Montana’s Financial Pain and the Return of Identity Politics

by William Skink

I’m not sure it matters, now that Montana is financially screwed, what the Governor knew about the budget shortfall, and when.

During the campaign, Bullock framed himself as the responsible fiscal steward of the state of Montana, who had kept the state’s finance’s healthy and in the black. That, coupled with Gianforte’s misfortune of being born in New Jersey (and the stream access issue) ensured Bullock retained his office.

Now, with the election receding in the rear-view mirror, the grim reality of Montana’s fiscal situation is sinking in. Montana Republicans took a break from their vigorous and cruel slashing to point the finger at Bullock, claiming he knew about the looming budget shortfall, but did nothing to address it:

There are two primary measures for fiscal soundness. The first is structural balance, meaning that projected revenues must be higher than projected expenditures. Something every household and small business is familiar with. The second is ending fund balance, which should reflect the amount of money needed to meet the obligations of the state. It was clear to us by mid-2016 that the ending fund balance would be gone by the time the Legislature came to town January 2017.

Republicans warned the governor via a letter dated Sept. 4, 2016, that our state budget was heading into dangerous territory, and that he had time to take action to correct the budget and reduce spending. The warnings were ignored and the Republican-led Legislature is working to weather the current crisis and focused on a plan to get back in balance and ensure fiscal soundness in the long-term.

Of course Bullock didn’t do anything. The campaign was in full swing, so obviously Bullock wasn’t going to suddenly change his messaging about Montana’s rosy financial situation because duplicitous Republicans sent a letter.

Bullock’s assessment of Montana’s finance’s, and Republican posturing, is nothing but shameless political theatrics. While the people who are supposed to be representing us play their political games in Helena, there is real suffering happening already and substantial fear about the coming cuts.

This past week saw public defenders in Helena describing their impossible job of providing constitutionally required representation to clients who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. It was sobering testimony that should be raising serious alarms:

“My stress is through the roof.”

This is Alisha Backus, she’s a public defender in Kalispell. She’s been on the job for about a year and a half. During that time a statewide budget crunch has pushed the Public Defender Commission to outline cuts to offset an anticipated $3.5 million shortfall — that’s about 5 percent of the Office of the Public Defender biennium budget.

Some of those cost savings come in the form of hiring freezes, moving around discretionary funds, or proposed legislation that will free up attorneys’ time to work on other cases.

The Commission’s plan also limits the use of outside contractors to help with public defenders workloads.

“Part of this mitigation means that I take all cases; I take misdemeanors, I take felonies, I take every type of felony, I take involuntary commitments, adoption, dependency neglect cases, and also guardianship and juvenile cases,” Backus says. “In fact, I am assigned right now lead council to a deliberate homicide case, with a year and a half experience.”

In just the last two years, public defenders have seen child neglect and abuse cases double. A big factor is the alarming rise in meth use across the state. But there is virtually no chance CPS or the public defenders office will get the funding they need.

The crisis will only get worse. Here’s more from the article:

Hooks says public defenders have no control over the number cases they have to work on. Montana law requires that if someone can’t afford an attorney, the state will provide one.

And right now, caseloads are growing. Hooks says courts are especially seeing an increase in the number of criminal and child abuse and neglect cases. He says abuse and neglect cases have increased 50 percent the last two years:

That growth has some public defenders worried that they won’t be able to ethically continue doing their job.

“It’s a concern to everybody in OPD, because if the volume of work is too excessive, we fear that we are providing less than the level of ethical representation that is required.”

Hooks says, in some cases, if a court determines that public defenders didn’t do a good enough job, it could mean the whole trial has to be done over again.

While our state leaders have launched interim-committee studies, the harsh reality is these programs and departments need more money to do their job, and they are not going to get it.

Fucking over poor people in our criminal injustice system is just the tip of the iceberg. Senior citizens are also on the chopping block, according to this article:

Services for senior citizens and those who need long-term care were slashed as part of budget cuts made to the Department of Public Health and Human Services by a legislative budget committee Friday.

