Thursday, February 2, 2017

With DeVos vote looming, critics call on Sen. Daines and others to recuse themselves over campaign donations

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 10:35 AM

Betsy DeVos came one step closer to becoming Secretary of Education this week. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday split along party lines over her confirmation, and Republicans won 12 to 11. The question of DeVos’ installment in the Trump cabinet now falls to the full Senate, which is expected to take up the issue any day now. As that confirmation looms, critics are calling on 23 senators to recuse themselves from the vote in light of past campaign contributions from the DeVos family. One senator on that list is Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines.
Critics of Betsy DeVos' nomination as Secretary of Education have urged 23 U.S. senators—including Montana Sen. Steve Daines—to recuse themselves from the confirmation process in light of the DeVos family's contributions to their campaigns. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Critics of Betsy DeVos' nomination as Secretary of Education have urged 23 U.S. senators—including Montana Sen. Steve Daines—to recuse themselves from the confirmation process in light of the DeVos family's contributions to their campaigns.

According to a search of the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ database, DeVos contributed $5,200 to Daines’ 2014 senate campaign. Additionally, at least seven other members of the DeVos family also donated money to Daines' 2014 run, adding up to $46,800 all told. Campaign contribution reports filed with the Federal Election Commission also show $2,000 in donations from the Alticor PAC, the political arm of the DeVos-owned corporation Alticor. DeVos disclosed her personal contributions to Daines and scores of other candidates and political groups in her Senate questionnaire, and stated during her confirmation hearing that it's "possible" her family has donated as much as $200 million to Republican candidates over the years.

Shortly after a meeting with DeVos in early January, Daines described DeVos as having “a passion for education” and forecast that she “will be a formidable leader at the Department of Education.” In response to questions from the Indy about the donations and the pending confirmation vote, a spokesperson for Daines emailed the following statement:

Steve supports Betsy DeVos because she shares his commitment to increasing local control of our schools with policies that originate with the parents, teachers and administrators who are closest to the classroom. Any implication otherwise is both false and an insult to the people of Montana.

However, thousands of protesters here in the state have already pushed back against the nominations of DeVos and several other cabinet members, at times taking their opposition straight to Daines’ local offices. They aren’t alone. Activists in South Carolina last month pressured Sen. Tim Scott to vote against DeVos’ confirmation with rallies, Facebook comments and calls to Scott’s congressional office. And yesterday, Philadelphia-based writer, teacher and costume designer Katherine Fritz launched a GoFundMe campaign titled “Buy [Sen.] Pat Toomey’s Vote.” In the past 18 hours, she’s raised $9,535. “This campaign isn't actually about buying a vote from an elected official,” Fritz wrote on the campaign’s page. “But it is about using satire to point out the various ways in which our elected officials can—legally!—take money from the same people that now seek political office. Our education system shouldn't be ‘pay-to-play,’ and neither should our democracy.”

The petitions and ads calling for Daines and 22 other senators to bow out of the confirmation process were launched last month by a consortium of left-leaning organizations including End Citizens United. ECU went so far as to publish a report documenting the scope of the DeVos family’s political investments, in which another notable name cropped up: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of two Republicans who announced on Feb. 1 they intend to vote against DeVos’ confirmation.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that critics are questioning the potential influence of DeVos’ past campaign giving. DeVos made her stance on the role of money in politics known all the way back in 1997, when she penned an op-ed for the Washington, D.C., newspaper Roll Call defending soft money. In the piece she conceded that her family had sought to buy influence by donating vast sums to the Republican Party, and stated that “we do expect some things in return.” Here’s the full letter, as reprinted by Mother Jones:

I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. Occasionally a wayward reporter will try to make the charge that we are giving this money to get something in return, or that we must be purchasing influence in some way.

In fact, shortly after this summer's historic budget agreement, some on the left began shopping a rumor that President Clinton was planning to line-item veto a provision that, they hypothesized, had been somehow sneaked into the agreement to benefit my family's company, the Amway Corporation.

For a moment, the Democrats got very excited, believing they had an opportunity to claim that we bought access. It was all hogwash, and upon being confronted with the facts, they had to scrap their plan.

I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.

We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.

People like us must surely be stopped.
That last sentence, clearly, was intended to be sarcastic. Twenty years later, critics are taking it literally.

