Fighting for Montanans? 

Not when they care more about winning than justice

Montana's political theater is awash in hypocrisy and contradiction right now, with Democrats and Republicans claiming they're fighting for Montanans. But that fight is selective, especially when it comes to federal intervention in medical marijuana, gay rights and UM campus rapes.

Those who have been around Montana awhile might recall the Sagebrush Rebellion of the '80s, which was staged primarily by extractors of resources from public lands who dubbed themselves "producers." When the federal government decided the pace at which they were destroying the land, water and air was unsustainable, the resource extractors figured their best shot at continuing their largely free ride on the public's shared natural legacy was to openly defy the feds.

Three decades later, in a near vacuum of progressive policy, Montanans are witnessing similar sentiments as candidates pander for votes in the upcoming elections.

Take Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democratic candidate for governor whose campaign theme is fighting the federal government to preserve Montana's century old Anti-Corruption Act, the law that fell victim to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, in which corporations were said to have the same rights as humans when it comes to campaign expenditures.

Bullock would have us believe he's snarling at the feds to save our future. But that requires a selective memory. A year ago, federal drug enforcement agencies conducted sweeping raids on Montana's medical marijuana providers after the Obama administration had as much as said that those states in which the citizens voted to legalize medical marijuana would not be targets for federal interdiction. Bad enough that Barack Obama deceived us; far worse that Bullock stood by while the lives and businesses of dozens of Montanans were destroyed, not to mention the well being of the thousands of Montanans who needed the medicinal marijuana they grew.

The silence from Bullock's office was deafening—and still is. The right-wing Republicans who dominated the Montana legislature, however, virtually cheered as this category of "producers" was decimated. Apparently both Bullock and the Republicans forgot that the initiative to legalize medical marijuana garnered more votes than any politician from either party in the election in which it became law in Montana.

Last week, Bullock further alienated potential supporters by joining Republicans in rejecting the idea of giving gay Montanans equal rights, raising the ire of thousands of gay, lesbian and transgender Montanans and again revealing that Bullock's fight for Montanans is apparently only for certain Montanans.

Not to be outdone, Gov. Brian Schweitzer declared that "Montana is not for sale" while joining Bullock to sign an initiative that would ensconce Montana's anti-corruption law in the state constitution. Not for sale? Since his first day in office, Schweitzer has been Montana's P.T. Barnum, flying around the nation and the world offering anything and everything that can possibly be extracted from Montana for sale to anyone interested in purchasing it. Millions of tons of coal? Absolutely for sale—and not to the highest bidder, but for prices so low that even the feds wouldn't lease coal so cheaply. Oil and gas? Why, step right up and take your shot at the Bakken Formation—drill it, dump it, flare it off and pump the waste back into the ground with virtually no interference from state regulators.

Or how about last week's announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that it was investigating the handling of 80 reported rapes in Missoula in the last three years? It follows a review by former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz, who was hired by UM and concluded that the university "has a problem of sexual assault on and off campus."

Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, calls the investigation "a difficult situation but a necessary situation." Not only are the 80 reported rapes being investigated, but the U.S. Department of Education is investigating a separate complaint filed in January that alleges harassment by members of the Grizzlies football team.

To their credit, Missoula's mayor, John Engen, and police chief, Mark Muir, joined UM President Royce Engstrom in pledging full cooperation with the investigation. But Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg vociferously denied any wrongdoing and then went after the federal officials, claiming the investigation "undermines the dedicated hard work prosecutors are doing across America to fight crime."

Apparently, Van Valkenburg, a Democrat who went all the way across the state to find a legislator to sponsor a bill to overturn Missoula's ordinance giving lowest law-enforcement priority to marijuana possession, has his own definition of fighting crime. If you're a woman who's been gang-raped, there might not be enough evidence to pursue your allegations. Got a joint in your pocket, though, and you're going to jail.

Republicans are dancing in the streets to see Democrats so selflessly fighting for Montanans by embracing right-wing ideologies. It gives Republicans a perfect opportunity to move even further right in order to distinguish themselves from the hapless Democrats.

We're asked to choose between the two parties in November. But in truth, our choice will be between the lesser of two weasels.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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