Poetic politics 

Roses are red, violets are blue, not all state senators voted for Senate Bill 69 to go through. The bill, which creates the honorary, unpaid post of Montana state poet laureate, was sponsored by Sen. John Cobb, R-Augusta, and co-sponsored by Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, R-Glasgow. Cobb and Kitzenberg are two of the 44 votes that approved SB 69 Jan. 18; the bill now moves on to the House for approval, and, if implemented, will result in Montana’s first two-year state poet laureate appointment by August 2005.

In a state known for its literary legacies, such an honorary, unpaid post might seem more natural than controversial. Six senators, though, voted against its creation.

“I nearly always vote against bills that I think don’t do anything substantial,” says Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, of his decision to say nay to SB 69. Shepherding a bill through the system costs more than $2,000, he says, and “it will commit resources down the road. Someone has to evaluate who the poets are and their poems. Why not take that energy and solve a problem of someone who doesn’t have a home or money for their heating bill? Why direct it at something that is all right to do, but that the private sector could go ahead and figure out a way to do?”

Sen. Jerry O’Neil, R-Columbia Falls, sees Esp’s point. “I don’t think the government is needed to have a program to [appoint a poet laureate],” he says. The bill calls for the Montana Arts Council to nominate three potential candidates to the governor, who then selects one poet to hold the post for two years. But as O’Neil says, the Arts Council could just as easily appoint the post. For that matter, he adds, “the Missoula Independent could probably nominate an artist rather than the governor.”

Not every senator’s “nay” was cast as firmly, however. Sen. Kelly Gebhardt, R-Roundup, voted against SB 69 in its second reading, but voted for it in the third, decisive reading. He says he has no problem with the bill and voted against it in the second reading “just to give Cobb a bad time…but then they locked the vote before I could switch it.”

Anyone have a rhyme for flip-flopper?

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