Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thank you, voters

Posted on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:56 PM

I want to thank the over 10,000 Missoula County voters who supported me in the Democratic primary for Missoula County commissioner. With that victory, I'm now ready to take on the Republican candidate in the general election this fall. It's been a pleasure meeting residents across this great county over the past few months, from Condon to Lolo to the Ninemile—hearing your concerns and visions for the county, and looking for creative solutions that balance competing interests.

I also want to thank my opponent in the race, Stacy Rye, for her commitment to public service, for running a strong campaign, and for shining a spotlight on many important issues. Running for or serving in public office—regardless of party affiliation—is not easy, and I applaud folks who are willing to step up, make themselves accountable to their constituents and give back to their communities. So thanks, Stacy, for your continued service to our community.

In the weeks and months to come, I'll continue reaching out to folks across our county to hear how we can ensure that Missoula County remains the brightest star in Montana's Big Sky. We may not always agree, but I'll do my best to listen and figure out where common ground exists to move the county forward. My priorities remain the same: land stewardship and conservation, good planning, public safety and social justice. And through it all, bridging the urban-rural divide that too often dominates politics. How we achieve these goals is where the rubber meets the road, but I'm confident that we can get there together.

Dave Strohmaier


Just one story

Posted on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:55 PM

My name is Max Firehammer. Last week, I graduated from Hellgate High School. This September, I will go to study creative writing at Hamline University in Saint Paul. I owe much of my success to the Missoula Public Library.

When I was in middle school, I began to write short stories. Given my lack of experience, most of these were just collections of drifting ideas or blatant imitations of my favorite writers. But I tried. Then I began attending a young adult writers group at the library. We shared our writing with each other, and received feedback, praise and constructive criticism.

I continued to go to the young adult writer's group as often as possible for the next five years. Through this program at our public library, I was motivated to write fiction almost nonstop and acquired skills that have helped me not only in my pursuit of this passion, but also with my college preparation and a wide range of other areas.

All of this is only the story of how a single resource at the library has helped a single person. Considering how long the library has been around, the variety of resources it provides and the sheer number of people it serves each day (1,500, on average), there must be hundreds who have had experiences similar to my own. However, our library could easily be doing so much more. The building is sadly outdated. The shelves are full. There are not enough outlets or even enough places to sit. The library is not currently able to achieve its full potential to serve our community. We can fix that. If the bond is passed and these problems are solved and the resources provided are expanded, just imagine the possibilities. Please vote YES for our library.

Max Firehammer


Searching for answers

Posted on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 3:54 PM

I carried an M-16 for a year in Vietnam. Upon returning home, a high school friend wanted to know if I had smuggled home a selector switch, which apparently can be installed in an AR-15 for full automatic capability. If this is true, do you suppose there is a black market for this device and are there such weapons available? Machine guns are still illegal, aren't they?

This is a serious question: Can any gun owner explain why they feel the need to own an assault weapon? Is it just because you can? Is it a slightly wicked thrill to have one or do you really see yourself in close combat against whoever it is you fear? Is it just to assert your right to own whatever weapon you desire? An AR-15 shoots a high velocity round that will destroy flesh and bone and is not that good at long range, so it's not ideal for hunting. What do you do with such a weapon?

Just for the record, I own long guns and pistols, and I once had a concealed weapon permit—although, after Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, I have become somewhat of a peacenik, thinking those wars pretty much only benefited arms manufacturers at a huge cost to American citizens.

Maybe you think an assault weapon ban will lead to losing the Second Amendment entirely (fat chance), and of course there are a bajillion assault weapons already out there, just waiting for the next drunk, stoned or mentally unstable person to pick one up. And I also realize our current political status has us so polarized that any compromise will be unlikely. But if you support the sales of assault weapons, explain to the public how you would prevent mass killings. I know, if there aren't guns people will use knives and clubs. But if those are so dangerous and effective, why don't you just arm yourself with those?

I really want answers to these questions. Anybody willing to write a reply?

Steve Wheat


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A bigger issue

Posted on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 2:12 PM

Dwellings similar to the Timblo house-in-process can be found in various Missoula neighborhoods (see "This new house," May 26). I don't find them particularly attractive and I am completely flummoxed as to why anyone would build a flat-roofed home around here. However, there is a bigger housing issue in this town that needs consideration in order to preserve "the context and the character of the neighborhood." Important quality-of-life issues seem to be ignored by local governing units and municipal decision-making bodies, with one exception—the police department is very helpful with quality-of-life issues.