Today's avalanche advisory: Moderate danger

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 9:08 AM

[Note: For the rest of the winter and into the spring, the Indy will be posting backcountry advisories from the West Central Montana Avalanche Center and the National Weather Service every Thursday and Saturday right here on the blog. Because, you know, safety.]

From the West Central Montana Avalanche Center: The current avalanche danger is MODERATE on wind loaded terrain for the West Central Montana Backcountry. Human triggered avalanches are possible on specific terrain, careful evaluation of avalanche conditions are necessary to recreate today.
moderate-450.png

Good morning, this is Logan King with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s avalanche advisory for Thursday, February 2, 2017. This danger rating does not apply to operating ski areas, expires at midnight tonight and is the sole responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service.

For the full avalanche advisory, along with photos and video, visit the West Central Montana Avalanche Center at missoulaavalanche.org.

Here's what the National Weather Service's backcountry forecast has to say heading into the weekend:

Additional snow accumulations will be possible in the southern Bitterroot range and into the Clearwater mountains of  central Idaho through the day today. Very cold temperatures will linger today through Friday across the entire Northern Rockies, with any remaining blustery winds diminishing today.

The big story coming up will be the very wet Friday through Monday period expected to heavily impact backcountry conditions. Snow levels will rise from valley floors to about 6500 feet across west central Montana and central Idaho, with slightly lower snow levels existing across northwest Montana. A transition to rain or a sloppy rain/snow mix is likely up to 6500 feet as a result, particularly Saturday through Monday. The heaviest precipitation (up to 1.25 inches of water equivalent) will occur in central Idaho mountains and northward into the Kootenai/Cabinet, Whitefish/Glacier, Mission/Swan regions. More details to come in future backcountry forecasts.

Friday, January 27, 2017

UM and state leaders consider faculty buyouts

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 2:43 PM

State and campus administrators are considering a buyout program as one way to reduce faculty and staff at the University of Montana, the Indy has learned.

At the request of UM interim president Sheila Stearns, staff in the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education on Wednesday began exploring legal and logistical questions to determine if buyouts could help reduce salary expenses at the cash-strapped campus, says Kevin McRae, the deputy commissioner for communications and human resources.

While those discussions appear to be in an early stage, they indicate how quickly Stearns' interim administration is moving to develop cost-cutting strategies. In her first public address, on Jan. 19, Stearns echoed earlier statements by campus and state officials that UM may need to reduce the percentage of its budget spent on salaries by as much as 10 percent. She has not announced a timeline for any such reductions.

The Indy became aware of the buyout discussion after reviewing a copy of Commissioner Clayton Christian's calendar, which the office supplied in response to a records request. The calendar contains a Jan. 25 appointment titled "Discuss UM Buyout Plan."
P­HOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • p­hoto by Cathrine L. Walters
McRae says the appointment consisted of a "20-second" meeting between he and Christian in which the commissioner asked him to study options regarding an early retirement buyout or incentive program. Specifically, administrators want to determine if buyouts could be offered in a nondiscriminatory way while still achieving strategic goals, he says.

"The nondiscriminatory aspects that come into play sometimes make it an unwieldy concept to administer," he says.

UM's Director of Communications, Paula Short, was unaware of any buyout discussions when contacted Thursday. After meeting with Stearns in Helena, where the president was receiving a Governor's Humanities Award, Short says that Stearns' request of Christian "was informational for her benefit and based on a question posed to her recently during a strategic planning session."

Stearns and Christian have met at least weekly since she assumed presidential duties on Dec. 12, the commissioner's calendar indicates. By comparison, Engstrom and Christian had no private appointments scheduled between Aug. 5 and Oct. 31. On Oct. 31, the pair was scheduled to visit for three hours.

Campuses in the Montana University System have not offered widespread faculty buyouts in recent history. The commissioner's office did coordinate with Montana State University approximately 10 years ago to offer early retirement packages to a handful of faculty, according to McRae.

Nationally, however, buyouts are becoming an increasingly common method for public and private universities to cut costs, particularly as faculty get older. Atlantic reported on the trend last June, noting that the proportion of professors over age 65 doubled from 2000 to 2011.

"The buyout programs seem like a direct path to reducing the numbers of most highly paid employees," the magazine reported. "But it also poses a risk: When those professors leave, their tenure-track positions may be replaced with non-tenure-track ones, meaning that over time, the number of tenured positions on campus could plummet."

