Friday, June 23, 2017

Have you seen our new live-action Street Talk?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 12:29 PM

For this week's paper we sent reporter Michael Siebert to find out what's going on in Bonner, where a company called Project Spokane is slated to receive $416,000 in state grant money to expand a data center that's supposed to bring 65 new jobs to the old mill site.

What does Project Spokane do? According to the grant application, "blockchain security services."

What are blockchain security services? It has something to do with bitcoin.

What is (are?) bitcoin? Michael's article does a pretty good job of explaining that, but we admit to being largely in the dark before Michael clued us in. Which made us wonder whether we're just a little slow, or if other people aren't quite up to speed on the peer-to-peer digital currency front, either.

So we went to Imagine Nation Brewing and asked around.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

City cuts a check, takes ownership of Missoula's water system

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 5:09 PM

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Today, Missoula city government cut an $83,863,336 check to Mountain Water, and another for $6.8 million to pay contractors for unpaid work, and finally took ownership of the water system, henceforth to be called Missoula Water.

The checks were delivered Thursday morning in Missoula County District Court District, followed by judge Karen Townsend's issuance of a final order of condemnation.

"You're now drinking city water," the Missoula Chamber of Commerce wrote on Twitter.

The order concludes an expensive, years-long legal battle in which the city sought to force the sale of the utility by arguing that municipally owned water is in the public's best interest.

Mayor John Engen, who led the effort, posted a note about Thursday's order to his reelection campaign Facebook page, along with a photo of the new municipal water division logo:
"Today Missoula joins the rest of Montana's cities in owning our own water system. From this day forward, your hard earned dollars will stay local and be re-invested in water system infrastructure rather than boosting profit sheets of a Canadian company. We are grateful for your support during this fight and applaud this monumental victory for our city."

The Montana Public Service Commission, which regulated Mountain Water, also issued a statement on the transfer, taking a jab at one aspect of city leaders' claim that public ownership will keep water fees out of private hands.

The city has announced it will issue at least $110 million and up to $140 million in bonds to cover these costs. It has not publicly disclosed the interest rate it will pay on the debt. However, the total return due to the bondholders will exceed the return that Mountain Water is paid on the $36 million rate base while it was privately owned.
“The city will own the utility in name, but is financing its large purchase entirely through private bond investors. It’s a little ironic that, at the end of the day, Missoula consumers will pay more to private investors under city ownership than it did when the utility was officially owned directly by private investors,” said Vice-Chairman Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls.
A web page on the city's website offers general information for customers during the ownership transition, including the new phone number—552-6700—and customer service e-mail address: watercs@ci.missoula.mt.us.

Engen is scheduled to address the utility's employees on Friday.

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Zinke announces final delisting rule for Yellowstone grizzlies

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 5:03 PM

The question that has plagued every conversation about Yellowstone grizzlies for well over a year was finally answered today. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke declared the species officially recovered. The announcement came alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s publication of its final rule lifting Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a move that shifts management of the iconic bruins to state and tribal hands.
A Yellowstone grizzly on the run. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • A Yellowstone grizzly on the run.

“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming and very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region," Zinke said in a statement. "This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners. As a Montanan, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

FWS first published its proposed delisting rule in May 2016, and that development came as little surprise, given the signals broadcasted by various agencies months earlier. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks drafted its own management strategy for the bears last year, including the controversial consideration of trophy hunts, in anticipation of a final rule.

News of Zinke’s declaration didn’t go over very well in conservation circles. Though some in the environmental community have been split over whether the timing is right for delisting, scores of tribal nations and the majority of conservation organizations have come out strongly against the hunting of grizzlies under state management. Several have vowed to oppose Zinke’s decision in court, and others have hinted at the possibility of pushback.

"The ongoing recovery of Yellowstone grizzly bears is an undeniable example of how the ESA can bring a species back from the brink,” Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement. “However, we are concerned over how grizzly bears and their habitat will be managed after delisting. We cannot allow the decades of work and investment to save these bears go down the drain. Defenders of Wildlife is going through the delisting rule with a fine-toothed comb, and we will hold federal and state wildlife and land management agencies accountable for strong stewardship and management of grizzly bears and their habitat post delisting.”

