If schools are going to close, Molly Moody and Allan Oines, plaintiffs in a suit against the Missoula County Public School District, say they’d like to see a few things happen first. They’d like to see a cost-benefit analysis for each school up for closure. They’d like to know the identities of the district’s previously clandestine “budget teams.” They’d like to know about budget team meetings before they take place, receive draft budget proposals ahead of time, and be granted the opportunity to comment before decisions are made. Such requests aren’t exactly radical. In fact, the Montana Constitution guarantees them. But since Moody and Oines felt they weren’t provided enough information to fully participate in this year’s closures, they sued the school district, and now MCPS has responded with a “viewing room” in which are displayed four enormous black binders. The binders contain budgets, PowerPoint handouts and e-mails.
MCPS trustees voted in March to close three schools. More recently, they voted to lease one, Prescott, to a private school. And now they open up the books, literally. Kinda reminds us of Uncle Backwards on Captain Kangaroo. He did everything backwards, too.
For the first time in Montana history, a gubernatorial debate was broadcast on every television station in the state. The Father’s Day debate between Republican Bob Brown and Democrat Brian Schweitzer was held in Whitefish’s Grouse Mountain Lodge, an appropriate setting for the dueling politicians’ first shots, seeing as both candidates are Whitefish locals.
So what did viewers learn about the candidates’ stances on policy issues? Unfortunately, not as much as we should have. Brown talked about building the private sector, but didn’t say how he might do it, nor would he offer a strong “yes” or “no” on raising taxes. Schweitzer also was evasive at times. He said he wanted to cut government waste, but failed to provide specific examples; he said he’d like to make large corporations pay their fair share of taxes as opposed to “outsourcing” their tax responsibility, but didn’t cite any measures he would or could take to close loopholes.
Nonetheless, some positions came across loud and clear: Both candidates oppose allowing open alcoholic containers in vehicles; Brown favors continued tax incentives for corporations in Montana, while Schweitzer wants to offer incentives only to those companies who have “decided to call Montana home.” In a strange shift of traditional roles, the Republican favors a sales tax while the Democrat opposes one; Schweitzer wants to leave the coal trust fund untouched, while Brown favors “capping” it. Schweitzer promoted economic growth through value-added products such as furniture or catalytic converters; Brown discussed “unreasonable environmental restraints” on natural resource extraction, saying Montana could extract without damaging the environment—or have its cake and eat it, too…yahoo—despite the fact that the moderator prefaced his question by assuming that extraction and environmental consequences were inseparable.
So, Montanans will definitely have a choice to make come November, and one hopes that some of the questions the candidates refused to answer will continue to resurface until they can no longer be ignored. It’s hard to say who, if anyone, “won” the debate, but there was a certain amount of relief, at least, in knowing that whoever our next governor turns out to be, the shoes these candidates are aiming to fill are encouragingly small.