MISSOULA – Montana farmers and ranchers are watching closely as Congress gets back to work.
While the so-called “fiscal cliff” is garnering the most attention, an expired farm bill is also still sitting on the “to-do” list.
Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, says rumors have been flying about the timing of a final bill, and he’s optimistic.
“There’s still a chance that it will be done before the end of the year. The key issue here is not just when it gets done, but that it gets done well.”
Hassebrook notes key differences in the versions passed by the House and Senate, and calls the Senate version more friendly to Montana and other rural states.
“The Senate bill invests in small business development in rural America; the House bill does not. And the Senate bill invests more in beginning farmer programs. So, doing the farm bill right is every bit as important as getting it done soon.”
Even though the bill expired, funding is being continued for federal crop insurance and the food stamp program, Hassebrook says, but some conservation programs are in limbo, as well as disaster programs, and funding was severely limited for rural entrepreneurship initiatives.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 10:24
With the approach of Thanksgiving, the season for harvesting a Christmas tree is right around the corner. Christmas tree permits went on sale this week November 13 on both the Custer and Gallatin national forests.
Christmas tree permits are available for purchase at all local ranger district offices, including Big Timber, Livingston, Gardiner, Bozeman and West Yellowstone on the Gallatin National Forest and Ashland, Red Lodge, Billings and Camp Crook, S.D., on the Custer National Forest.
“Cutting a Christmas tree around Thanksgiving or leading into December is a popular and longstanding family tradition for many,” said Mariah Leuschen, public affairs specialist for the Custer and Gallatin national forests. “It’s a great way to spend time outdoors with those close to you and possibly start a new tradition.”
Permits are $5 each with a limit of three permits per family. Permits can be purchased at Forest Service offices during regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additionally, the Beartooth Ranger District will be open to sell tags on the four Saturdays immediately following Thanksgiving starting Nov. 24 and continuing on Dec. 1, 8 and 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Maps, forest road access updates and tree species identification guides are available at all offices.
Those with a permit may cut a Christmas tree anywhere on the Custer or Gallatin National Forest except in campgrounds, trailheads, designated wilderness areas, developed recreation sites, posted timber sale units, recently planted locations and administrative sites. Permits are also valid for any national forest in the Northern Region, which includes all of Montana, northern Idaho and portions of North and South Dakota.
No tree cutting is allowed within 100 feet of any stream, lake, or wetland. Only trees 12 feet tall or less may be cut.
* Cut your tree as close to the ground as possible and below the lowest live limb. A remaining stump height of 6 inches or less is ideal.
* After cutting your tree, attach the purchased permit to a lower limb near the trunk for transporting home.
* “Topping” trees, or cutting the top off trees, deforms any future growth and leaves a visual eyesore. Take the entire tree or choose another one.
* Trees help protect watersheds, provide habitat for wildlife, and contribute to beautiful scenery. Keep these values in mind when selecting a tree.
For more information, contact any Custer or Gallatin National Forest office or online at www.fs.usda.gov/custer and www.fs.usda.gov/gallatin.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 10:20
Officials in Montana’s most populous counties were reporting heavy turnout Tuesday night, with long lines of waiting voters and those still hoping to register. In some places, officials predicted people were voting long after the polls closed.
That was the story in Cascade, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Yellowstone and Flathead counties.
Ross Cavosos, a volunteer at the Yellowstone County office, said late Tuesdays afternoon that the turnout in Montana’s largest county was overwhelming.
“Everyone is surprised we have so many people trying to vote,” he said, adding that many of those in line appeared to be young voters. He said some would-be voters waited three and a half hours for late registration and he expected lines to remain long for most of the evening.
Across the state in Missoula, county election official Anne Hughes reported a strong turnout, which meant long lines for some hoping to register and vote.
“We always hope for a high turnout, even if that means a crazier time for us,” she said.
In Bozeman, a local TV station reported that some polling places had run out of ballots.
Heavy voting was the trend in Flathead and Cascade counties too. Flathead County elections supervisor Monica Eisenzimer said officials there expect to see their last voter vote an hour or two after the polls close.
Shantell McGraw from the Cascade office said doors may close at 8 tonight, but the voters could be casting ballots after 10.
