The Billings Outpost

Grant to help struggling schools

Story and Photo - By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

Stevie Schmitz says she spent a lot of late nights finishing up a grant application for $1.5 million.In many ways, Rocky Mountain College may have seemed like an unlikely candidate to receive a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

After all, there are thousands of applicants for grants of this size and many of them are based out of large urban areas where more students could be affected by the grant money.

“Even if we served every student in Montana, we couldn’t serve more people than some of those larger cities do,” said Stevie Schmitz, the director of Rocky’s Masters of Educational Leadership program and co-writer of the grant with Dr. Jo Swain. “So we’re very pleased that the Department of Education saw the importance of the work we wanted to do here.”

The $1.5 million grant will be used by Rocky to assist low-performing schools across the state of Montana including the Hays-Lodge Pole High School on the Fort Belknap reservation; Heart Butte High School, Middle School and Elementary School; Poplar High School and Middle School; and Box Elder High School.

The grant will be split over three years with approximately $500,000 used each year. It became effective on Oct. 1.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 October 2014 12:50

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Curtis faces formidable foe in Daines

Curtis: Aiming for grassroots

By ANDREW BIXLER - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

On a street near the University of Montana campus in Missoula, a homemade sign faces the road.

“Amanda Curtis for U.S. Senate” the wooden sign reads, its colorful ink stark against a white background. The sign was made by Michael Kirby, 53, in his garage.

“I like what she has to say,” he said. “She’s not establishment.”

The sign and message behind it are typical of the campaign Amanda Curtis is running to become Montana’s junior U.S. senator. A former math teacher from Butte, Curtis hastily threw together a campaign following the implosion of Sen. John Walsh’s campaign amid plagiarism allegations.

State Democrats selected Curtis in August, leaving her 80 days to raise funds, assemble a campaign team and build her case to keep a seat that has been in Democratic hands for more than 100 years.

It’s a long-shot campaign that Curtis said she is more than comfortable with.

“It’s a populist, grassroots effort made by people just like me,” Curtis said. “It’s not a bunch of millionaires trying to protect their fortunes.”

Curtis has only one term as a state legislator under her belt, and at 34 she would be seven years younger than any other U.S. senator. She’s got a nose ring, and during her time at the Montana Legislature she maintained a video blog on YouTube.

Such things have led some to question her preparedness for the job, but Curtis has no doubts.

“My experience comes from growing up in Montana, not from legislating,” Curtis said. “I don’t have years in politics, which means I’m actually connected to the people I want to represent.”

The job would come with a steep learning curve. Senators, in addition to overseeing the federal budget, must weigh in on everything from judicial appointments and ambassadorships to treaties and foreign policy decisions.

On foreign policy questions, her answers are limited. She called the Islamic State’s brutal campaign in Syria and Iraq “terrible,” and said the group “needs to go away.” Her answer is to call on the president to develop a plan to combat the threat, but she said the U.S. also needs “a clear exit strategy.”

On domestic issues, she turns to her own life for guidance. She has advocated for expanded background checks for gun purchases – her brother killed himself when he was 17 while playing Russian roulette. She supports implementing the new Common Core education standards, citing her own experience in the classroom.

But she often encounters issues like immigration on which she is the first to admit her views are still developing.

“I’m quickly becoming apprised on things,” she said recently. “I’ve been talking to lots of people and hearing lots of things, which I think is the important part at this stage. I’m a quick study.”

Her opponent, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, more or less refuses to talk about her. The day she entered the race, he said in a press release, “This November, Montanans will have a clear choice between my positive agenda for more jobs and less government, or more government and fewer jobs.”

A look at the political prognosticators may explain Daines’ silence. He holds a 20-point lead in the latest Rasmussen poll, and Nate Silver, the political statistician, has given Daines a 99 percent chance of winning.

Local political observers agree Curtis is a long shot. David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, sums it up by saying simply, “It’s Steve Daines’ race to lose.”

But that doesn’t mean Montana Democrats have lost all faith.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said he supports Curtis fully and has been making fundraising calls on her behalf. Montana Democrats said Tester will campaign with Curtis in the weeks before the election.

And the traditional pillars of the Democratic Party have all backed her, including Montana’s two largest unions, the AFL-CIO and the teachers’ MEA-MFT, as have most environmental groups.

Still, money has been hard to come by. The campaign faced an early setback when it came out that the Walsh campaign could only donate the normal $2,000 of its $700,000 to Curtis directly and the campaign has struggled to raise money quickly.

Parker said Curtis’ lack of money, and the relatively small amount being spent on the race by outside groups, points to more trouble.

“You’ve got to spend money to win races,” he said. “She can’t buy TV ads, and people won’t know who she is. She just doesn’t have time to introduce herself.”

Curtis acknowledged she faces an uphill battle, but said she is optimistic that she can win without outspending her opponent. She even said she has a bit of recent political history on her side.

“I’m just a regular Montanan who was cleaning her yard three weeks ago. Remember, when Tester first ran for the Senate he was outgunned and outmanned and inexperienced too,” she said. “And we all know how that story ended.”


Daines: Holding on to big lead

By RIC SANCHEZ - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

Watch Steve Daines’ television ads this fall and you will see a candidate still introducing himself to Montana – bobber fishing with one daughter, his wife describing how they met in church, his daughters hailing his legislative accomplishments.

That’s because two years ago he was a little-known Bozeman businessman running for the U.S. House whose only political experience was a failed lieutenant governor run in 2008.