“It is a significant cut to nursing homes,” said Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, who voted against the cut. “Nursing homes are an entitlement and they are a strong business in local communities. I think we are going to have a lot of problems with all of these different cuts in all of these different areas.”

Without program-level final numbers from the Legislature’s fiscal division, it was unclear Friday exactly how much the Health and Human Services Joint Appropriations Subcommittee trimmed the program’s budget, but advocates for senior citizens and those who work to care for them called the cuts severe.

This is an area I am learning more about every day with my new job, and I can tell you Montana’s aging population is already in a simmering crisis, especially here in Missoula. Every new bond and increase in housing costs puts more pressure on people with fixed incomes.

And don’t get me started on Medicaid.

The poor, the elderly, the abused. These are the victims of our broken political system.

Once upon a time these segments of our society had a political party that fought for them, but no longer. Obama saved Wall Street and spent the rest of his time in office yapping about a recovery that most Americans never experienced. And Governor Bullock made himself out to be the responsible fiscal champion of the state of Montana, but that turns out to be nothing more than hot air.

Democrats in Montana should be doing everything they can to represent the vulnerable in their state, but there’s a special election coming, so a lot of that needed energy will be diverted to try and win an election Democrats lost handily last November.

Already the Democratic identity squabbling is taking attention away from the cruel slashes that will hurt their constituents. Will it be the woman with the nose ring or the outsider musician? Does it matter?

Electing a woman is still a very big priority for those who feel their Queen was cheated from ascending to her throne. There is still a significant lack of introspection from Democrats about the consequences of prioritizing identity politics over nominating the best candidate most capable of winning.

To conclude this post, here’s a reminder from James Conner about the consequences of identity politics as it relates to the health of Americans facing the dismantling of Obamacare:

If he signs it, will Trump ultimately be the one to blame for gutting health care and condemning tens of thousands to ill health or death? No. Hillary Clinton, and the let’s-make-history-by-electing-a-female-President Democrats who subordinated the national interest to selfish and stupid identity politics, ran a blundering campaign, and thus lost a winnable election, will be the people with the most blood on their hands.

Well said, James.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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19 Responses to Montana’s Financial Pain and the Return of Identity Politics

  1. steve kelly says:

    Maybe it’s time for a new political option. Montana Green Party Convention, March 4, Missoula, Montana.

    • JC says:

      Yeah, let’s hope it’s just not a bunch of disaffected Clintonites looking for another outlet… more sheep dogging.

      • steve kelly says:

        I’m not sure, but think it more likely ex-Bernie youth taking the next logical step. We’ll see. An all-new, “Green-Silver Coalition?” Only 5,000 signatures and the experiment can begin. “Collaborators” for Tester might want to stock up on and extra case of maximum-absorbency Depends.

        Secession: Any thoughts?

        • steve kelly says:

          From The Declaration of Independence :

          We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness[4]

        • JC says:

          I’ve been watching the CalExit campaign a bit. I think that those folks have a good thing going. Of course, if the campaign wins, then the hard part starts. I can see splitting off the western quarter of the country as an interesting way to solve the civil war that seems to be germinating across the land. I think that it would get very ugly, particularly with all the nukes in Montana. Pretty much a battle would have the power of the National Guard called into question between the Governors and the JCoS.

          But we do need an alternative to Tester, not one that he can sell out like he did Paul, when he took a wolf in sheepdog clothes approach to the left. Hard to let that one go.

      • Steve W says:

        “Electing a woman is still a very big priority for those who feel their Queen was cheated from ascending to her throne. There is still a significant lack of introspection from Democrats about the consequences of prioritizing identity politics over nominating the best candidate most capable of winning.”

        This is an insane analysis, and it’s about as uninformed and sexist as it gets, just because it is so uninformed.

        In point of fact, the Amanda / Rob divide is much more along generational lines with younger people by and large siding with Amanda, and older people who fondly remember getting wasted at Aber Day siding mostly with Rob. Rob’s a nice enough guy, but i support Amanda because it’s clear she has the greatest chance of winning, by a lot. At the same time she is the farthest to the left and has spent a good deal of time working to improve the lives of the most vulnerable. And she’s a middle school teacher and a Union leader.