The nonprofits WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center revealed plans to challenge the decision in court. Representatives from both organizations issued this joint statement:

The Service’s decision today flouts the letter and intent of the Endangered Species Act, ignores the best available science, and undermines the recovery of this cherished species as a whole. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain threatened by dwindling food sources, illegal poaching and record-high mortality rates, genetic stress from a lack of connectivity to neighboring sub-populations, and the burgeoning threats of climate change. It is essential for the recovery of grizzly bears as a species throughout the lower 48 that the GYE bears disperse into neighboring sub-populations and still unreclaimed habitats. Now is not the time to strip these bears of vital federal protections.

This isn’t the first time FWS has delisted Yellowstone grizzlies. Earthjustice sued to overturn the agency’s previous delisting decision in 2007, and the group won its case before the 9th Circuit in 2011. Earthjustice today released the following response from spokesman and attorney Tim Preso:

The grizzly is an iconic symbol of wildness, and the Yellowstone area is one of the last places in the lower 48 states where we can still see a grizzly in the wild. The government’s campaign to remove protections provided by the Endangered Species Act overlooked important conservation issues and denied public comment on key points. We will closely examine this decision, and are prepared to defend the grizzly if necessary.

We'll keep an eye out for more responses, and report developments as they occur in the coming days.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Engstrom to earn $119K next year as UM professor

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 12:26 PM

Royce Engstrom will return to teach at the University of Montana next fall as the third-highest-paid professor in the chemistry department.

The university announced Friday that Engstrom will earn $119,106 as a full, tenured professor teaching two courses this fall, which is considered a full teaching load.

Salary information for individual UM faculty members is not readily accessible, but Engstrom's compensation is about $10,000 above the average salary among current tenured chemistry professors at UM, says Kevin McRae, the state university system's deputy commissioner for human resources.

The highest paid professors in the department earn $137,000 and $135,000, McRae says. Chemistry department chair Chris Palmer did not immediately return a call for comment.

Engstrom resigned under pressure from Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian in December 2016, as UM's enrollment drop showed no signs of slowing.

Though pushed out of the presidency, Engstrom retained rights to his concurrent faculty appointment. His will be paid the remainder of his $309,000 president's contract through June 30.

PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
This fall will be the first time Engstrom is teaching at UM solely as a faculty member without an administrative role. He joined the university as provost in 2007 after 28 years at the University of South Dakota, where he was a chemistry professor and eventually an administrator. Upon joining UM as provost, Engstrom was also awarded a tenured faculty appointment, which is common for university deans and administrators.

He has 20 years of teaching experience, according to a Friday press release.

McRae says Engstrom and Christian did not discuss his return to teaching at the time of his resignation, but that Engstrom later expressed interest.

The salary was negotiated in accordance with the University Faculty Association collective bargaining agreement, which states that administrators who enter the bargaining unit must be award salaries that are "comparable to members ... with similar credentials and years of experience."

Given the necessity of a salary analysis, the state higher ed office was involved with the negotiation, McRae says. McRae could not recall if UM officials requested the state's assistance. Because Engstrom was already tenured, the university could not deny his return to professorship without cause.

Earlier this week, UM announced that it was extending a second set of buyout offers to tenured faculty between ages 60-64. The buyouts are part of an effort to cut costs in response to the enrollment decline that occurred under Engstrom's watch. Engstrom, who was 57 when named president in 2010, is within that age range. But UM Associate Vice President for Human Resources Terri Phillips says Engstrom is not eligible to take part in that particular buyout offer because his faculty contract does not begin until the fall, while the current incentives are aimed at employees with existing contracts.

For that reason, McRae says Engstrom was not offered any incentive to resign his faculty post, rather than return to teach.

"We are treating similarly situated employees similarly," he says.

Engstrom will teach two 100-level courses: Preparation for Chemistry and an honors seminar titled Ways of Knowing.

"Mary and I love the University of Montana and we love Missoula," Engstrom said in the release, referencing his wife. "We’re happy to stay here and continue to make Missoula our home.”

Engstrom delivered the commencement address at the University of South Dakota last month, according to the release.

Engstrom did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Big Sky students want to change the conversation about climate change

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 10:44 AM

Bill McKibben
  • Bill McKibben
In the days since Bradie Matt graduated from Big Sky High School, plenty of people have asked her whether she’s using her newfound free time to sleep until noon. “No,” she tells them. “I have things to do.”