The issues to which I refer involve the "slum-like" rental properties throughout the city. Drive through almost any quiet, well-tended Missoula neighborhood—lawns mowed, weeds under control, homes generally well cared for—and you will likely see at least one dwelling that appears to have been dumped into the neighborhood from some far-away war zone. What is left of the exterior paint is peeling away, weeds are knee-high, garbage and other stuff covers the lot. The tenants' vehicles crowd the nearby street. And until the locals request the assistance of the police, some of these tenants will be loud and disruptive. Often these tenants don't care or have no apparent clue as to the proper dynamics of living in a neighborhood made up mainly of families that have paid for or are paying for their homes and who have a long-term vested interest in the area.

Of course, many tenants who have to rent what they can find in their price range are victims of penny-pinching landlords. Tenants deserve better for their rental dollars than what is provided by the "slum landlord" who seems to be held to no standards to provide the lessees appropriate living space in good repair. If there are standards, who in city government should be enforcing these standards? If the standards allow such poor maintenance of real property, who in city government should be called to task for allowing these low standards?

Some landlords obviously find it a great inconvenience to do the slightest amount of work on the property. After all, keeping up the property will cut into the bottom line. I can just hear the landlord's pontifications now: "So there's an old mattress in the backyard, a couple of shattered toilets in the side yard, what's that to me? The weeds, the noise and the other aggravations the neighbors claim they are facing, well, phooey to the neighborhood. It's my property to do with as I want."

So ye who profess a profound concern for the context and character of Missoula neighborhoods, how about focusing your energies on figuring out some way to deal with irresponsible landlords (and yes, some irresponsible homeowners as well). They need to be reined in and held to high standards of property management and maintenance.

Linda Holtom


Movement afoot

Posted on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 2:12 PM

There's a student movement afoot in the Last Best Place.

University students in our great state are joining together and letting it be known they recognize and celebrate the vital role that public lands play in the everyday lives of all Montanans. The Associated Students of both the University of Montana (ASUM) and Montana State University (ASMSU) passed resolutions this spring urging our elected officials to maintain federal management of American public lands. Both resolutions passed with a majority vote. ASUM's vote was unanimous.

Public lands generate $6 billion a year annually in Montana—including $403 million in tax revenue—and support 64,000 jobs in the state. But more important than the economic benefits public lands offer Montana are the educational opportunities those lands provide.

Students at both universities are the next generation of wildlife biologists, foresters, engineers, artists, geographers, geologists and leaders. Students in all of these fields and more rely on the natural classrooms that our public lands provide. Furthermore, professors in these fields depend on public lands not only to educate their students, but also to conduct valuable and groundbreaking research that brings acclaim to UM, MSU and the state.

Most students at UM and MSU will tell you that academics are only part of why they decided to attend these schools. UM and MSU attract and retain students because of our state's natural beauty and the easy access we have to the extraordinary public lands in Missoula's and Bozeman's backyards. We have great respect for the indispensable place public lands have in the cultural identity of our state and its citizens.

Hundreds of MSU students have found community on public lands such as Hyalite Canyon through the school's outdoor recreation program, and hundreds of UM students have found the same on public lands throughout the state by taking part in the University's Freshman Wilderness Experience. Both of these programs introduce incoming students to the importance of conservation, the sanctity found in natural beauty and the lifelong friendships that can be made while enjoying Montana's amazing outdoor opportunities.

Having recognized federal public lands as an essential part of Montana's heritage, a majority of Montanans, including students at UM and MSU, are appalled by the short-sighted and irresponsible agenda to transfer ownership or management of American public lands to state or private hands.

If Montana took over American public lands, our state would be faced with a $367 million deficit, according to Lee Newspapers. This could lead to many areas losing vital federal protections, including access to conservation and firefighting budgets, or being closed to public access altogether. Opening public lands to such peril is not in our state's interest and does not have the support of our state's students.

Many from UM's and MSU's student bodies will soon be joining the Montana workforce. We have a responsibility as the leaders of tomorrow to ensure that these public lands remain as pristine and accessible as they are today and an interest in ensuring their continued contribution to economic stability, education and recreation for generations to come.