Given UM's enrollment crisis, University Faculty Association President Paul Haber sees buyouts as a good alternative to outright terminations. The idea has come up during his conversations with other faculty, and Haber says he's glad to hear administrators are also thinking about it.

"I'd certainly rather have people resign and feel good about it than have to fire people," he says. "I like that a lot better."

A year ago, then-President Royce Engstrom oversaw the elimination of 192 full-time positions from the general fund budget. Most of the reductions were accomplished by scrubbing already-vacant positions and funding others through alternative budget sources. That budget-cutting exercise included 27 terminations.

UM's budget was balanced this academic year, but the future is less certain. The university system is likely to take a funding cut from the Montana Legislature this spring, while Stearns has said that her budget team is planning for a 1,400-student enrollment decline next fall.

Stearns also told the mid-year address audience that UM must report its 2018 fiscal year budget to the Board of Regents in May, according to the Missoulian. McRae says campuses don't typically present budgets until the regents' September meeting, but adds that regents "could and might" decide to accelerate the process.

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The Forest Service just reached a settlement that could end that whole megaload debate

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 11:58 AM

Regional Forester Leanne Marten announced yesterday that the contentious debate over megaloads on Highway 12 has officially come to an end. In a letter to the Idaho Transportation Department (pdf below), she outlined the terms of a settlement reached between the U.S. Forest Service and a group of citizen, tribal and environmental activists—terms, she concluded, that will “now protect the aesthetic and cultural values” of the Lochsa corridor.

“Although the term ‘industrial corridor’ has no specific definition, we understand this concern to mean that the present balance between commercial and noncommercial uses of Highway 12 is acceptable, but increased use of Highway 12 by megaload transporters has the potential to shift uses too much toward the commercial end,” Marten wrote.
Missoulians gather on Reserve Street in March 2011 to protest a shipment of megaloads by ConocoPhillips. - ALEX SAKARIASSEN
  • Alex Sakariassen
  • Missoulians gather on Reserve Street in March 2011 to protest a shipment of megaloads by ConocoPhillips.

It’s been a while since we heard the term “megaload” in Missoula. Back in 2009, ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial Oil rolled out a proposal to transport some 200 loads of tar sands equipment from Idaho to Alberta along a route that would take them up the Lochsa River, down through Missoula and up the Blackfoot River to the Rocky Mountain Front. The size of those loads—up to 29 feet wide and weighing up to 300 tons each—prompted considerable backlash along Highway 12 and here in Missoula, where critics formed the nonprofit All Against the Haul. When similarly oversized loads destined for the ConocoPhillips plant in Billings rolled down Reserve Street by night, hundreds of protesters rallied to block them. Delays over permitting and litigation eventually forced Imperial to ship its loads via interstate, but similar proposals from other companies kept the embers of controversy smoldering. Eight of the nine members of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee were arrested in August 2013 while trying to halt the passage of megaloads belonging to GE subsidiary Resources Conservation Company International.

Marten’s letter appears to signal a final victory for those dedicated to fighting the establishment of Highway 12 as an industrial corridor for such shipments. While oversize loads will continue to travel up the Lochsa to Lolo Pass and destinations beyond, Marten is pressuring the Idaho Transportation Department to enact restrictions on those permits. As stated in her letter, the Forest Service contends that “oversize loads exceeding 16 feet in width or 150 feet in length or 150,000 pounds should be limited to a yearly average of two loads per month.” Further, any loads that exceed two of those three criteria “should be prohibited entirely, as such loads have the greatest potential to affect the scenic, aesthetic, and cultural values associated with the corridor.”

The settlement and Marten’s letter were announced this morning by the conservation nonprofit Idaho Rivers United, which joined the Nez Perce Tribe in a 2013 lawsuit pressing the Forest Service to use its jurisdictional powers over Wild and Scenic corridors to close Highway 12 to megaload traffic. Laird J. Lucas, executive director of the nonprofit law firm Advocates for the West, which represented Idaho Rivers United in those proceedings, offered this statement:

“After years of dispute, we are glad to put this saga behind us. Through the tremendous assistance of the U.S. Court of Appeals’ mediation office, all involved were able to find common ground on the need to protect the Wild and Scenic corridor into the future. I take heart in knowing that this jewel of the West will remain a treasured and protected landscape.”

RegionalForesterLeanneMarten_sletter_CourtesyIRU_.pdf

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Attorney General Fox strikes down Missoula gun ordinance

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 12:05 PM

A hotly contested Missoula city ordinance that extends background checks to private gun sales is prohibited by state law and may not be enforced, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has ordered.