“We have a crazy amount of people in here, probably about 200 people in late registration line right now,” said McGraw.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 16:58
It may not be surprising that in a state that did not cast its electoral votes for President Obama that news of his re-election drew mixed reaction at the party headquarters Tuesday night.
News of networks’ projections of Obama’s win drew cheers from Montanans who had spent most of the night waiting for results in the closely fought statewide races.
“I voted for him and because I feel like it means good things for our country,” said Hannah Berglund, 21, a Helena student at the University of Montana. “He sees things the way I do when it comes to civil rights issues and I think that’s what’s most important overall.”
Others at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena echoed Berglund’s optimism.
“I think it takes us in the right direction. It means that middle class people will have a chance to improve their access to opportunities. Most of the economic programs that he’s been pursuing will come to fruition. Economically, America will be stronger in four years,” said Randy Fuhrmann, 52, a professional mental health counselor.
But across town at the Republican party near the state Capitol, Obama’s re-election sent a far more chilling message.
“I’m disappointed. I fear for our country,” former gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone said Tuesday night, expressing deep concerns that the Senate would remain in Democratic hands.
“The country’s very divided. This campaign has been very divisive,” Livingstone added.
Results were incomplete at press time, but the Montana Secretary of State website showed Mitt Romney winning Montana with 55 percent of the vote. In Yellowstone County, Romney had nearly 59 percent of the vote.
In other national races, Steve Daines was declared the winner over Kim Gillan in their race for the U.S. House.Mr. Daines had 53 percent of the vote at press time.
The Senate race between incumbent Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg remained unresolved. Sen. Tester was shown leading Rep. Rehberg, with 49 percent of the vote to 45 percent.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 16:56
Heath Robinson, 36, a medical marijuana patient with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, is a burly young man, his build belying the physical afflictions he suffers. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a medical marijuana T-shirt with text barely visible reading “Code of the West,” he holds a container of balm in one hand and a bottle of tincture in the other.
He looked the part of perhaps an off-duty medical corpsman or nurse. In those containers, active cannabis ingredients help him to relieve muscle spasms, pain and the constant neurological damage caused by MS.
“These bottles get me off seven prescription drugs for MS that have terrible side effects,” he said, citing nausea, restless leg syndrome, chronic muscle pain, tremor and severe nightmares.
He said he dissolves a few drops of the tincture into tea or juice. The drink relieves his pain, discomfort from muscle spasms and other neurological pain that the body’s immune system causes while attacking itself.
In MS, the body’s immune system receives erroneous messages from a gene. Those erroneous messages cause the body to attack healthy muscle and nerve tissue. The attacks result in pain, numbness and neurological tissue damage, according to the National Institute of Health website.
As of press time, Senate Bill 423 remained blocked by a temporary restraining order issued last Friday by Judge James P. Reynolds. Judge Reynolds held that immediate and irreparable harm could fall upon an unreasonable number of the most vulnerable Montanans in the medical marijuana registry.
In support of returning to Initiative 148, the original 2004 voter-approved plan for medical marijuana, Lori Burnam, featured in the film “Code of the West,” wrote a letter to The Billings Gazette, expressing her difficulties in dealing with lung cancer. In her letter to the editor, she said she is too sick to manage her own cannabis crop, one of the requirements that SB423 would likely impose upon her and possibly about 5,500 other medical cannabis patients.
The ability of most medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana is limited. Elderly patients and those with terminal illnesses – such as cancer – may lack the physical strength as well as the mental acuity to be vigilant of molds, spores, aphids, mites and other curses that can decimate a marijuana crop. The complicated schedules of lighting demanded by young plants in order to flower properly require an advanced knowledge of specialized horticultural practices.
“It is not easy to grow your own,” said Mr. Robinson.
After SB423 canceled his and Ms. Burman’s ability to buy medical cannabis from an approved provider, they both were despondent. The medical cannabis roller coaster-like track of legislation continues at least until Nov. 6, when voters can choose SB423, a plan that allows providers no more than three patients and doesn’t allow patients to give anything of value to their providers in exchange for medicinal cannabis, including balms, salves, tinctures and baked goods containing the cannabis. Or they can strike the bill down and return to provisions of the original initiative.