As representatives of UM's and MSU's student bodies, we believe that our congressional delegation, our governor and our state representatives have a responsibility to their constituents to maintain the natural heritage of Montana by ensuring that federally owned public lands in Montana are not transferred to state or private hands.

Sam Forstag

ASUM President


Matthew Campbell

ASMSU Senator


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mandatory minimums

Posted on Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 3:17 PM

It's no secret that our nation's prisons are overcrowded and failing to keep our communities safe. Compared to peer nations around the globe, no country has more of its population behind bars. Our per-capita incarceration rate is five times higher than Great Britain, nine times that of Germany and 14 times higher than Japan. Almost one-quarter of the prisoners worldwide are in American jails, despite the United States accounting for just 5 percent of the world's population.

The reasons for our prison overcrowding are many, but one factor has been the tough "mandatory-minimum" sentencing laws that were enacted in the 1990s. The intent behind these laws was good—to bring consistency to sentencing. At the time, judges were given wide discretion in sentencing criteria, which led to some disparities in sentences for similar crimes.

But over time those mandatory minimum laws meant that some offenders could get very long sentences for relatively minor offenses. For instance, the federal mandatory minimum sentence for nonviolent drug offenses is currently 10 years.

In fact, most of the offenders behind bars today are nonviolent drug offenders. Instead of using the sentencing to hold them accountable and treat the root of their crime, we are keeping them in jail, making their reentrance into society much more difficult.

I'm not suggesting we should suddenly go soft on crime. What I am suggesting is we become smarter about how we sentence criminals. Because not only is our corrections system the largest in the world, it's by far the most expensive as well.

And believe it or not, there is a very good chance that reform of our justice system could be passed by Congress this year. Already, 34 senators (19 Democrats and 15 Republicans) have cosponsored the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. One of the most recent additions to that cosponsor list is Montana's Sen. Steve Daines.

The SRCA is a good step toward relieving overcrowding while focusing tougher sentencing on repeat and violent offenders. The SRCA would allow judges more discretion in sentencing for lower-level crimes.

Most significantly, it would allow a judge to lower the mandatory minimum from 10 to five years for drug offenses for defendants who have never had a violent offense, do not participate in gang activity, were not involved in the production or "wholesale" level of drug trafficking, and had never distributed drugs to a minor.

Sentencing reform is never an easy task to accomplish. For basic public safety, we need to make sure that the people who should be behind bars are behind bars. But prescribing a sort of one-sized-fits-all approach to sentencing and taking away discretion from judges has produced the new problem of expensive prison overcrowding we have today.

The SRCA is a measured approach that has attracted significant support from Republicans and Democrats alike. That's rare in Washington these days. So let's encourage our congressional delegation to work to keep the momentum going.

Thank you Sen. Daines for taking a leadership role on a difficult issue. It really will make a difference for Montana and our nation.

State Sen. Nels Swandal


Look to the future

Posted on Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 3:16 PM

This is a plea to all Missoula's residents to not limit your aspirations to a single situation but to look at the broader principles we are standing for and to incorporate them into our community. Projects like Free Cycle's Cycles of Change Campaign, running now until July 1.

Cycles of Change is looking to create new generators of economic prosperity in downtown Missoula. It's our city's opportunity to create the future we want.

Not a day goes by without individuals expressing their opinions on whether to keep the Missoula Mercantile or allow a hotel to rebuild on the property. Arguments against the hotel remind us we do not need another cookie-cutter corporation from outside the community destroying our history in the quest for profit. Proponents of tearing down the Merc point to the needed economic growth and downtown foot traffic. Both points are addressed by the Cycles of Change Campaign.

For $5 per city resident Free Cycles would be able to purchase and transform the property, located at 732 S First St. West, into a unique, dynamic and vibrant hub located at the nexus of the Garden City's trail system for cyclists from around the city, state and country. I urge every Missoulian who is discontent with the Mercantile situation to look to the future and make changes where we are able, perhaps by donating to the Cycles of Change Campaign online at

Leah Hammerquist


All the emotions

Posted on Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 3:16 PM

I am astonished by the recent news coverage of the bison calf that was euthanized in Yellowstone National Park. I have felt outrage, sadness, anger and the need to cry and the need to laugh. It's just a bison so get over it. There are a lot bigger issues that face our world, our state and our community. That bison calf, gone and destroyed.