        Yet I agree that the drop in coal, gas, and oil have negatively impacted collected tax revenues. This is a great article about how the drop in petroleum and coal prices have caused projected tax revenues to fall and how that’s negatively effecting the most vulnerable. It’s hurting us our neighbors our families and it’s real.

        I hold you and Steve responsible because for the last 10 years you guys have totally and complete failed to get even one Green elected anywhere any time. And you want to write about politics??>??? you criticize the Dems when you can’t one single person elected anywhere who will vote funds for social services? Are you kidding me Liz?

        The Greens as of last fall in MT numbered about 5 people according to my friend who was one of the 5. They are the people who got Stein on the ballot, and they were Sanders supporters until the Philly convention. Stein got 2% of the vote in MT. She beat my candidate, Roque de La Fuentes! Stein wasn’t a credible messenger, obviously. Plus most adults realize the self defeating futility of trying to force a 3rd party in a 2 party structure. Not all adults but the vast majority do if voting patterns are any indicator.

        For the life of me, I’ve never understood why the Greens wouldn’t START with a ranked voting.initiative and then organize because there might be a ghost of a chance that way. As long as 3rd parties have to be spoilers they are illegitimate by definition. . If they pass ranked voting they suddenly are legitimate.

        The old “New Party” and then the Working Families Party achieve the same legitimacy through fusion voting.

        Would you want to sell more oil and coal, or what? Tax the rich? Deficit spend? How you gonna cover the cost of services and not make a decision?

        I’m personally for taxing the rich and deficit spending to get stuff moving. i thought stimulating the banks but not the people was lame.

        The idea expressed above that no one, including government should ever get a mortgage is stupid, short sighted, and unworkable,

        I’m a Democrat, Liz, and what is it you want me to do? Not volunteer to get Amanda elected so she can do what you won’t or can’t do for your self?? Should I commit hari kari? Should I stop attempting to stuff more progressive onto more central committees and except your cynical jaded self serving analysis that nothing can be done?

        You know I first imagined an organization back in the nascent days of the Bernie campaign that could raise and spend money for candidates and issues. We had no way locally to raise and spend money around the Bernie campaign. Bernie didn’t want people forming PACs because it both sent the wrong messages and also people who belonged to PACs couldn’t co-ordinate with his campaign. i thought “What about The U of M Democrats. or the Women’s Caucus? So that’s what we did. And we lobbied the State Democrat Party and got made a partner org of the MT Dem Party. We support Democratic activism, we actively recruit precinct people for all local Democratic orgs statewide, and encourage people to help recruit and elect progressive Democratic candidates. Best of all we can do that and coordinate with a democratic candidate if we want, or work to pass or defeat an initiative, for instance.

        There are too many suffering people to waste any more time on your Green fantasy world. people are hurting. and the only road to political legislative and executive power in the US is through the Republican or the Democratic party unless and until someone gets fusion voting or ranked voting. I’ve waited and waited for you and Stave Liz but in vain. Even then the humans that get involved will be the same humans who are getting involved right now as I type. Some will be brilliant, some not, some your friends, some not. This is what;s so mystifying to me about the 3rd party fantasy. Are humans going to suddenly want to go to meetings every month and deal with other humans? Good. But it will be the same ol same ol before you know it. Although philosophically I like the idea of greater pluralism. So I’d vote for ranked voting or for fusion voting. And if the Greens got a great candidate I could vote for them without splintering the left. That’d be cool.

        But otherwise it amounts to nothing every time or deja vous all over again.

        At least the Democrats have a history that at more than one time they responded to a mass movement and passed a lot of good, major law as a result. Course they had the voters.

        I look to Amanda to run a very Big campaign with Big ideas, and lots of Bernie alumni support as well as party support. We all want a win. I mean everyone except you and Gianforte. Unless I’m wrong and you want a win. And it was also the Christian dinosaur museum issue that really canned Greg. He’s on the cray cray side of most people.