Mr. Robinson said he is off drugs because of the availability of those cannabis products. He is waiting for the results of the Nov. 6 election, before deciding what to do.
He and Ms. Burman said cannabis is the only medical alternative that relieves their pain and does not make them overly fatigued or otherwise impaired by the side effects of pharmaceuticals prescribed by doctors.
Team of doctors
Mr. Robinson said he has a team of about eight doctors at Billings Clinic, none of whom can serve as his prescribing or co-physician for him to receive legal medical marijuana. He said he thinks the law should be changed to allow for more research into MS and the healing effects of cannabis on that disease.
Currently, numbers of medical marijuana patients are now down from a high of 30,000 in Montana in 2009 to today’s number of about 8,500.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:08
Montanans can’t escape the television and radio ads attacking the two candidates for U.S. Senate. Paid for by official groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and murkier organizations like Crossroads GPS, the ads generally assault Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Dennis Rehberg as being out of touch with normal Montanans.
The deluge often leaves Montanans wondering who the candidates are and where they stand on major issues.
This has become a battle of who is the most authentic Montanan, with Rehberg’s website stressing he is “a fifth-generation Montana rancher and small businessman” and Tester’s emphasizing he is “a third-generation Montana dirt farmer who brings Montana values with him to the U.S. Senate.”
Despite these differences, the two agree on many contentious issues facing the state.
Both Tester and Rehberg call for creating jobs in Montana by deregulating small business and cutting taxes, though they often spar vehemently over exactly what taxes and regulations need to be targeted. Both voted for the Keystone XL pipeline and seek to develop more coal and oil resources in the state. And both say they have fought for gun rights in Washington.
Where do the differences lie?
But they pull no punches when describing the other.
“Rehberg is not willing to do the work,” Tester said. “It’s lip service versus getting stuff done. Right now, I’m leading the charge on a sportsman’s bill, and we’re going to stay here until it’s done. I have a record of accomplishment.”
Congressman Rehberg agreed that voters should examine their records but disagrees with what they will find.
“I’ll always put Montana first, standing up to leaders from any party as a check and balance. Senator Tester votes with President Obama’s liberal agenda 95 percent of the time,” he replied via email.
The two also disagree over federal health care reform, women’s reproductive rights, and the extension of tax cuts first implemented by President George W. Bush.
“I support a complete repeal of the Tester-Obama health care act so we can replace it with a bill that actually reforms health care to reduce costs and improve access,” Rehberg wrote. “All the Tester-Obama law did was add more people to a failing system. Costs continue to rise, and the problem keeps getting worse. Montanans deserve better.”
Tester voted in 2009 to pass the Affordable Care Act which aims to expand the number of Americans with health care insurance by increasing the availability of Medicaid, allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26 and requiring others to purchase some form of insurance or pay an additional tax.
On reproductive rights, Rehberg voted in 2011 to revoke federal funding to Planned Parenthood and argued for reducing accessibility to abortions. While in the Senate, Tester supported funding for Planned Parenthood.
Both candidates also voted with their party on the extension of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, also referred to as the “Bush Tax Cuts.”
Tester sought to amend the bills by “limiting the tax cuts to the first $200,000 of income for individuals and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly.”
Rehberg voted to keep the cuts the same, reducing the tax rate for households making over $250,000 per year.
Staying on message
Throughout the campaign, Tester has sought to distance himself from the president and national Democratic Party. He did not attend his party’s national convention in Charlotte this summer and has several ads out highlighting ways in which he voted against President Obama.
Attack ads from conservative groups outside Montana and Rehberg accuse him of “voting with Obama 95 percent of the time.”
Still, Tester said the Democratic Party is a party that endorses many Montana values.
“We support the middle class, the working class,” he said. “Support for working families, for farming families, is real. We also support affordable education, not only K-12, but higher education, and veteran’s services.”
For his part, Rehberg argues that his policies represent Montana values of less regulation and lower taxes.
“If they want to bolster job growth and economic recovery by reducing the senseless burden of government, they should vote for me,” Rehberg said in an email. “If they want to just be left alone to go about their lives without the federal government directing everything they do, they should vote for me.”
