crumbling roads and bridges that would have created good-paying jobs in Billings as well as a bill helping our youngest learners get a leg up on their education. It’s also unacceptable that the many residents of South Billings who will benefit from Medicaid expansion were represented by someone who ignored their needs,” said Goodridge. “We need leadership in Helena that will work across party lines to ensure Montana is the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

His opponent, Republican Dave Hagstrom, voted against House Bill 5, which would have provided funding to upgrade Montana’s infrastructure, and an amendment to House Bill 2, the state budget, which would have provided funding for early childhood education. He also voted against Senate Bill 405, the bipartisan agreement which made Medicaid coverage available to up to 70,000 working Montanans who were previously ineligible for health insurance subsidies.

Goodridge ran in 2014, narrowly losing in a district that has been historically Republican. He made his decision to re-run after observing his opponent join the extremist faction of the Republican Party for vote after vote in the 64th Montana Legislature.

“Voters want a representative who will work hard to get things done. I am disappointed that partisan politics stood in the way of meaningful legislation aimed at helping working families,” Goodridge said.

While the election is 18 months away, Goodridge plans to talk with community leaders and local residents about their concerns and share his ideas to strengthen Billings, Yellowstone County, and Montana.


Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:24

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Dems re-elect officers

Kelly McCarthy was re-elected as chairman, and Becky Reidl was re-elected as vice chairman, at the annual convention of the Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee on May 27.

Kevin Dowling was also retained as the YCDCC treasurer.

Pam Ellis stepped down as YCDCC secretary, and Vicki Dickinson was selected to replace her.

Jim Larson and Shirley Hanson were both re-elected to their State Committee roles. Mr. Larson also holds the State Democratic Committee chairman position.

Wanda Grinde and Mike Fried were both retained as State Committee alternates. They are backed up by new Officers, Nancy Boyer and Joe Splinter.

Several standing committee roles and precinct representatives were also filled during the County Convention.

According to a news release, discussion at the convention centered around the recent 64th legislative session and the Democrats’ Truman Dinner fundraiser that was held May 9 with keynote speeches by Gov. Steve Bullock and Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote. The Truman Dinner was attended by over 300 people.

 and will net for the YCDCC $14,000 after all of the bills are paid.

Comments about the legislative session were mostly positive, the news release said. After the Medicaid expansion plan that was offered by the Democrats was tabled, they worked with Senate Republicans on a bill that sought middle ground and will offer coverage to an additional 70,000 Montanans who are currently uncovered.

They also worked with Republican colleagues on measures that would ensure more transparency on money in elections and passage of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact.

There was some disappointment that they were unable to deliver the much needed infrastructure help to the folks in Eastern Montana even though all Democrats were supportive of the compromise

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:23

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Foes, fans of pipeline waiting for decision


HELENA – The waiting game on a decision for Keystone XL is now over six years, with supporters and foes wondering what is taking so long. The TransCanada pipeline-project decision rests with the State Department, which has been conducting environmental reviews.

Backers of the project say Montana needs the construction jobs. Lena Moffitt, climate and energy senior manager at the National Wildlife Federation, says it’s understandable some folks are torn on the issue.

“In no way do we want to thumb our nose at those important jobs, but at the same time, this project would dramatically expand a very, very polluting industry: the tar sands in Canada,” says Moffitt.

The National Wildlife Federation opposes the pipeline, citing concerns about pipeline spills and damage to the environment for construction, damage it says would affect human health and wildlife. Congress had approved a bill to allow the pipeline to be constructed without State Department approval, but it was vetoed by President Barack Obama.

Moffitt says her group has heard clues from President Obama since the veto that he is leaning toward not granting the needed permit. She expects the decision will spark intense debate about the future of energy production and public health.

“But also to protect wildlife and the water and land through which this pipeline would run,” says Moffitt. “That’s an angle that I do think any Americans really understand. We’ve seen these types of pipelines spill a lot.”

Montana’s senators both support the pipeline, as does Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 May 2015 22:44

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Democrats cheer legislative session results

BRAD MOLNAR - For The Outpost

Gathering at the Crowne Plaza’s banquet facility last Saturday, about 300 energized Democrats attended their 29th annual Harry S. Truman Democratic Dinner.

Office holders, wanna-be office holders and former office holders joined the rank and file. Many surmised this was a record number for an off-year election cycle and certainly larger than most similar events. It was about double the attendance at the Republican event the previous weekend (Outpost, May 7).

According to Pamela Ellis, secretary of the Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee, turnout was up because “the committee organized early, had a website, Facebook page and direct mailings.” Others said they worked hard at selling tickets.

The excitement was generated by a recent string of legislative victories engineered from a solid minority position. Every speaker mentioned the victories: Medicaid expansion, the Confederated Kootenai Salish Tribe Water Compact, and the so-called Dark Money Bill. The close-but-no-cigar award went to the infrastructure bill, which died by the same one-vote margin many of their victories were achieved by.

Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow Nation, thanked the Democratic legislators for bringing home the Medicaid expansion bill. He said it was owed to the Crow Nation because medical care was supposed to compensate the tribe for loss of reservation lands.