        Plus people decided they weren’t quite ready to become Idaho and see every stupid ALEC bill become law. . And a really strong door knocking campaign, helped both Bullock and Sandefur see big Missoula and Billings support.

        Amanda can rally a large volunteer base that neither of the other two Dem contenders can touch. And it;s going to take big turn out to win.

        • JC says:

          Steve, I’ll leave most of your comment to Liz to answer, as you addressed him. But as to the New Party, I don’t know if you were around Missoula in the 90’s when we (and I include myself as having worked on several campaigns) elected several members to the Missoula City Council (one of whom had been a significant other of mine for a while). But the New Party lost steam when the SCOTUS ruled fusion elections were not constitutionally protected and states could ban or disallow them.

          So while we could have run a ranked or fusion initiative in the state, we figured it had little chance of passing as both the dem and rep party would team up against it. Thus the New Party faded across the country.

  2. steve kelly says:

    Remember the New Party well. Wasn’t in Missoula at the time, but I’ve always voted for strong environmental protection laws and against war. Pretty obvious why I can’t support Ds or Rs. There’s no there, there. I think as the economy weakens, and police violence increases there will be unusual alliances possible over 1st and 2nd Amendments and secession. Consumers will be forced to learn survival skills.

  3. Steve W says:

    JC I was here and was a dues paying and activist member of the New Party. We elected a majority to the city counsel. Passed the living wage initiative. Among other things. .

    Soon after the Suprenmes decided against us, and then the city counsel elections went non-partisan, which was meant to impede the New Party. It worked.

    The Working Families Party is the direct descendant of the New Party, having built in New York where they have always had fusion voting. Now CT and OR have both passed fusion and Working Familys Party is active in those states as well.

    The Greens oppose fusion voting. So it’s not just the Dems and Repos.

    • steve kelly says:

      Your statement: “The Greens oppose fusion voting” is [false] based upon everything I have known and experienced with the Montana Green Party since the late 1990s. I get that many Democrats do not like Green Party politics, and have adopted, since 2000, an ends-justifies-the-means, centralized, authoritarian, monopolistic approach to “winning.” Well, like all good things, that line of thinking has just about run its course.

      If you’d be so kind, please provide some evidence to support your statement. And, which Greens are you talking about? That would be helpfull too. Instant runoff and fusion voting issues were front and center, always.

      • Steve W says:

        Jill Stein has long been an opponent of fusion voting. She publicly opposed the ballot initiative to get fusion voting in 2006 in MA. i know this because my Montana friend was running the pro-fusion effort.

        I saw Stein answering questions on a video this last year where she poo-pooed fusion voting as somehow immoral.

        The Green Party Platform says it favors ranked voting but says nothing about fusion.

        Do you know of any instances of Greens doing fusion voting?

        Then there is this I

        (from the top of page 4.
        “Because of fusion, New York currently has 3 significant minor parties (the Independence Party, the Conservative Party, and the Working Families Party). Another three minor parties lost their ballot status after the last gubernatorial election (the Right to Life Party, the Liberal Party, and the Green Party, which generally Does not fuse with major parties). No other state has as many parties that gain significant numbers of votes, and many have no third parties at all.

        .”..and the Green Party, which generally Does not fuse with major parties.” is the line I’m after here.

        The Greens have always rejected fusion voting. It sets them apart from the Working Families Party but solidly with The Dems, and Repos. Now whether this came up in Montana with you from 1999 to now or not, i don’t know. I didn’t see any Green candidates on the ballot in Montana from 2002 until 2016. That’s a long time. Did you see any? I tried to get in touch with the so called Greens back after the turn of the century but, they were closed. Thankfully, Bernie revived them, because I believe in greater political pluralism, Sensible pluralism, not stupid self defeating pluralism.