Matt is a member of the student group Free Us from Climate Chaos, and she and a few other students and recent graduates had been at the school since 8 a.m. on Tuesday, June 6. They were capping a year’s worth of organizing for Bring Your Own Brain: A Symposium to Free Us from Climate Chaos.

The symposium starts today and runs through the 16th in UM’s Phyllis J. Washington Education Building, and will feature speakers Kate Raworth, economist and author of Doughnut Economics, and Bill McKibben, leader of the renewable energy campaign 350.org, among others. It will focus not just on climate change, but on what these students say is the root of the issue: capitalism.

“Why have other climate movements failed?” asks Henrik Eriksson, a junior exchange student from Sweden. “They treat symptoms instead of the cause. … Perpetual growth in a finite system is impossible.”

Free Us from Climate Chaos began in the summer of 2016, and since then up to 30 students have gathered in Spanish teacher Jay Bostrom’s Big Sky classroom almost every Sunday night. Surrounded by walls decorated with Latin American soccer team scarves and under the watchful eye of a Che Guevara poster, the students discuss readings and listen to occasional guest speakers. The academic nature of the meetings make them feel almost like an additional class, but it’s wholly extracurricular and driven by the interests of the students. Bostrom makes it clear that this is not his show.

Rather, it was started and organized by students who are frustrated with the lack of change and concerned about the way climate change will affect their futures. Everett Bayer, the group’s spokesperson and a 2017 Big Sky graduate, stood in front of the marchers at Missoula’s March for Science in April and called the last 35 years of climate activism “a monstrous failure.”

“If your demands are ignored, as they are always ignored, what are you prepared to do to defend our futures?” Bayer asked the crowd.

The idea is that market-based solutions to environmental problems, like the cap-and-trade approach, or incentivising renewable energy, are not enough, because the level of consumption that a capitalist economy relies on is inherently unsustainable.

While the audience at the March for Science was receptive, that message doesn’t always ingratiate the students with other environmentalists, and the group has been received with skepticism by some people who want to do something about climate change, but don’t believe that the economic system is to blame. Eriksson recalls handing out fliers for the event at Missoula’s farmers market and being confronted by people who disagree with symposium speaker Raworth’s views. His response was simply to invite them to the symposium and into the discussion.

There has been occasional name-calling—“communists” or, more creatively, “economic heretics”—but it doesn’t bother them. They’ve spent “countless hours fine-tuning their critique,” Bayer says. And ultimately, including the words “critique capitalism” in the group’s press release serves to get people fired up, which is exactly what they want.
“If we were going to sugarcoat things and dance around the problem, we wouldn’t start a conversation,” Matt says.

The students acknowledge that they don’t have the solution. They just want to spark critical thinking, and that includes questioning the economic and political status quo.
The University of Montana donated the use of its education building, and grants from the university and Missoula County Public Schools and a few donations from local individuals allowed them to secure speakers from around North America. Other speakers will appear via Skype. A schedule can be found at freeusfromclimatechaos.org.

Bayer says he doesn’t know if Free Us from Climate Chaos will continue next year, after most of its leaders graduate. But regardless, he says, the whole point was to create a forum for the discussion of complicated issues. If symposium attendees and other Big Sky students learn how to continue the conversation, that will be enough of a legacy for him.

Watch a livestream of Bring Your Own Brain: A Symposium to Free Us from Climate Chaos.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Conservatives aren't going to be thrilled about Gianforte’s $50,000 donation to press freedom group

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 10:53 AM

Greg Gianforte isn't doing his re-election bid any favors.

The congressman-elect acknowledged his “unlawful” conduct in a letter Wednesday to the reporter he is accused of body-slamming last month, part of a settlement with The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs that shields Gianforte from a civil lawsuit and, paradoxically, sets the stage for him to resolve the pending criminal charge without pleading guilty.

In accepting the deal, Jacobs can’t object if Gianforte pleads “no contest” to his misdemeanor assault charge in Gallatin County Justice Court, a type of plea whereby the defendant neither disputes the facts of the case nor admits guilt. In addition to his written apology, Gianforte will donate $50,000 to the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists. (Jacobs will not receive any money.)

“I had no right to respond the way I did to your legitimate question about healthcare policy,” Gianforte’s letter states. “You were doing your job.”

The Guardian first reported the settlement late Wednesday, and Gianforte’s team provided additional details to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and other Montana media outlets.