Now, the first-term congressman is set to end a century-long Democratic lock on one of Montana’s U.S. Senate seats.

In both of his campaigns for federal office, Daines has stressed his roots in the private sector. A native of Van Nuys, Calif., whose family moved back to Montana when he was 4, Daines spent 13 years with Procter & Gamble as a sales manager in the U.S. and Asia. He left that corporate giant to return to Montana in 1997 and invest in a cloud-computing startup called RightNow Technologies.

Daines eventually joined the company and worked as a customer-service and sales executive. While he was there, RightNow added more than 500 jobs in Bozeman before it was sold to tech giant Oracle, something Daines has touted in campaigns. The company’s sale made Daines a wealthy man. Today, his assets are reported to range between $8.9 million to $32.7 million.

His Democratic opponent, Amanda Curtis, a one-term state legislator, said Daines’ wealth has made him an ineffective representative in Congress.

But even more than his being rich, Daines’ politics put him out of touch with most Montanans, she added.

“It’s not how conservative I feel that he is,” she said. “It’s based on his record.”

During his time in Congress, Daines co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act and voted to extend deadlines for employer provisions under the Affordable Care Act.

An analysis of his voting record by Montana State University political scientist David Parker found Daines is the state’s most conservative representative since World War II.

“The first thing that leaps out from these data is that, unequivocally, Daines has compiled the most conservative voting record of any Montanan elected to the House of Representatives,” Parker wrote on his blog.

Parker said Daines’ record may put him at odds with a state that is not as politically red – or conservative – as it might appear.

“My impression is that it’s a far more purple state,” he said. “I think people are comfortable voting person rather than party.”

While not specifically refuting the conservative claim, Daines countered that he is not afraid to cross party lines on critical issues that cannot be reduced to “labels.”

“Sometimes I’ll cast a vote and the folks on the left will be upset,” he said. “Sometimes I cast a vote and the folks on the right will be upset.”

He cited his vote for the Violence Against Women Act as one his conservative allies opposed, although 85 other Republicans also voted for the bill’s passage last year.

Some of his moves have done more to irk his fellow Montana legislators than members of his congressional caucus. In July, Daines signed a letter encouraging Speaker of the House John Boehner to block state-specific logging legislation. Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs And Recreation Act, which designates three of Montana’s national forests for logging, would be one of those bills.

Tester said he was “blindsided” by the letter, but Daines said Tester’s bill is not comprehensive enough.

“What I’m looking for ... would encompass all 10 of our national forests in Montana — not just two or three,” he said, pointing to the Restoring Healthy Forests and Healthy Communities Act, which he helped introduce. That bill has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate.

He talks about his timber bill as part of his campaign to rein in government spending and encourage business development. His posters and bumper stickers still carry the slogan “More jobs, less government” that helped him cruise to victory in 2012.

But Daines has also been careful not to divide his own core Republican supporters. During this year’s campaign, he’s received emails of support from GOP heavyweights like former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, from the party establishment, and Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“Both (Rumsfeld and Cruz) have cachet with different elements of the Republican Party,” Parker said.

In the end, both Parker and GovTrack, a website that tracks congressional votes, report that while Daines is conservative for Montana, his votes put him in the middle of the national Republican spectrum.

It’s a position that has helped solidify his role as front-runner in the race. Political statistician Nate Silver has given Daines a 99 percent chance of defeating Curtis.

So it’s not surprising, experts said, that Daines has run a safe campaign, focusing on his family and continuing to introduce himself to voters. Still, he faces one more test: a debate with Curtis in Billings on Oct. 20.

Parker said Daines’ best bet is to play it safe.

“I think all he needs to do is say, ‘Hi, I’m Steve Daines. I created a lot of jobs and I’m kind of moderate,’” he said.


Last Updated on Saturday, 11 October 2014 11:18

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Marcasa shuts doors; Big Dipper on its way

Story and Photo - By ED KEMMICK - Last Best News

MarcasaMarcasa is out and the Big Dipper is in.

Marcasa Clothing, the popular upscale clothier on the northwest corner of First Avenue North and North Broadway in downtown Billings, was closed Tuesday, with signs in the window announcing a going-out-business sale that would start Wednesday.

That space will soon be occupied by Big Dipper Ice Cream, a wildly successful Missoula business that hopes to open a Billings outlet by late February.

“They are going to be such a great addition to the downtown,” Marcasa owner Jeremiah Young said of Big Dipper. “It’s something that will be an anchor for the downtown, just as Marcasa has been.”

Last Updated on Friday, 03 October 2014 16:59

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Feeding roots: Remembering Printer Bowler

By WILBUR WOOD - For The Outpost

Printer BowlerThe School of Journalism was 50 years old when I graduated from the University of Montana, and I was hoping to join my fellow alumnus and longtime compatriot Printer Bowler at the J-School’s 100th birthday party in Missoula.

That happened Sept. 26-27, and I was there, but Printer was present only in spirit. He died April 28, 2014, from complications of lung cancer.

On May 31, the recital hall in the U. of M. Music Building was filled with PB’s friends for a memorial event put together by his widow, Kim Lugthart. A number of people spoke about PB’s extensive writing, editing and publishing projects; his part-time teaching (online publishing and other subjects) at the J-School; his golf game — including one day when he and two of the three other players shot each shot an eagle during their round; his emphasis on healthy eating and living; his original songs — he sang and played guitar; and his ability to light up a room with his bright eyes and infectious smile.

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 October 2014 16:49

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