Come Election Day Montana’s choice may resonate far beyond the Treasure State, according to political scientist James Lopach, a University of Montana professor.
“Montana is (the) state that could give Republicans control (of the Senate),” Lopach said. “Achieving that goal in Montana is far cheaper than achieving that goal in an urban area. I think that’s why we’re seeing so much money coming in on both sides. It’s coming from the party, from the contributors of the candidates and coming in from Political Action Committees.”
The result has been a record number of ads. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, Montanans were hit with nearly 45,000 ads in the Senate race by early September, 16,000 more than the next nearest state.
Both campaigns admit the air war of campaign ads from the candidates and outside groups will only intensify as Election Day nears. Tester urged voters to remember that the campaign “is about Dennis Rehberg and Jon Tester and what’s best for Montana.”
But Lopach suggested the struggle is bigger than that. “I think it has less to do with Tester and Rehberg and more about control,” he said. “It’s about setting and enacting an agenda for the nation.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:05
While polls show a tight race for governor, the odds are with Republicans in the statewide battle to control the next Montana Legislature.
On Nov. 6 Montana will elect all 100 of the members of the state House of Representatives and 26 of the Senate’s 50 members.
Jeff Greene, a professor of political science at the University of Montana, said that it is possible, but unlikely, that the Democrats will take back control of either house of the Legislature. But he does expect them to win back several districts that had typically voted Democratic before 2010.
“Just based on the way Montana is,” Greene said, “you’re going to see some of those seats go back to the way they usually vote.”
During the last legislative session, Republicans enjoyed a 68-seat majority in the House and a 28-seat majority in the Senate.
Republicans grabbed control of the House in 2010 by winning more than 18 seats held by Democrats. That swing was the largest in a single Montana election since 1966.
Challenge for Democrats
To gain a majority in the House, Democrats would have to hold 14 seats held by their incumbents, win all 27 races where there is no incumbent, and knock off 10 incumbent Republicans.
In the Senate, the margin is smaller, but numbers favor the GOP. Of the 24 senators who are not facing re-election this year, 16 are Republicans. This means Democrats would need to win 18 of the 26 contested seats to win a majority.
Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula, co-chairman of the Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Caucus, said Democrats can win back the Legislature despite the odds. She said Montanans have had enough of the “extreme” Republican bills that drew a record number of vetoes in 2011.
“We feel confident about picking up seats because our candidates’ agenda is Montana’s agenda,” Hill said. “Democrats take a responsible, balanced approach to job creation. That’s what voters expect from Democrats, versus the out-of-touch, partisan, extreme bills they saw from Republicans least session.”
But Hill’s GOP counterpart, Rep. Gordy Vance of Bozeman, expects that Republicans will not only maintain their legislative majorities but also increase them. He sees the 2011 legislative session as a success.
“We showed people that you are able to stop the incredible growth in the size of state government and still provide services,” Vance said.
Races to watch
Several seats formerly held by Democrats are considered among the most competitive this election.
One race to watch is Whitefish’s House District 4, where the incumbent Republican Derek Skees has decided to run for state auditor. Skees won by only 85 votes in 2010. This year’s race features two newcomers: Republican Tim Baldwin, a Kalispell attorney, and Democrat Ed Lieser of Whitefish.
Another race to follow is House District 63 in Gallatin County. It was there in 2010 that Republican Tom Burnett defeated incumbent Democrat JP Pomnichowski by 71 votes. This year Burnett faces Democratic Rep. Franke Wilmer, who jumped districts to take him on. Theirs is the only race between two incumbent representatives.
Seven House races are rematches of 2010’s elections. In House District 15, which stretches from Arlee to Browning, Republican Rep. Joe Read will again face Democrat Frosty Calf Boss Ribs, a former representative who lost by 72 votes last time.
One of the most competitive Senate races may be in District 2, in Flathead County. Sen. Ryan Zinke gave up his seat in an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor. Vying to replace him are Republican Rep. Dee Brown of Hungry Horse and Democrat David Fern, a Whitefish business owner.
Democratic officials were reluctant to talk about their chances in specific races, but Republicans said they have high hopes they can capture a trio of Billings Senate seats now held by Democrats, including Sen. Kim Gillan, who is running for Congress. They’re also optimistic about toppling Democratic Sen. Christine Kaufmann of Helena.