Gianforte’s letter also acknowledges, somewhat obliquely, that the first statement his campaign issued about the incident on the eve of the May 25 special election contained false information. Before the polls closed, the campaign responded to Jacobs' account by claiming that the reporter had grabbed Gianforte’s wrist and spun both men to the ground. The campaign blamed “this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for disrupting a barbecue for volunteers.

“Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you,” Gianforte wrote Wednesday.

The letter goes on to describe the “critical role” of journalists in society, calling First Amendment press protections “fundamental to who we are as a nation.”

It’s those boilerplate sentiments about the media, even more than Gianforte’s violence or his campaign’s lies, that are bound to make party leaders wince. Gianforte is now in the awkward position of apologizing to a member of the press just as Republican strategists are seeking to ramp up rhetorical attacks on the media as a strategy for electoral success.
Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter. - PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • Photo by Derek Brouwer
  • Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter.
On June 2, the same day Gianforte filed paperwork for his 2018 reelection campaign, McClatchy newspapers' D.C. bureau reported that GOP officials across the country hope to turn next year’s midterm races into a referendum on the media, instead of on President Donald Trump.

“That means embracing conflict with local and national journalists, taking them on to show Republicans voters that they, just like the president, are battling a biased press corps out to destroy them,” the paper reported.

GOP strategists pointed to the fact that voters and conservative commentators stood by Gianforte—and followed his initial cue in criticizing Jacobs—as proof of how deeply the party's base distrusts media. In Montana, state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, posted a Facebook status after Gianforte’s body slam saying she’s noticed a “definite trend in agitator tactics being used by liberal operatives acting as reporters” and has experienced the phenomenon herself.

But Gianforte will have a harder time casting himself as a victim of the biased press after admitting to his own “unlawful” assault—and giving $50,000 to an organization whose mission is to "defend the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal."

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Five questions for Michael Workman about From Parts Unknown

Posted By on Sat, Jun 3, 2017 at 4:27 PM

wrestling.jpg

In his upcoming documentary, Missoula filmmaker Michael Workman follows a group of Spokane's independent backyard wrestlers. The main focus of the story is Jesse Lawson, the founder of Spokane Anarchy Wrestling, who uses his wrestling character, "Madman," as one way to cope with PTSD and depression. It's a story about violence and camaraderie, performance art and nostalgia.

Workman is the program coordinator for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, and an artist who often explores violence, purpose and American dreams through the lens of commercialism and absurdity. The wrestling documentary, From Parts Unknown, is a project two years in the making, and the film's Kickstarter campaign comes to a close at the end of the day Monday.

What is this film about?
Michael Workman: From Parts Unknown follows Jesse "Madman" Manson, a wrestler who expresses his pain and trauma through wrestling. It's a look into how class frustrations of post-industrial America are expressed via professional wrestling. It examines the need for recognition, the allure of violence, and how self-expression in all forms creates purpose.

This project was initially supposed to be a fictional film about wrestling, right? What’s your interested in the subject matter?
MW: It was originally suppose to be a fiction film, but once I started meeting the wrestlers I realized their stories were more interesting and compelling than something I could write. I was interested in professional wrestling because it is really a form of artistic expression for marginalized working-class people. The storylines that play out in the ring reflect the fantasies and frustrations of the people who watch them.

At what point did you know this needed to be nonfiction—was there a particular moment for you?
MW: We knew this needed to be a documentary when one of our main characters first opened up to us, and we knew that we could get beyond the surface of wrestling and into something deeper.

What was your first impression of these backyard wrestlers, and how did your view of them change over the course of filming.
MW: Our first impression of Spokane Anarchy Wrestling was intense. Our first shoot was in December of 2015, and we really did not know what to expect. We were thrown backstage following one of the wrestlers who ended up spraying a fire extinguisher at his opponent, then was slid down the bar on his belly like a cartoon character, and finally was concussed with a broken nose when his opponent messed up a "super kick" that actually hit his face. We were all in shock from that night. It was by far the most over-the-top brutal day of shooting. From then on it was much less chaotic and no one was seriously injured.

