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Hectic in Helena
The 63rd Montana Legislature convened in Helena at the beginning of the year with many holding out hope that this year would prove less partisan than 2011. Not two days in, more than 100 Native American activists with the Canadian-born movement Idle No More were protesting outside the Capitol in support of a host of social-justice issues. Within a month Montanans were seeing some familiar battles being waged across the aisle, from aid in dying to parental consent for minors seeking abortions. And the bill that got the most early attention? It legalized salvaging roadkill.
While not nearly as dysfunctional as 2011, the 2013 legislative session did find itself bogged down in entrenched partisanship. Republicans successfully pushed a measure attacking same-day voter registration through both the House and Senate, only to see Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock veto it. Democrats tried hard to expand Medicaid coverage to poor and uninsured Montanans, but House Republicans proved too powerful. The GOP even suffered from rampant infighting within its own caucus, an ideological split that carried beyond the session.
In the end, one of the most high-profile symbols of bipartisanship came in the form of a bill cracking down on dark money, crafted by Bullock and Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo. It passed the Republican-controlled Senate, but the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, promptly killed it.
An unlikely ally
Nobody, not even Republican Rep. Duane Ankney himself, anticipated his emotional April 9 testimony on the floor of the House of Representatives. The retired coal miner from Colstrip choked up when talking about why lawmakers should repeal a portion of the state’s deviate sexual conduct code, which classified gay sex as a crime akin to bestiality.
“I didn’t think about TV cameras, I didn’t think about a goddamn thing like that,” Ankney told the Independent. He simply thought, “Enough is enough.”
In 1997, the Montana Supreme Court found unconstitutional a state statute that made gay sex a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Despite the ruling, Republican lawmakers shot down attempts by gay rights activists to scrub the law from the books during nearly every legislative session that followed.
The activists’ persistence finally paid off this year, when Missoula Democratic Sen. Tom Facey’s Senate Bill 107, which sought to remove the homosexual acts portion of the state’s deviate sexual conduct law, passed both chambers of the legislature. It was Ankney who helped it through the House when he broke from his Republican colleagues and spoke in favor of SB 107 on the House floor. His voice cracked as he explained that his daughter is a lesbian. “To say she is any less of a person, or she is a criminal for her lifestyle, really upsets me. And for anybody that would feel that way—upsets me,” Ankney said, pointing at the other lawmakers. “I don’t think God thinks any less of my daughter than he does of any one of you in here.”
Nine days later, Gov. Bullock signed the bill inside the Capitol rotunda. At a celebration that followed, partygoers wore Duane Ankney T-shirts, portraying an image of the Republican with his ever-present wide-brimmed hat and walrus mustache.
All politics is local
On the local level, voters ushered in a new crop of progressive representation to the Missoula City Council on Election Day. First-time candidates Bryan von Lossberg, Jordan Hess, Emily Brock Bentley and Annelise Noelle Hedahl—all of whom were endorsed by the Missoula Democratic Party—won their races. Incumbents Marilyn Marler and Jon Wilkins also retained their seats, as did popular Mayor John Engen, who faced challengers on the ballot for the first time since 2005.
The current council finished an eventful year by passing a controversial ban on sitting, sleeping, lying and panhandling on city streets. That ordinance followed a drawn-out debate on handling accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. The next council will face a similar range of local issues, none bigger than Engen’s pledge to purchase Mountain Water Co.
The most contested race of this year’s local elections involved the battle for Municipal Court judge. Incumbent Kathleen Jenks took 45 percent of the vote to Mark McLaverty’s 41 percent. A third challenger, Leta Womack, garnered 14 percent.
Voters also supported the Missoula Urban Transportation District Levy to generate $1.7 million annually through an increase on property taxes. The money will be used to beef up bus service, which left Mountain Line Executive Director Michael Tree excited on Election Night. “The ridership is going to go berserk,” he said.