Fox issued his opinion Thursday in response to a request last fall by Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen of Culbertson. The attorney general had previously stated his opposition to the ordinance.

The nine-page opinion concludes that the city ordinance, which requires a federal background check for most private gun sales and transfers within city limits, violates a state law prohibiting local governments from regulating citizens' constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Ordinance proponents have pointed to an exception in the law that allows municipalities to "prevent and suppress ... the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens and minors." Fox, however, determined that the exception refers only to "specific situations involving the use and possession of firearms," while the Missoula ordinance's "dragnet approach" inappropriately regulates all sales and transfers within city limits. The city's interpretation of the law, he wrote, would render it meaningless by allowing the exceptions to "completely swallow" the general prohibition.

Fox further argued that the city's interpretation of the law could be used to rationalize a gun registration program, which he called "even more troubling."

His opinion carries the weight of law unless overturned by a court, meaning residents can continue to legally purchase firearms through Craigslist-style websites or gun shows without undergoing a background check.
As expected, Attorney General Tim Fox issued an opinion Thursday voiding a Missoula city ordinance expanding background checks on gun sales. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FOX FOR AG
  • photo courtesy of Fox for AG
  • As expected, Attorney General Tim Fox issued an opinion Thursday voiding a Missoula city ordinance expanding background checks on gun sales.

Councilman Bryan von Lossberg, one of the ordinance's sponsors, says he isn't surprised by Fox's order.

"The Attorney General made it clear where he stood on this prior to preparing the legal opinion," von Lossberg says. "He and his staff have delivered a legal opinion consistent with where he said he stood."

Fox issued a press release on the topic back in October 2015, when city council was first considering the measure. AG's office emails later obtained by the Indy revealed that Fox's intervention came a few days after a request was made by local gun lobbyist Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association.

Missoula City Council passed the ordinance by an 8-4 vote last September after a year of consideration and public debate. It was a direct challenge to a "preemption law" passed by the Montana Legislature in 1985.

In his opinion, Fox quotes testimony from a National Rifle Association representative to describe the legislature's intent that "only the state should decide how firearm purchases, sales and transfers should be regulated, if at all."

Most states have similar laws on the books, and the Missoula ordinance had no known precedent nationally.

Von Lossberg declined to discuss any potential strategies for reviving the ordinance, but says he will continue to look for ways to reduce gun-related violence.

"I got involved with this because I saw compelling data and did research on my own that reinforced it: Background checks save lives. They are particularly effective in the area of suicide and partner homicides," he says. "I am convinced there are ways to move forward on that front."

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Signs, speeches and playlist favorites from the Women's March on Montana

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 9:25 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF JODI PILGRIM
  • photo courtesy of Jodi Pilgrim
The organizers of the Women's March on Montana estimated at least 1,500 people would have to show up to the event in Helena so they could get everyone to encircle the Capitol and hold hands. Daily papers around the state had reported estimates that some 4,000 might show up. But then 10,000 people showed up, masses of people carrying signs and flooding the sidewalks and the snowy hill in front of the Capitol steps.

Our van of six women driving from Missoula spent the trip unscientifically counting the carloads of pussy hats we passed on I-90 and listening to a specially crafted playlist that started with The Eurythmics' "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" and ended on Nirvana's "Been A Son," and included Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" and Salt-N-Peppa's "None of Your Business."

On arrival, 45 minutes before the march's designated noon start time, we pulled into the Safeway parking lot just a few blocks from our 8th Avenue meeting place. At a glance, you might have mistaken the scene for a pre-football game gathering: people dressed in similar hats with their hatchbacks and campers wide open, eating sandwiches and chips and making signs. Inside the the supermarket, the coffee counter was mobbed, and a long line of mostly women prompted one guy to wave an especially desperate woman into the men's room ahead of him, saying, "Go for it. It's your day."

The walk down Roberts didn't prepare any of us for the wall of people we saw when we turned the corner on 8th Avenue. It was breathtaking. It was also literally hard take a breath because it was so cold, but the weather helped make one of our signs—"Frigid Bitches for Equality"—an easily appreciated sentiment. The march started an hour late, but we finally got moving down the street and up onto the sidewalks around the Capitol. There was some chanting, though it didn't always stick well, but I liked that a woman behind me brought an iPod and speakers. She was kicking out plenty of M.I.A.