How did the wrestlers first respond to you, and how did you get them to open up about what they do?
MW: Most of the wrestlers were pretty open to the idea of a documentary crew filming them. We found our main characters about six months after our first shoot because they were the most introspective and open people. I believe that good documentarians that work in observational cinema need to develop real meaningful relationships with the people in their films, because that is truly the only way for someone to feel comfortable enough to open up to you. After filming periodically for a year with someone, you really get to know them on a personal level, and they feel comfortable telling you things they would not tell most people.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Inside Gianforte’s election night party, or: How Montana Republicans learned to stop worrying and love the ‘body slam’

Posted By on Sat, May 27, 2017 at 8:55 AM

Finally, the curtain at stage-right was pulled open and Greg Gianforte showed his face to supporters. It was just before 11 p.m. on election night at Bozeman's Hilton Garden Inn. Gianforte had been on lockdown since he'd tackled a reporter at a barbecue for campaign volunteers the day before. Now, with the polls closed and returns showing a comfortable, six-point victory, Gianforte was the man of the hour. He and his wife, Susan, strode onstage to claim a hard-fought seat in Congress.

"Greg! Greg!" the crowd chanted.

The surreal celebration was reaching its climax. A ballroom filled with ecstatic supporters, party insiders and journalists had their eyes on the man who had just accomplished a most remarkable, if unsettling, political feat: Gianforte managed to receive a citation for assault and win a congressional election in a 24-hour period.

It should have been more awkward. Gianforte's election-eve outburst was a national scandal, an apparent manifestation of the GOP's (so far mostly) rhetorical war against the "liberal media." The episode also put Gianforte on eggshells within the party. Republican PACs had already dumped a whopping $5.6 million into the 85-day race, only to have their frontrunner trip at the finish line. Thursday morning, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called on Gianforte to apologize, but said he would respect the will of Montana voters should they elect him anyway.
Montana GOP chair Jeff Essmann gives an interview with a TV reporter during Greg Gianforte's election night party. - PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • Photo by Derek Brouwer
  • Montana GOP chair Jeff Essmann gives an interview with a TV reporter during Greg Gianforte's election night party.
Ryan and other Republicans were pretty sure voters would do just that. By the time of the alleged assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, three-quarters of absentee ballots had already been returned. Though the race was closer than it could have been heading into election day—Gianforte was already "the definition of a flawed candidate," Congressional Leadership Fund executive director Corry Bliss told The Hill on Thursday—the race wasn't as close as readers of any number of national publications may have thought. Rob Quist's easily caricatured Bernie-Sanders-in-a-cowboy-hat persona, combined with Gianforte's recent loss in Montana's governor's race during a GOP landslide year and a sense that the special election might serve as a national bellwether on the Trump presidency, prompted plenty of hype (and hot air) about the Democrat's chances. Rolling Stone argued that Quist "has a shot to win" because he was building a base among rural voters. The Nation asked, "Can Rob Quist's Full-Throated Populism Win Back Rural America?" And liberal Montana blogger Don Pogreba penned an essay for Politico Magazine suggesting that the musician could "redraw Montana's electoral map."

They were all wrong. Quist didn't turn a single red county blue, and he lost two counties where Gov. Steve Bullock beat Gianforte last November. Montana GOP chairman Jeff Essmann knew the race was won as he strolled into the Hilton, when initial returns were just rolling in. Gianforte was ahead of his campaign's targets for absentee balloting, he said, so barring a catastrophe with election day voters, his candidate would win comfortably.

Pundits nationwide surmised that Gianforte's assault of a reporter—captured on damning audio—might lead to such a catastrophe, but at no point was anyone at Gianforte's celebration worried. Whatever drama might be swirling outside, the ballroom in Bozeman was jubilant. For good reason, Essmann said.

"Events can always overtake you in politics," he said. "You know, it certainly was an event. The great thing was people still turned out today to do the door-to-door work, to make the phone calls, and by early afternoon we figured out [voters] were going to hold."

Gianforte's election day brought no ballot-booth photo op, no voter meet-and-greets, and definitely no taking of questions about the Congressional Budget Office's score of the House health care bill, like the one Jacobs had asked. Gianforte was in hiding. Yet his supporters proceeded as if nothing was out of the ordinary. They munched on hors d'oeuvres, drank alcohol and chatted with the more than two dozen reporters, photographers and television crews who squeezed into the ballroom. Media were given "commemorative" press passes with the date and Gianforte's logo on the back. A volunteer suggested getting it autographed later.