GOP hopes in the House include open seats held by term-limited Democrats Rep. Mike Menahan in Helena and Tim Furey in Missoula County.
Red, blue or purple?
Greene expects that the next Legislature will be more closely divided between the two parties, as it was before the 2010 elections. He said the legislative elections are likely to follow a different pattern than the statewide races.
“I see Montana in this election looking very red,” Greene said. “But when you come internally, Democrats tend to do pretty well.”
Whatever the outcome in November, the next Legislature is sure to include many new faces. Eight senators and 16 representatives are not eligible to run in this year’s elections because of term limits.
Four incumbents didn’t make it through the June primary. GOP incumbents who won’t be back are Sen. Carmine Mowbray of Polson and Rep. Bob Wagner of Harrison. Rep. Alan Hale, R-Basin, lost his primary too but is running a write-in campaign. Democratic Rep. Tony Belcourt of Box Elder lost his primary race too.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:03
Seventeen years after the courts struck down an early attempt to require minors to notify their parents before getting an abortion, the contentious issue is back on the ballot this fall.
Legislative Referendum 120 is almost exactly like a 1995 law struck down by a Montana court as violating the Montana Constitution – with one key change.
“The difference is that the age is lower,” Jeff Laszloffy, head of the Montana Family Foundation, said, explaining the referendum would apply only to minors under 16. The previous law applied to girls under 18.
LR-120 would require that doctors notify parents or legal guardians at least 48 hours in advance of the abortion if the patient is under 16. If the minor does not want the notification to occur, she can obtain a waiver from a youth court. Notice would not be required in the case of a medical emergency.
Under the proposal, any doctor who fails to notify the parent or receive a waiver could face six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Debate over impacts
Both proponents and opponents of the referendum say their primary concern is the health and safety of young women, but they disagree over the proposed law’s impacts.
For Laszloffy, the proposal is about ensuring parents know what is happening in their family. He said LR-120 is “primarily a parental rights issue.”
He added that far less significant decisions like getting a tattoo or body piercing require parental consent – a stricter requirement than notification.
“(Abortion) is the only exception where a 13-year-old can make this type of decision,” he said. “This is what happens when political correctness trumps common sense.”
But Julianna Crowley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, stressed the proposal would put vulnerable girls in harm’s way. “It’s about privacy and it’s about abortion rights,” she said.
Planned Parenthood of Montana, which opposes the ballot initiative, estimates that 80 percent of minors already tell parents or guardians about their pregnancies.
“(A notification law) puts young women who can’t go to their parents in dangerous situations,” Crowley said. “For voters, think about teens who they know may fear a violent reaction from their parents.”
Laszloffy countered that he was also concerned about a girl who faces possible violence or abuse at home.
“If she has a dangerous home situation … this (working through a youth court) is a way she could actually end the abuse.” He also said it is dangerous for parents not to know when their child has gone through a medical procedure.
Both sides acknowledge the referendum would affect only a few Montana teens each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 43 reported abortions occurred among teens ages 15 and under in Montana in 2008 (the most recent year available).
Thirty-seven other states have some version of a parental notification law on their books, but Montana has been here before.
In 1995, Montana’s Legislature adopted a parental notification measure. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Parental Notice of Abortion Act was constitutional under the United States Constitution.
However, a state district court ruled that law unconstitutional under the equal protection and privacy clauses of the Montana Constitution.
Crowley said LR-120 would raise the same legal concerns as that case. Laszloffy acknowledged that while the PNAA was thrown out as unconstitutional, lowering the age of girls covered by the law helped address the issue.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer decided differently last year when he vetoed the same legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The governor made note of the lower age of affected minors, but declared in his veto letter: “Given the strength of the 1995 … decision rejecting as unconstitutional an almost identical parental notice law, and a subsequent decision of the Montana Supreme Court solidifying Montana’s strong privacy provisions not only generally, but specifically in the abortion context …, I have chosen to veto SB 97.”
If the voters approve the new notification language, many observers expect an immediate and perhaps protracted legal fight over the issue.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 13:02
When it comes to getting attention, Montana’s race for attorney general is fighting for its share of the airwaves.