However, according to Old Coyote, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs didn’t see it that way and had been reducing medical coverage, so now less than 45 percent of the tribe is covered. The expanded Medicaid coverage was needed to make up for the loss of federal dollars, he said. His heartfelt thank you was greeted with sincere applause.

His discussion of current energy issues was less well received. “Washington, D.C., says we need to take coal out of the energy portfolio,” he said. Sounding more like Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke, he said, “We are not going to power America with renewables.”

Chairman Old Coyote continued, “We need to invest in carbon capture technologies. We want to be a part of the U.S. economy, but D.C. says we should not.”

This did not generate any applause. But when Chairman Old Coyote ended with, “If you are a Democrat seeking public office, welcome to Indian Country,” he received a standing ovation.

A common theme throughout the event was the denunciation of “dark money.” A statement from Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said in part, “I stand with you as I work to keep dark money out of politics.”

Dark money allegations permeate the Democratic Party as much as they do the Republican Party. In the Jan. 2, 2013, Outpost, referring to $4.2 million in dark money that kept him in the race until a razor-thin victory, Tester said of the dark money group Montana Hunters and Anglers, “they were helpful” and that he was “glad the outside groups jumped in.”

Charges against Gov. Steve Bullock have languished on the desk of Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl. Those charges stem from activities of Hilltop Policy Solutions in his campaign for governor.

According to Mediatrackers, Democratic Executive Director Nancy Keenan was special counsel to Hilltop. Reps. Virginia Court and Margie MacDonald both also have been alleged to be supported by dark money.   

Throughout the legislative session, House Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, demonstrated a leadership skill level not seen since the 1990s when Speaker John Mercer, R-Polson, led the minority Republicans to strong long-term majorities in both houses. Much of the doom and divisiveness evident at the Republican Lincoln-Reagan Dinner was due to the victories of Rep. Hunter.

“They (House Republicans) elected conservative leadership, but we saw eight or nine ‘solid conservatives,’” Rep. Hunter said. “Because of them we have a governor that signed Medicaid expansion, dark money reform and the water compact. We needed the Senate to pass those bills, so we could modify the rules and use our ‘silver bullets.’ They formed kill committees to send our legislation to but we had the pragmatic Republicans. Don’t forget them. Oh, and ‘thank you’ to the Americans for Prosperity for galvanizing the moderates to our camp.”

Gov. Bullock was the last of many speakers.

“We got it all,” he said. “Jonathan Motl confirmed as commissioner of political practices, we cracked down on ‘dark money,’ we protected the sage grouse, and the CSKT water compact will have impacts across the entire state. We built a broad coalition that can show D.C. what it should look like. Nowhere was that more obvious than Yellowstone County,” he said, referring to Rep. Tom Richmond, R-Huntley, and Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Billings.

Bullock said that the demise of the infrastructure bill kept him from working on the critical Laurel water intake project. Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, said in his remarks that he tried to add the Laurel project to the infrastructure bill, but the amendment failed 30-70.

Gov. Bullock got the last word when he closed with, “We must defeat Attorney General Tim Fox. We must elect a Democratic House and Democratic Senate. Look what we accomplished as a minority. Imagine what we can do with a majority.”

Awards Given Out

During the 29th annual Harry S. Truman Dinner, many Democrats were honored or received awards. Perhaps none were as proud as the three recipients of the Give’ em Hell Harry Award.

The award gets its name from a quote attributed to President “The Buck Stops Here” Truman when he said, “I did not give them hell. I just told them the truth and they thought it was hell.”

Yellowstone County Democrats honored Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez, minority caucus leader, who represents Big Horn County; Minority Whip Rep. Margie McDonald; and Senate Minority Whip Robyn Driscoll. All three reside in Billings.

Their awards were given in recognition of votes this legislative session and, according to Pam Ellis, treasurer of the Democratic Central Committee, providing ethical leadership. Sen. Driscoll is the only honoree not term limited from her current seat.

This session’s votes that earned Sen. Driscoll the honor were for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact, Medicaid expansion and funding for education for 19-year-olds. She was honored for voting against authorizing firearms on campus or carrying concealed weapons without a permit, and against fetal anesthesia for abortions after 20 weeks.

Reps. MacDonald and Pease-Lopez also voted against fetal anesthesia for later term pregnancies and against carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. They voted for bills against bullying, texting while driving and drug testing welfare recipients.

Because the votes were selected by a committee and may not represent the preferred votes of the nominees, the nominees were given the opportunity to say what votes made them proudest. Rep. Pease-Lopez chose for the 2015 session House Bill 186 to revise laws related to protecting victims of sexual offenses and HB 47 to appropriate money for youth crisis diversion pilot projects. In the 2013 session it was HB 76 to create an independent office of child and family ombudsman.

Perils of the press

REPORTER’S NOTE: At an Outpost staff meeting, my editor mentioned my coverage of the Republican Lincoln-Reagan Day Banquet and said he assumed I would cover the Harry S. Truman Democratic Dinner. 