Afterward, gathered on the hill, we got a look at some of the best signs. It was heartening to see Black Lives Matter, gay pride flags, Native Lives Matter and "I Love My Muslim Neighbor" signs, considering the nationwide conversation about intersectional feminism and inclusiveness leading up to the day's marches.

Other creative signs:

You Can't Comb Over Misogyny
Keep Your Tiny Hands Off My Rights
Not Mein Kampf
The will of the people is bigger than Trump's penis
Trump skis in jeans
Girls just want to have fun-damental rights
1 (does not equal) 78 cents
Science (is greater than) Opinion
Fuck You I Won't Do What You Tell Me

One woman, older than many of her fellow marchers, held a sign that said, "Why am I still protesting this shit?" A middle-school boy leaned against a tree holding a sign that said, "Vagina is not a bad word." The sheer diversity of signs was a perfect illustration of the fears and grievances related to women's rights that have been stirred up by Donald Trump. Men carried their young daughters and held signs saying "I'm with her" (the arrows pointing everywhere). Mothers walked with their young sons. Teenage girls marched together. All of it inspired hope.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JODI PILGRIM
  • photo courtesy of Jodi Pilgrim
Several people gave speeches. Some were typical rallying cries issuing vague calls for unity. Others delivered specific calls to action. One of my favorites came from Michelle Mitchell an academic achievement coach for Indian education at Great Falls County Public Schools, who talked about the importance of public education, about how children always ask "Why?" and how we are now all compelled to ask "why." And it included a nice little dig at Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos.

Why do we have to protect water? Why are so many of our youth taking their lives? Why are there so many Native people in prison? Why is it so hard to get ahead? To earn enough to support our families? To send them off to college with no financial concerns? Why are we still asking these same questions in 2017?

Teachers are also asking why. Yet they provide consistency, understanding, compassion and a love for learning so students can grow and thrive. And so every day we teachers go to work. We mentor. We console. We nurture. We encourage. We protect our students from grizzly bears.
Another great speech was from Bree Sutherland, an activist in the trans and queer community, who helped develop the Gender Expansion Project, which serves queer and transgender people across Montana and promotes inclusiveness in health care and in human rights. She said:

I have seen national actions to ensure dignity and respect for all with employment, recognition of gender identity, regardless of what a birth certificate might suggest, and I have seen marriage equality, just to name a few of the tremendous victories which I have been privileged to witness.

While the last 8 years have been a time of many triumphs, it has also been a time where I, among many in my community, have experienced loss, defeat and grief. 

She ended with:

"Stand up and help each other rise up. Rise to action. Stand beside me and become the reason we will not be driven backwards. Together we are strong, together we are one. We are the motion of today and the movement of tomorrow."

On Saturday in Helena, as in hundreds of cities around the country, it felt like it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Denise Juneau won't seek open House seat. Amanda Curtis promises a populist bid.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 1:02 PM

Denise Juneau - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN
  • photo by Alex Sakariassen
  • Denise Juneau
Denise Juneau will not seek the Democratic nomination for the state's soon-to-be-vacant U.S. House seat.

Juneau, the former state Superintendent of Public Instruction, told the Indy on Friday that she isn't interested in making another bid for Congress just months after her unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Ryan Zinke.

Upon winning reelection, Zinke was tapped as President Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Interior and is expected to be confirmed soon, which would trigger a special election to fill Montana's lone seat in the U.S. House.

Juneau's congressional run garnered national attention for its historic nature—she was vying to become the first American Indian woman in Congress—but little traction on election day. Rather than run again, Juneau says she intends to apply for the University of Montana presidency when the permanent position is opened to applications later this spring.

Without Juneau out, the field of Democratic contenders is beginning to consolidate. Over the weekend, state Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, released a video blog in which she reiterated her interest in the House seat and laid out a populist platform focused on common ground with Trump voters.

"Listen, I get it. President Trump won Montana by a lot," she says in the video. "He won Montana because he promised to do the things that I've been talking about for the last four years."

Curtis then lists a slew of issues on which she says she agrees with the president, including preservation of Social Security and Medicare, rebuilding infrastructure, creating jobs, implementing a fairer tax structure, opposing "bad trade deals," supporting "affordable health care for all," and aiding communities like Colstrip that are based on a coal economy.