TV ads for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and gubernatorial hopefuls dominate, but the attorney general’s race has shouldered its way onto the commercial-fest. That’s due largely to big money donated by a national Republican group backing GOP candidate Tim Fox of Helena.
The national Republican States Campaign Committee has pumped more than $580,000 into advertising on behalf of Fox’s campaign to become the chief enforcer and defender of Montana law. Its ads focus on a federal law Fox opposes: the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Fox’s opponent, Helena Democrat Pam Bucy, has denounced the outside money, which by mid-September had amounted to more than what she and Fox had otherwise raised combined.
“That’s a game changer in this election,” Bucy said. “It feels like some out-of-state entities are trying to buy Montana.”
Federal health care law
The 43-year-old former prosecutor and assistant Montana attorney general has also blasted Fox’s focus on the federal health care law, saying it has overshadowed discussion of the office’s principal duties.
“I see myself as the people’s lawyer and not just for the people who just don’t like Obamacare,” she said.
Fox, a 54-year-old Helena attorney and Hardin native, defends his focus on Obamacare, much of which the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld, except for its requirement that states expand Medicaid, the state-federal program that helps the poor, sick and disabled.
“(Chief Justice) John Roberts got it right when he said Congress put a gun to the states’ heads,” Fox said. “Certainly, in many respects, it’s become more evident that Montana needs an attorney general that will stand up to federal government, mainly because of the Affordable Care Act.”
That’s also a slam at current Attorney General Steve Bullock, the Democratic nominee for governor who defeated Fox to become attorney general four years ago. Bullock refused to join attorneys general in 26 states, all but one a Republican, who offered legal arguments against Obamacare in federal court.
Fox said he would have joined that effort.
Meanwhile, there are other issues in the race.
Fox, who is the father of four, says the state’s Sexual or Violent Offender Registry is broken. He says law enforcement needs to keep better tabs people who have threatened the public’s safety.
Bucy, who is endorsed by several law enforcement groups, said additional law enforcement is always a priority, but added that she’s not aware that the system is broken.
“Since his commercial has come out saying there are ‘gaping holes’ in the registry, I’ve gone to three different deputies and they didn’t know what Tim was talking about,” Bucy said.
Bucy, a mother of three, says children need to be protected in the Internet community and has announced her eSm@rt Kids initiative to educate youth on how to responsibly interact online.
Another issue that divides Fox and Bucy is the attorney general’s voting membership on the State Lands Board, which oversees the leasing of millions of acres of state-owned lands. The revenue supports public schools.
Throughout the campaign, Fox has criticized the current attorney general for his vote last year against Arch Coal’s successful bid to mine state-owned coal in the Otter Creek area.
Managing state lands
If elected, Fox said he will vote to promote the development of Montana’s gas, coal, oil and other natural resources. He added that he’s the lone candidate in the race who wants to develop state resources and the jobs that would bring.
“I believe that the position on the State Land Board is creating jobs and jumpstarting our economy here in Montana, along with standing up to the federal government when it introduces job killing legislation,” he said.
Bucy, who is endorsed by the Montana Conservation Voters, disagreed and said she takes natural resource development seriously.
“I think we can and do and should develop natural resources,” she said. “I just think we need to do it on behalf of Montana citizens and on Montana’s terms. I want to make sure we get the most amount of money and that we are getting actual jobs for Montanans.”
This is Bucy’s first campaign for state office. Fox lost his 2008 contest to Bullock, who won with 52.6 percent of the vote.
Fox has spent 25 years practicing law. Today he works as an attorney with the law firm Gough, Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman in Helena. But has been a public defender and worked as an attorney for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, Mountain West Bank and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Bucy started her career as a criminal prosecutor with the Lewis & Clark County Attorney’s office and the served as executive assistant attorney general. She now works as administrative counsel for the Montana Department of Labor.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:14
By CANDACE ROJO
Community News Service
UM School of Journalism
Call it the rematch, the “do-over” of 2012.
Four years have passed since Montana voters spoiled former Secretary of State Brad Johnson’s hopes for a second term. The 2008 race was close; Democrat Linda McCulloch won a three-way contest by about 5,000 votes.