The grand old party was having a grand old time in Bozeman.

Casting a ballot for any politician can be an exercise in cognitive dissonance, but the mental gymnastics required to toast a candidate the day after he's been charged with a violent crime are more elaborate still. Gianforte's supporters at the Hilton mustered at least four different rationales for Gianforte's snap: question the witnesses, blame the victim, invoke "Montana justice," or chalk it up to stress.

Daron Olson, a 32-year-old supporter from Billings, offered a combination of all four, saying he could sympathize with Gianforte, even though he thinks the candidate acted improperly.

"You know, for me, I think it's great fodder for national media, I think it's great fodder for the extremists in our electorate. ... I hate to say the word 'normal,' because it's not normal—violence isn't normal for us—but 'fed up' is. I think for some of us in Montana and a greater slice of America, we're just fed up," Olson said.

"I heard a great analogy earlier today," he continued. "It's like a mother who loves her children, but day in and day out, guess what those children are doing. They're tugging mom on her leg, they're constantly in her face, they're constantly pushing and prodding and, man, I can relate to a constant pressure, where there is a breaking point. And I don't fault Greg for that. I don't endorse the sort of action that he took, however, I can relate."

Olson said he wasn't sure if Gianforte needed to apologize because he didn’t know "the complete situation."

Essmann, the state party chair, was even more reluctant to condemn his candidate's action. He said, rather, that some voters seemed to be responding positively to the incident because it showed Gianforte's "human side."

"We all have failings. Nobody goes through life without making a mistake," he said.
Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter. - PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • Photo by Derek Brouwer
  • Greg Gianforte gives his victory speech May 25 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, a day after being charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter.
Asked if he thought Gianforte made a mistake in knocking a reporter to the floor and hitting him, Essmann compared the incident to a bar fight. "Well, you know, it's difficult to have somebody get into your face. Anybody who's spent an hour in a Montana bar on a Friday night knows the quickest way to provoke a reaction is to get into somebody's face," Essmann said. "Gianforte is an adult. I expect him to be a great leader and do the right thing."

The tone after the polls closed was markedly different from the one taken by the Gianforte campaign as the situation was still developing. In the first hours after the incident, spokesman Shane Scanlon issued a statement accusing Jacobs, the reporter, of aggressively shoving a recorder in the candidate's face and "asking badgering questions." He claimed Jacobs grabbed Gianforte's wrist and spun them both to the ground. "It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ," Scanlon wrote.

Key elements of the statement were contradicted by testimony from four witnesses, as well as audio of the encounter, but the statement fueled stories on right-wing websites. Big Sky Headlines, run by Montana GOP operative Jake Eaton, published an article Thursday night titled "Reporter assaults Gianforte at interview" (the article was later removed without explanation).

But Speaker Ryan's call for an apology, followed by similar advice from Montana's top Republican (and former Gianforte employee) Steve Daines all but ensured that Gianforte would address what had immediately been shorthanded as "the body slam" during his victory speech.

The apology came midway through, dovetailing out of a bit about "hard lessons" and the "hard work" needed to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. Gianforte's apology was direct and personal, and addressed Jacobs by name. He delivered it well, shushing the crowd when they began to laugh. "When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it," Gianforte said. "That's the Montana way."

"Amen!" his supporters replied.

Gianforte didn't explain why his campaign had tried to blame Jacobs the night before, or why he had waited until the polls closed to take responsibility. That didn't matter to the party faithful, including Robert Crumley, a 21-year-old from Georgia who came to Montana to volunteer for the campaign. Crumley's analysis, after making calls and knocking on doors earlier in the day, was that voters in the state are proud to have a representative who is willing to "literally fight for Montana."

As Gianforte spoke, Crumley, in a black suit and bowtie, alternated sips of champagne and bites of pepperoni pizza. When the candidate paused, Crumley yelled out.

