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Montana Editorial Roundup

October 3, 2018

Missoulian, Oct. 3, condemning slimy attacks on candidates:

We used to bemoan the start of “silly season,” the weeks (or months) preceding Election Day in which supporters and opponents of certain candidates resort to increasingly ridiculous tactics in a bid to grab attention — and presumably, votes.

This election season, however, we are seeing a steep slide from merely “silly” into downright “slimy.” Some of the recent rhetoric attacking the leading candidates in the U.S. Senate race is particularly shameful.

At their best, these attacks on U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, State Auditor Matt Rosendale, are juvenile and badly overblown. At their worst, they are spreading outright lies and encouraging the kind of incivility that is dividing our nation more deeply each day. These rants may help whip up the base, but they certainly don’t win over any independent-minded voters. If anything, they further alienate those Montanans who still value respect, civility and statesmanship.

Take, for one example, the juvenile TV commercial in which an actor playing the part of Matt Rosendale opens packages of brand-new rancher clothing, struggles to pick up a bale of hay and nails a “no trespassing” sign to a fence post. Oh, and then he steps in a pile of manure. Har har. The ad is meant to debunk Rosendale’s claim of being a rancher, but fails to give viewers any useful information on his policy positions or voting record. And somebody actually paid money for this waste of viewers’ time — a national group called Majority Forward that does not have to disclose its donors because it is listed as a 501(c)(4).

The state Democratic Party is not exactly setting the standard for mature, thoughtful criticism either. Aside from taking every opportunity to call Rosendale “Maryland Matt,” earlier this year party leadership thought it would be amusing to send him a birthday gift basket containing, among other items, Old Bay Seasoning “for Rosendale’s seafood birthday dinner,” the party explains on its website. “It will make him feel right at home. Home in Maryland, that is.” Other gift items included birthday cards supposedly “signed” by “Rosendale’s biggest supporters including Illinois billionaire Dick Uihlein, the Koch Brothers, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and disgraced former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.”

Meanwhile, the national Senate Reform Fund has spent more than $1 million on ads attacking Tester as a far-left liberal aligned with Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi. In doing so, they either distort or completely ignore the senator’s actual record. In reality, Tester votes in favor of President Trump’s position nearly 38 percent of the time, according to the FiveThirtyEight website. These votes cover veterans’ issues and campaign finance reform, as well as Tester’s support for Trump’s nominations of Robert Wilkie as secretary of veterans affairs and of Gina Haspel for director of the CIA. And then there is the fact that Trump has signed at least 18 bills forwarded by Tester. If Tester is only doing the bidding of Democratic Party leaders, then apparently Trump is, too.

The worst example of overheated rhetoric so far this season came just last week in an email from Debra Lamm, chair of the Montana Republican Party. The subject line of the email read “low-life Senator,” and the content was aimed at smearing “Two-Faced” Tester as a “socialist,” among other stretches of the imagination.

From Lamm’s email: “Besides embarrassment, Tester’s D.C. liberal circle of bullies has put our nation deeper in debt, destroyed our health care system, given more protection to people who are in the country illegally than American citizens, and promoted a Senate hit-job on Judge Kavanaugh.”

It would be helpful if the email provided any sort of context or reference for these claims — but clearly, this sentence is not aimed at sharing any useful, factual information. It is instead packed with as many scare words as possible.

It’s one thing to disagree with a candidate’s political positions. And of course a politician’s record should be studied closely, and any inconsistencies between stated positions and actual votes should be called out.

But name-calling and using labels like “low-life,” distorted quotes and outright lies have no place in a civilized democracy. They do us all a grave disservice, and ought to be condemned for it — by all Montanans, no matter our political leanings.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2xUNERp

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Billings Gazette, Oct. 3, on no pay raise for Montana legislators:

Montana state legislators are underpaid, but this is no time for them to vote themselves a big raise.

The Legislative Council, a committee of legislative leaders that meets between biennial regular sessions, has proposed that the 2019 Legislature change the way that legislator salaries are set.

The change basically would tie Montana lawmakers’ salaries to a regional average of what lawmakers are paid. Such a change would result in an increase of 69 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Montana law presently provides that lawmakers will be paid $92.46 a day for the 90-day session that will start Jan. 7. The Legislative Council voted to support a bill draft that would boost that pay to $156 a day, according to the AP.