I announced that I was visiting press and they gave me my name tag, into which I inserted my Outpost business card.

Upon entering, I saw many old friends: John Gibson, with whom I had served on the Public Lands Access Association; State Auditor Monica Lindeen, with whom I served in the Legislature; former Mayor Chuck Tooley, with whom I attended several functions; and Rep. Robyn Driscoll, who used to compute my business taxes and whose first campaign ads I put together.

I sat at a table with new friends and fiddled with my camera. State Rep. and Democratic Central Committee Chairman Kelly McCarthy asked me to step into the hall. He asked me what I was doing there and said that he knew I was a Republican legislator.

I informed him that was 15 years ago and I was here as “press.”

He asked if David Crisp (the editor) knew I was there. I said it made no difference as the event was open to the public. He retorted that the public had to pay. I said that I paid for my beer but would not donate to the Democratic Party and at the Republican function I had paid just the cost of the meal since I felt it was wrong for the press to be active in the politics they cover.

He asked for Mr. Crisp’s phone number so he could verify. I told him to look it up and walked back toward my table.

He said he would take me at my word until he could verify. I asked if he were going to ask the reporter from the Billings Gazette or the staff from Q2 how they voted.

I have not been treated this way since, I think, 2001 when the Outpost and the Laurel Outlook covered my expenses to attend the Montana Democratic State Convention in Helena. Then executive director of the Democratic Party Brad Martin tried to bar me from entering the event. It got very tense. I went in there, too.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:19

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Republican, Democrat see moderation in Helena

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

“Power politics is the diplomatic name for the law of the jungle,” wrote Ely Culbertson in 1946 at the dawn of the Cold War. Now power politics has become the name for our national officials. It’s a mode of government that most Americans would prefer to do without.

But take hope. At the League of Women Voters meeting for May, two legislators, Democrat Kelly McCarthy, House District 51 in Billings, and Republican Geraldine “Jeri” Custer of HD 39, a resident of Forsyth, talked about compromise in the 2013 Legislature.

It was Rep. Custer’s first term, but she’d been a lobbyist for Montana’s clerk and recorders and knew how the process should work. She is definitely not a part of the “Party of No,” Or as Sarah Palin once said, “The party of ‘Hell, No!’”

“I was a moderate Republican who didn’t leave my brain at the door,” said Custer. “I ran for office because I hated the direction of the party and their inability to get things done. But the attitude (of most Republicans) was anti-election and anti-government in general.

“The party leadership was always trying to bully me to go their way. The Old Guard told me to sit in the corner and vote like they told me. I didn’t.”

Montana has been the home of the Unabomber, the Freemen, white supremacists, and several eccentric but less volatile people, including the feisty and much admired Jeannette Rankin, another woman who spoke her mind and voted her conscience. Will Geraldine Custer be re-elected in 2016? The race for HD 39 will be one to watch.

Kelly McCarthy is a Democrat who sees himself as more of a libertarian, but says that he fits best with Democrats. He, too, sees the need for everyone to start working together. He cited Senate Bill 416, the infrastructure bill. 

“I didn’t love it and it wasn’t great for Yellowstone County, but I voted for it anyway,” he said. “This absolutely was not saddling our children with debt.

“These big, hairy projects are always funded that way. Someone borrowed to build our beautiful Capitol building. Bond rates in Montana are the best in the country, just 2 percent. We have a balanced budget, and we also have a great reserve. We always have the money to pay our bills.”

The infrastructure bill was hammered out and involved compromise in the Senate, the House and with the governor. But at the last minute, after the Senate agreed to stay in Helena to have one more vote on the bill, the House voted to adjourn after defeating the bill by a single vote.

Rep. Custer pointed out that the representative from Glendive, Alan Doane, voted against the infrastructure bill. Unless Gov. Steve Bullock calls for a special session, northeastern Montana, trying to deal with an influx of oil patch workers, will have to wait another two years for badly need relief.

But all was not doom and gloom. 

“I had the biggest win of my political career,” said Rep. McCarthy. “The government can no longer sue you and take your assets without your ever being tried or convicted. It protects innocent owners of property. There was heavy opposition from the Department of Justice, but both the Huffington Post and Cato Institute (two entities on opposite sides of the political spectrum) thought it was great.”

Rep. Custer said that we’re lucky to live in Montana. “Big government’s got their arm on us all the time,” she said. “The higher you go, the less they respond.”

But that’s not true in Montana. As of the 2014 election, a non-presidential election, 662,093 Montanans had registered to vote. Montanans have easy access to their state officials and believe that their opinion matters.

The grass roots support of Medicaid expansion demonstrated that premise. One moderate Republican, Sen. Edward Buttrey of Great Falls, carried the bill, and long, bipartisan negotiations and continual calls and emails from citizens finally produced results for Montana’s uninsured.

“There’s an old guard who’s used to being in charge and they aren’t going quietly,” Rep. McCarthy said. “But this legislative session has proved that the majority rules, not the majority party.”

Rep. Custer said, “Hopefully we did something good, and we’ll do it again.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:11

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