A Butte math teacher and labor activist, Curtis gained statewide recognition during the 2014 election after U.S. Senate candidate John Walsh dropped out over a plagiarism scandal. The Montana Democratic Party called on Curtis to pinch hit, and she managed to receive 40 percent of the vote, despite having little name recognition or time to campaign.
Amanda Curtis greets voters at the Northside KettleHouse during her 2014 run for U.S. Senate. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Amanda Curtis greets voters at the Northside KettleHouse during her 2014 run for U.S. Senate.
At the time, Republicans pointed to Curtis's loose association with the labor group Industrial Workers of the World in labeling her a "communist." Given the anti-elite tenor of Tump-era politics, Curtis may benefit from her working-class credentials.

"I will not be bought off and I will always put Montana and the United States first," Curtis says in the video announcement. "I'll be the most transparent congressperson ever by doing video updates like this while I'm in office. You might finally know what actually happens in Congress."

Shortly after Curtis posted her video, another Democrat who had expressed interest in the seat, state Rep. Casey Schreiner of Great Falls, wrote on Facebook that he would no longer seek the party nomination.

The Democratic candidate will be selected during a nominating convention by members of the party central committee once Zinke resigns from his seat.

Curtis is competing for the nomination against at least one other anti-establishment candidate. Musician Rob Quist, a founding member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band, received an endorsement from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. He has no political experience.

Central committee chairman and Billings state Rep. Kelly McCarthy has also expressed interest in the seat, and MTN News reported last week that Zeno Baucus, son of longtime U.S. Sen Max Baucus, is mulling a run as well.

Once Zinke is confirmed as Interior secretary, a special election will be held in 85 to 100 days.

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Made for revolution: Missoula's presence at the Women's March on Washington

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 10:22 AM

Missoulians and former Missoulians hold a flag created for the March on Washington.
  • Missoulians and former Missoulians hold a flag created for the March on Washington.

During her speech at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday, Gloria Steinem called out to the crowd, “God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the connections." Our group of women who had traveled from Missoula to Washington D.C. couldn't see her when she said it, because more than 500,000 people stood between us and her—but we felt it. We felt it as we navigated our way through the crowd, holding on to each other so we wouldn't get lost, and we felt it as we saw face after face of smiling, caring, angry women and men.

We felt it even before we heard her say it, in the weeks before we left Missoula for D.C., when one friend knitted "pussy hats" for us to wear and another friend organized a group to create an American flag for us to carry. Each piece of the flag was sewn by a different woman and then all the pieces were sewn together to represent us: a diverse group of progressive patriots, daughters and granddaughters of immigrants who believe that everyone is welcome here, black lives matter, and the future is female.
Missoula women march on Washington Saturday, Jan. 21.
  • Missoula women march on Washington Saturday, Jan. 21.

We felt it when we boarded the plane in Missoula at 5 a.m. on Friday and were seated next to familiar and unfamiliar faces all heading to the same place we were, and we felt it on our second plane out of Minneapolis when we realized it was entirely full of women. We felt it again when every passenger on the plane yelled "Thank you, Nasty Woman," in unison after the stewardess delivered the standard safety talk before we took off.

This connection is something we so deeply long for when we read the divisive tweets and alarming headlines from the elected president—a man who chooses words not to connect but to divide and create fear. This is the connection we knew we needed to cultivate in order to move forward in a world that seems to be moving backward. The need is what motivated us to make the long trip to Washington D.C.

About the march: I loved seeing all the men and boys who were with us at the march. Thank you. We need you in this movement. I loved your supportive signs, and your powerful deep baritone echo when we yelled "our bodies our choice," and you responded, "their bodies their choice."
Missoula's Niki Vanek marching in Washington.
  • Missoula's Niki Vanek marching in Washington.
But, the women. Looking around in the sea of powerful women before me and behind me and on every side of me, I saw the hope I needed. Thousands of hand-knit hats—and let me just say that I was a bit skeptical about the silliness of the pussy hat at first, but seeing so many, all so different yet the same, handmade and soft as a counterpoint to the red, manufactured “Make America Great Again” alternative—my heart swelled with love for them. Every protest sign was beautifully crafted and full of wit and wisdom. It seemed like every other person was passing something out to the rest of us: a pin that said “Love Trumps Hate,” a sticker, a button.