"What you did was badass!" he said, and a few others laughed.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

House race takes its most bizarre turn yet with Gianforte’s alleged assault of reporter

Posted By on Thu, May 25, 2017 at 11:02 AM

The race for Montana’s sole U.S. House seat took a House of Cards turn yesterday evening, and it all began with a tweet. A few minutes after 5 p.m., Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs announced on Twitter that “Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses.” The incident took place at the Republican candidate’s Bozeman campaign headquarters, and Jacobs’ claims were supported several hours later with a blow-by-blow account from a Fox News crew that was present during the altercation. According to the story, the crew saw Gianforte slam the reporter to the ground and "watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter."
Greg Gianforte, pictured here during his 2016 gubernatorial race, was charged with misdemeanor assault Wednesday night after an altercation with a reporter. - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN
  • photo by Alex Sakariassen
  • Greg Gianforte, pictured here during his 2016 gubernatorial race, was charged with misdemeanor assault Wednesday night after an altercation with a reporter.

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department cited Gianforte for misdemeanor assault, which carries a maximum penalty of $500 or six months in jail. Gianforte is scheduled to go before a judge by June 7. According to the citation (shared online by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s Whitney Bermes, who earned props from national media outlets for her Twitter coverage last night), Gianforte will have to appear in court in person.

Shortly after Jacobs’ initial tweet, the Guardian posted audio of the confrontation, which started with Jacobs querying Gianforte about the Congressional Budget Office’s report on the American Health Care Act. The 40-second clip escalates quickly, with Gianforte first referring the reporter to campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon. After some scuffling noises, Gianforte can be heard shouting, “I’m sick and tired of you guys.” He then shouts for Jacobs to “get the hell out of here.”

The account from Gianforte’s campaign didn’t quite line up with the contents of the audio, or with the account from the Fox News crew. Scanlon claimed in a statement that Gianforte attempted to grab Jacobs’ phone, at which point Jacobs grabbed Gianforte’s wrist and the two went down. “It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” the statement concluded.

The incident quickly drew national attention, trending strongly on social media and becoming the top thread on Reddit by 9 p.m. Twitter users were either aghast or cracking jokes. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called on Gianforte to drop out of the race. The Missoulian rescinded its endorsement of Gianforte, writing, “He showed Wednesday night that he lacks the experience, brains and abilities to effectively represent Montana in any elected office.” Sen. Steve Daines, a longtime associate of Gianforte’s, tweeted this morning that “Greg Gianforte needs to apologize.”

There’s no telling yet what impact this late development might have on the race's results. Today is Election Day, and it’s possible that even with the front-page nature of Gianforte’s alleged assault, some voters haven’t heard about it yet. Others have already cast their ballots—45 percent of registered voters statewide, to be exact. And though House Speaker Paul Ryan did say this morning that he believes Gianforte should apologize for his actions, he added the whether to send Gianforte to Congress remains up to the people of Montana. Not exactly a condemnation there.

As we wrote in our endorsement of Democrat Rob Quist last week, no one in the Indy newsroom could make an argument in favor of Gianforte. Now you can add temperament to our long list of reservations about his fitness for office. If one reporter doggedly pursuing an answer to a question is enough to make him snap, how can we expect Gianforte to cope in the halls of the United States Capitol?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Buyouts offered to 8 percent of UM full-time faculty

Posted By on Mon, May 22, 2017 at 9:35 AM

Around 50 veteran professors at the University of Montana have been offered early retirement incentives as the university prepares for another round of downsizing.

The figure is substantially lower than the 80-100 buyout target state officials floated in April while securing a $2 million legislative earmark to offset "faculty termination costs." Buyouts alone seem unlikely to achieve the university's overall staff reduction goals.

Offers are limited to full-time, tenured faculty who are at least 65 years old and are already eligible to retire. Of the university's 613 full-time faculty, 48 qualify for the incentive, communications director Paula Short says.

That's about 8 percent of full-time faculty.
PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
Interim President Sheila Stearns acknowledged the program's limited scope in a campus email last week, writing that the university must follow direction from state higher education officials "who have identified the finite financial resources for us to address our long-term financial obligations and the associated fiscal impacts of our current student:faculty ratio."

The plan released May 12 does not target faculty in specific departments, as the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education had previously suggested would be necessary. Such a scenario would have been more contentious on campus.

In addition to standard sick leave payouts, professors who accept the offer will receive a lump sum payment equal to half of their current salary, according to a copy of the letter posted to the university's website. Their employment will end on July 17.

State officials put typical "termination costs" for veteran faculty at $25,000. UM's associate vice president for human resources, Terri Phillips, says she has not calculated the cost if all 48 professors take the incentive. Short says the package was developed with cost in mind.

Eligible faculty must submit a preliminary response to the offer by May 31.

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