        All I ever saw of self described MT Greens was a social critique without any solution or means of implementing a solution. Greens seem to believe blogging is political work, but it’s really not. But it’s easy and safe. No human to human contact. Either that, or it is political work, but it isn’t working. Because the people being elected are afraid of not obeying the ruling class. And Greens write about how bad that is. Without ever electing someone better. ????

        If you listened to the voters you would realize that no one has any confidence at all in your candidate, That voters believe attempting 3rd Party presidential runs isn’t a credible strategy. If you listened to voters you would know that when voters hear what they believe to be a credible strategy they are eager to participate. See Bernie. He was both a credible messenger and he went big. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers made 75 million phone calls which is how Bernie went from 3% name recognition in fall of 2015 to winning 46% of the elected delegates at the convention.

        But he was a credible candidate exactly because he had a record.

        I also predict that Berners are going to get Keith Ellison elected as head of the DNC. Is Keith a token black Muslim not left enough or is it a good thing both for the party and for the country? I think the latter. We need real contrast with the insane-right. We need someone who understands big organizing and the value of knocking doors.

        So I think you need to do some soul searching and figure out how to get er done. Doing the same isn’t an option. You need credible leaders and you need to legitimize by getting Ranked voting, at least, I’d sign that petition. And put fusion voting into your platform at the convention. That would be great! I’ll believe it when I see it!

        I’m in favor of political revolution and I don’t care who does it, just so long as it get’s done. The only way for the Greens to grow is to get ranked voting or fusion voting. because that makes it safe for voters. . So that should come first. But for 33 years it hasn’t.

        I’m thinking the Greens may be a lot like the truth movement. A nice dead end where lots of blogs exist and no radical laws are passed. Why the hell else would a party go 33 years and be so completely powerless? Haven’t you ever seriously asked your self that question? Haven’t you ever thought of reforming the party so you could win? Like get ranked voting FIRST? Hopefully the Bernie “kids” will be smarter than their elder Greens and not go another 33 years as an illegitimate. vanity party.
        Ranked voting also prevents Dems exploiting Libertarians and Repos exploiting Greens as has been seen occurring in various places. Let’s make victory for lefties possible, instead of making victory for lefties impossible.

        • steve kelly says:

          All good reasons to attend March 4 Green Party Convention in Missoula. While NYC and Montana may not be a fair comparison, I agree fusion voting should be top priority on the platform. I will push for it. Human nature is something to consider when one critiques the various past failings of minor parties. Institutional barriers, especially ballot access, is another huge factor that should not be ignored.

          So, why not join us, share your wisdom and knowledge, and walk the talk, as you advise above? I look forward to meeting you someday. I’m afraid “political revolution” cannot happen if you, like so many others, want someone else to do it for you. Only more oars in the water will move this rickety boat forward.

          Thanks Liz and JC for the forum.

        • JC says:

          Thanks for the reminder Steve, here’s the details of the convention.

          Saturday, March 4 at 10 AM – 5 PM
          The Payne Family Native American Center, U of M

          This statewide Green Party gathering is being held in order to form a cohesive well organized Green movement in Montana. It will be a day-long event consisting of strategy sessions, informational workshops, committee selection. We will be determining how our party will be structured within the state as well as how it will be affiliated with the national and global movements. As a group, we will determine the priorities of the state party, consider possible action initiatives, and discuss candidates for the 2018 election season. Lunch will be served and there will be fun activities for our youngest Greens! I look forward to seeing you all there!

  4. steve kelly says:

    Correction. Your statement: “The Greens oppose fusion voting” is false based upon everything I have known and experienced with the Montana Green Party since the late 1990s.

  5. Big Swede says:

    A trillion dollars (per year) later can anyone tell me if the percentage of the poor has gotten smaller?

    Maybe the funds don’t quite make it to the needy.

    • steve kelly says:

      You’re invited too, Big Swede. I’m sure you have some ideas about how we can better deliver services to those in need. Hope to see you there.

    • JC says:

      99% of the “recovery” net to the 1% Swede. All that trillion dollar of debt went to people who don’t need it, and the rest of us get to pay for it forever. How about we agree to get rid of the fed and its printing presses and QE, eh?

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