Of the eight hours that we were in the streets, I don't think 20 minute period went by without someone checking in to see if I was thirsty, hungry or comfortable. These women were armed with extra snacks and water to feed and hydrate the strangers around them. I saw a strength in their crafty work and nurturing, in their resourcefulness and unity, that made me realize that women have been preparing to lead this revolution for thousands of years. Women know how to take care of each other and stay connected. I saw this yesterday, and I'll carry it in my heart as we move forward.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Gov. Steve Bullock slated to speak at David Brock-led Democratic conference in Florida on Saturday

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 2:09 PM

The nation’s capital descended into inauguration madness today. Masked protesters smashing store windows. A former America’s Got Talent competitor crooning “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Our new president promising a skittish country that “I will never, ever let you down.”

Quite a ways down the coast, at Miami’s Turnberry Isle Resort, politicians and progressive donors are presently gathered for an event of their own: a conference, led by liberal operative David Brock, dedicated to resistance. Titled “Democracy Matters 17,” the three-day affair includes an array of panels and presentations from names like former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and EMILY’S List President (and Butte native) Stephanie Schriock. Also on the agenda is a Saturday luncheon with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and—here it comes—Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock - COURTESY GOVERNOR.MT.GOV
  • Courtesy governor.mt.gov
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock

The conference has attracted increasing media attention since BuzzFeed first broke the news on Jan. 13 of Brock’s efforts to create a Koch-brothers-like leftist donor network capable of fighting back against Donald Trump. Bullock’s scheduled appearance, of course, raises a few more questions for those of us back home. The Democracy Matters 17 agenda describes the Bullock-Holder luncheon as an opportunity to discuss “how Democrats can build momentum from the ground up, starting in the states, to advance progressive policy and defend voting rights,” and to examine “legislative opportunities in governors races in 2018 and how we can impact the big prize of redistricting in 2020.” So, yeah, fairly vague stuff there.

The Indy reached out to Bullock’s office for a little more insight. A spokesperson told us via email that the governor is “interested in being a part of the conversation about the future of the country and the future of the Democratic Party.” Apparently Bullock doesn’t have any prepared remarks or presentation material available, but his office added that he will be discussing his experience as Montana’s top executive, “including his ability to work with a Republican-majority legislature to advance an agenda that includes Medicaid expansion, campaign finance reform, equal pay for equal work, and expanding public education. He will also be discussing his successful re-election bid as a Democrat in a state that voted for President Donald J. Trump by a margin of 21 points.”

According to a copy of Brock’s opening remarks for the conference, Democracy Matters 17 is geared toward discussing what worked (and, more important, what didn’t) in the 2016 election, and how Democrats can build a bigger, sleeker machine to leverage Republican weaknesses in 2018 and 2020. Brock’s speech jabbed at the Clinton campaign for failing to use information he insists could have taken Trump down, while also acknowledging that Trump “threw out the political rulebook” last year. “Democrats showed up for a boxing match, and Trump was wrestling the whole time.”

As folks in Washington, D.C., continue to celebrate or protest, Brock is using his conference to send a clear message: “We’re already at work resisting Donald Trump at every turn and protecting and defending our shared values and the Obama legacy,” he wrote in his remarks. “We certainly don’t have all the answers, but hopefully you’ll view this conference as a constructive, thoughtful, and politically savvy starting point.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Montana in Rockies Today, Jan. 19

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 1:43 PM

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Today's top headlines from around the state, as collected by Mountain West News:

Montana groups seek fracking chemical disclosure:
Two environmental groups and a handful of landowners filed a lawsuit earlier this week to force the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to require oil and gas drillers to disclose the fracking chemicals they use. (Courthouse News)

Why do some trees fend off mountain pine beetles?

YouTube personality and educator Hank Green interviews bark-beetle expert Diana Six, both of Missoula, to discuss how genetically adapted trees that resist infestations could be, as Six says, “the ace in the hole for the future.” (YouTube)

Montana tribes closer to managing Bison Range:
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will prepare a conservation plan for the National Bison Range, accompanied by an environmental impact statement, a step forward in the effort to transfer management of the wildlife refuge to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in northwest Montana. A lawyer for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which opposes the transfer and has sued to stop it, called the move a “desperate Hail Mary pass” ahead of Trump’s inauguration. (Missoulian)

Opinion: Zinke speaks to urban and rural Idahoans:
The Idaho Stateman’s Rocky Barker writes that Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke’s message during his Senate confirmation hearing resonated with urban and rural Idahoans alike.

For the complete 'Rockies Today' roundup with dispatches from across the west, visit mountainwestnews.org.

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future.

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