The Blackfeet and most other Native American peoples have a different belief system when it comes to animals and the rest of Mother Earth. The animals were placed among us humans as partners. Our lessons in life and survival were taught by the animals. Animals could take on human form to teach and guide us and often save us. And then change back to their animal form. Crazy notion, huh? We Catholics differ from most other Christian denominations because we believe in "transubstantiation." We believe that the bread and wine is "substantially transformed into the body and blood of Christ." Crazy, huh?

There is a natural order that all animals follow. A grizzly bear attacks and mauls a tourist who comes upon her and her cub feeding on berries. We euthanize her for the attack because she has become sensitized to the taste of tourist. On her part she was protecting her family, following the natural order of things (and getting rid of that annoying ringing bell). My Judeo/Christian, European DNA inherited from my Irish father, born in Butte, cheers for the justice gained for the tourist. My mother's Blackfeet heritage cries for the needless death of this creature.

We can cite the bison cow for child endangerment and abandonment and sentence her to death (sorry, we already did that). Or we could have sentenced her to a life of domestication, eating in a corral, posing for tourist cameras in an environment safe for both, continuous petting by children and maybe becoming ground bison for meals. Maybe the park could have raised her and displayed her and her story of abandonment for the next tourist that believes it is a good idea to put wildlife in their car! At least they had a seat belt in place.

Harry Barnes

Blackfeet Tribal Business Council


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wholehearted support

Posted on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 4:09 PM

I have worked with Gail Gutsche in one capacity or another for more than 20 years. Most of that time was spent promoting policy and programs that protected women and their families from the ravages of environmental degradation. I don't know anyone who is as committed to a cleaner environment, and more specifically to a cleaner energy future, than Gail. I also don't know anyone with more integrity. That is why I wholeheartedly support her candidacy for the Public Service Commission.

I have watched firsthand as she stood up for protecting our wildlands and wildlife; for improving river habitat; for eliminating harmful pesticides; and for the transition to renewable energy during her numerous years working in the nonprofit world, eight years serving in the House of Representatives and during her term on the PSC. That's not all. She has also championed the rights of women, workers and low-income people.

Gail is always on the right side of the right issues, especially when it comes to conservation and protecting the environment. Her extensive legislative know-how and policy-making experience, plus a term on the PSC under her belt, put her head and shoulders above the other Democrats running for election to this office in the primary.

Another thing that sets Gail apart from her competitors, she has a tremendous ability to work across the aisle, a skill exemplified by her partnership on the PSC with Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls. Working with another Democratic commissioner, the trio formed a bipartisan majority that brought clean, renewable wind online and bolstered energy conservation. Gail honed her skills working with Republicans during her tenure in the legislature where she passed numerous bills with their help. Yet she never compromises her principles or values. In my opinion, Montana could use a lot more bipartisanship right now.

Political acumen, uncompromising principles and a clear vision toward moving us to a cleaner energy future! That's what you get with Gail Gutsche. Please join me in voting for Gail for PSC on June 7.

Bryony Schwan


Welcomed relief

Posted on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 4:07 PM

I live in a rural area of Missoula County where sometimes it's de rigeur to complain about the policies, directions and goings on "in town." But I love Missoula and I fiercely love Missoula County. Our issues do not have black and white solutions, nor even gray ones. Our solutions must be more kaleidoscope in nature, structured but brilliant and varied. Missoula County is diverse, complicated, and our county commissioners maintain the necessary tension that makes this place so livable.

Dave Strohmaier is endorsed by Montana Conservation Voters. A lifelong hunter, fisherman and conservationist, he knows the importance of public lands and healthy habitats. He is concerned about food security and understands the struggles of farmers and ranchers. As county commissioner, he will promote our agricultural heritage and protect our prime agricultural soils. He was a wildland fire incident commander for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service who will promote public safety and sound land use planning in the wildland-urban interface. He was a supervisor, project manager and business partner in the private sector in addition to serving eight years on Missoula City Council. He values the connection between good planning and economic prosperity.

In a time where vitriol and poor behavior are demonstrated on the national political stage, it is a welcomed relief to support a candidate who is not a politician, but a statesman. Dave Strohmaier is able to authentically bridge rural and urban concerns. He is thoughtful, a great listener, collaborative and, above all, kind. While these may sound like qualities we were taught to strive for in kindergarten, they are the qualities that will keep us together while grappling with issues such as planning and development, climate change, public safety, human rights, justice, culture, land stewardship and conservation.

Juanita Vero


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