On Nov. 6, McCulloch and Johnson will face off again. This time Johnson hopes to play the spoiler and finish the work he began in his first term.
Both candidates are veteran campaigners. Before becoming secretary of state, McCulloch served three terms in the state House of Representatives, followed by two terms as Montana’s superintendent of public instruction.
Johnson has run unsuccessfully for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and the state’s Public Service Commission. He withdrew from the 2010 PSC race after pleading guilty to DUI.
For both, the election is about how they would handle the office’s most visible duties: enforcing state election laws and managing nearly 5 million acres of state-owned lands.
As chief elections officer, the secretary of state is charged with seeing that elections are fairly and legally run. That’s often controversial. Nationally, Republicans have pushed to secure voter lists against fraud. Some Democrats suspect the effort is designed to disenfranchise poor and elderly voters likely to vote for them.
Although he acknowledges that voter fraud in Montana is low to nonexistent, Johnson said he wants to keep it that way by requiring that all voters present photo IDs at the polls. Incidents of fraudulent ballots elsewhere show that Montana should be cautious, he added.
“I’m not proposing those because we have a crisis to solve,” Johnson said. “I’m proposing those because I want to prevent the crisis from developing. The way I describe it, my home has never been robbed but I lock the front door when I leave, I think that’s just common sense.”
But McCulloch favors Montana’s current rules, which allow voters to present all sorts of identification, including utility bills with a current address. Providing government-distributed ID cards would be costly and might discourage some citizens from voting, she added.
“It’s an additional expense that we can’t afford right now,” she said. “I think it will be a lot of paper, a lot of red tape that we don’t need. It will be a huge burden for people who don’t have ID, especially senior citizens and low-income people.”
Absentee voting is another hot topic. In this summer’s primary, 61 percent of voters cast absentee ballots.
McCulloch hopes Montana will eventually vote entirely by mail because it’s cheaper and encourages more people to vote.
But she failed to get an all-absentee voting bill through the last years’ GOP-controlled Legislature.
Johnson said things work well the way they are. Citizens can go to the polls if they want, or they can vote in the comfort of their homes. He said Montanans should have a choice.
The candidates also differ over whether Montana should continue to allow voters to register on Election Day. Republican lawmakers say the practice has led to long lines and late voting, but Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed their bill last session that would have ended the practice.
McCullough supports same-day registration, saying that it hasn’t caused many problems. She said that only 1,000 voters registered on this summer’s primary election day. Just 21,000 registered on the last three general election days combined, she added.
“When people move into the state or when they move across the state or they move across town, the first thing they think about is finding a place to live, getting settled in and getting their kids in school, and so they don’t remember to register to vote,” she said. “So it’s a convenience for any voter to be able to register and vote on Election Day.”
As secretary of state, Johnson supported same-day registration when it was enacted in 2005. He said he still supports late registration but not on Election Day because it creates “unnecessary turmoil” in county election offices.
Managing state lands
As one of five elected officials on the State Lands Board, the secretary of state votes on how the state will use 5.2 million acres of state-owned land. Leasing surface and mineral rights on those lands provides revenue for public schools.
Johnson said he is in favor of “aggressive and responsive development” of natural resources.
“I think we can do that responsibly and I think we have an obligation to the people of this state to develop our resources,” he said. “We need members of the board that are committed to that ongoing and responsible development of our resources. Coal, oil, and gas, timber ? those things are all critically important to the economic future of Montana.”
Last year, the board voted 3-2 to lease millions of tons of coal on state-owned land along Otter Creek in southeast Montana. McCulloch voted for the lease, though two other Democrat state officials opposed it.
Even so, Johnson said he was disappointed McCulloch was quoted by the Associated Press saying she could not commit to future development at Otter Creek without review.
However, McCulloch said she has voted to generate more than $800 million in revenue from state lands in her 12 years on the board. She said she is committed to raising money for Montana schools through the land board.
While the candidates disagree on many points, both want to see higher voter turnout and encouraged citizens to get involved and become educated voters.
“We have a better voter turnout than other states do,” McCulloch said. “But I’m not content until we have 100 percent turnout.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 12:13