The draft proposes that the Montana Department of Administration conduct a survey of salaries for legislators in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho and calculate their daily rate of pay. The draft proposes that Montana legislator pay be changed to the average in the year following the survey.

As explained by the AP, state law sets lawmaker’s salaries at $11.33 per hour during the session. The rate is adjusted when state workers receive a pay increase as they will in 2019. In addition to the daily salaries while in session in Helena, lawmakers also received $114 per day for expenses, a $3,000 constituent services account and a $1,500 technology allowance for each session.

This compensation doesn’t make lawmakers rich. It barely covers living expenses for those who must relocate to Helena to serve for 90 work days.

But at its last two sessions in 2017, the Legislature cut appropriations to public schools, reduced state funding of higher education and slashed funding for health and human services. Jobs were lost in the state government and private sectors. State cuts shifted costs to local school districts in the form of higher local property tax levies. The legislative reductions resulted in tuition increases for some Montana residents attending our universities. The cutbacks took home care services away from Montanans with disabilities, and reduced payments to community service providers across the board. Some organizations that had provided care for folks with disabilities and people needing mental health care actually closed their doors. Addiction treatment services were hit with forced changes to save the state money, changes that made treatment more difficult for Medicaid enrollees to access, especially people in rural Montana.

Considering the turmoil that budget-balancing cuts wreaked on so many Montanans over the past 18 months, lawmakers should not be considering a salary increase for themselves.

Both House Minority Leader Rep. Jenny Eck of Helena and Senate President Scott Sales of Bozeman endorsed the salary increase proposal. Neither of them would still be in office if it took effect, as proposed, in 2021. It wouldn’t benefit them personally.

Other lawmakers who do hope to stay in the Legislature weighed in against the salary boost. Democrats who serve on the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance and Claims Committee wrote to the Legislative Council last month, citing the recent service cuts “to our most vulnerable citizens. Cuts to essential services in the summer of 2017 and those made during the special session (in November 2017) created disruption in services to the developmentally delayed, those suffering from mental health issues and children. Until the status of state revenues is clearly understood, the discussion of a salary increase for legislators should be postponed.” The letter was signed by Reps. Kimberly Dudik, Janet Ellis, Brad Hamlett, Jimmy Keane, Rae Peppers and Marilyn Ryan and Sens. Mary Caferro, Nate McConnell, Mary McNally and Jon Sesso.

We agree. The 2019 Legislature must figure out how to fund essential public services for their constituents. That’s why they have been or will be elected. Take care of the folks back home first.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2DVirDo

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Oct. 2, on speaking up now to protect Madison River:

It’s a sign of the times that the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is considering limiting access to the Madison River. The Madison has long been known worldwide as an exemplary trout fishery. Combine that with its popularity with rafters and tubers and the area’s general population increase and we have reached critical mass. River use has become so heavy it threatens to do damage to this venerable waterway.

In short, we are loving the Madison to death. Anglers alone spent some 179,000 days fishing the Madison last year. And for more than half of those, the fishermen were accompanied by a professional guide.

FWP proposed limiting the number of outfitters guiding anglers earlier this year along with some other restrictions on commercial use. The outfitters voiced objections and the restrictions were not imposed. Now FWP wants to form a committee to propose alternative ways to reduce pressure on the river.

Clearly something needs to be done. Rather than resist the inevitable, anyone with an interest in using and protecting the Madison should apply to take part in this effort.

This is not without precedent. Floating on the Smith River - whether for fishing or just sightseeing — became so popular FWP has had to limit the numbers of visitors for years using a lottery to mete out floating permits. And those who float the Smith say the experience is better for it.

So it can be with the Madison.

If outfitters are assigned certain days of the week when they may take clients on the river, they will have to do a little more planning and guiding on other area rivers, but that doesn’t have to reduce the overall volume of business they do. Likewise those who shuttle and outfit tubers and other floaters can learn to deal with limiting the number of clients they serve and days of the week they operate.

FWP is looking to form a committee of eight to 10 people with representation from the outfitting and guiding industry, unguided floating and wading anglers, non-fishing recreational floaters, landowners along the river and representatives from the tourism industry among other groups.

Instructions for applying can be found at http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/management/madison.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2OwX5Qx

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