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The first thing I noticed about the 2022 GOP Platform Convention in Billings last weekend was how it smelled.
It was a striking combination: the standard legislative odor of musty suits dampened by hours sitting in crowded rooms, various colognes and perfumes, passing whiffs of stale cigarette smoke, the smell of rain meeting hot pavement out in the parking lot, all mingled with the aromas wafting out of the convention center kitchen. Mexican food was on the lunch menu during speeches by Gov. Greg Gianforte and others railing against the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
It would be understandable if all that odoriferousness, combined with the barrage of red, white and blue decor, the gleeful Biden-mocking, and the increasing level of red-faced inebriation as the evenings went on, left an observer with the impression that the convention was little more than a circus.
But I contend otherwise. The convention is serious business. Checks to candidates are signed over lite beer in the so-called hospitality suites they rent. Deals are made. Leadership votes are counted. And understanding how all this works goes a long way toward explaining Montana’s dominant political party, and politics writ large.
For one, you learn how issues and candidates build support, and how that support gets taken away.
There’s an interesting lesson in the election integrity language approved by the convention, which embeds in the party platform a directive that counties should hand-count ballots. The seed of that directive — which is not actual law, to be clear — was planted by a pair of resolutions passed by two county central committees in the weeks leading up to the convention.
Those resolutions rejected the results of the 2020 presidential election, called for the creation of a special legislative elections committee, recommended new laws mandating that election machine hardware and software be made available to the public, and more. The language was debated in the convention’s resolutions committee, where it was heavily edited and its more dramatic demands dialed back.
That was enough to dissatisfy just about everyone on the committee, moderate and hard-liner alike. The amended resolution failed 5 to 1.
“So there’s a faction that’s not happy with what happened this morning,” said outgoing state Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell. “They want resolution. It’s a huge faction of our party that are very interested in election integrity. And they just got shot in the foot this morning.”
But then someone realized they could just bring similar language as an amendment to the platform’s election plank. In some ways, that’s even better — while a resolution is just a “letter to Santa,” as Skees put it, a platform plank is a genuine statement of goals.
Next thing you know, despite the vocal objection of some lawmakers, the Montana GOP platform now calls for the hand or mechanical count of all ballots, and for the completion of “any investigations” into the 2020 election.
By a similar process, the platform also now proposes a mechanism to track how lawmakers vote on bills linked to the party platform — the result of a Skees resolution that died in committee on a 3-3 vote and came back to life in the form of a successful plank amendment.
It’s not exactly the most transparent deliberative process on earth, especially since the plank committee meetings were closed to the press. But given the fact that the Legislature made election policy last year by rewriting a campaign finance bill in a free conference committee in the final days of the session without public comment, it probably oughtn’t be much of a surprise. And it leaves open the question, which we’ll be eagerly following in the early months of 2023, whether the Legislature’s elected representatives hew more closely to their party’s platform, or to their citizen constituents — and what distance there may be between the two.
—Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Reporter
“What everyone’s doing now is the finger in the wind to see how many people are really upset about election integrity.”
—Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, to MTFP last weekend on how the GOP’s internal debate over the 2020 election is fitting into the already-brewing contest for legislative leadership positions next year.
As of Friday,
July 22, the Moose Fire is burning 23,620 acres about 20 miles north of Salmon, Idaho. A helicopter working the fire crashed into the Salmon River Thursday and the incident is being investigated.
The Moose Fire burns on both sides of Salmon River Road, close to a popular put-in and take-out spot for floaters on the Salmon. On Thursday, the Salmon-Challis National Forest issued a road closure on a stretch of Salmon River Road.
Smoke from the Moose Fire and the Hog Trough Fire east of Hamilton, now at about 500 acres, tinged southwestern Montana skies and added a sense of urgency to the 2022 fire season this week. This year’s fire season had seemed to be on hold compared to last summer, when nearly 940,000 acres burned in Montana. Only 753 acres have burned so far this summer.
Air quality ratings have remained mostly green (green is good) throughout the state, dropping to “unhealthy” at night in Dillon on Wednesday. The National Weather Service anticipates thunderstorms over the weekend and issued a Red Flag Warning for a chunk of counties in southwestern Montana.
With fires on the horizon, Montana Free Press has compiled an air quality FAQ to point readers to resources and answer some common questions to help you make good decisions about your health and comfort in the darker days of summer.
—Keely Larson, Fire Reporting Intern
Montana Pride has been in full swing in Helena this week, but there’s still a chance to join the celebration with a few major events this weekend. Curious what’s on the docket? Here’s the scoop:
- “Navigating the Genderverse”: Trans Visible Montana hosts a discussion at the Lewis and Clark Library Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. focused on how to broach the subject of sex and gender with the people around you, whether it’s at the office or in your community.
- Tacos and Tassels Burlesque: Montana Pride and Last Call Cabaret sponsor two rounds of burlesque and drag performances Friday at SpaceOneEleven at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., complete with pre-show dinner and drinks. For tickets, head to www.spaceone11.com/.
- 2022 Pride Parade and Rally: Montana Pride’s annual parade kicks off on Last Chance Gulch at 11 a.m. Saturday, leading into the Pride Rally at Anchor Park around noon. The rally’s featured speaker lineup is expected to include Montana Pride President Kev Hamm, Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, and the Montana House of Representatives’ Democratic minority leader, Kim Abbott.
- Drag Story Hour: Despite recent online threats, Pride is proceeding apace with its Drag Story Hour at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Montana Book Company. The family-friendly event features children’s book readings by drag performers, and is a regular fixture of Pride celebrations here in Montana and across the country.
- Once More With Glitz: Montana Pride closes out the week with a street drag show and dance party in downtown Helena, starting at 7 p.m. Saturday and continuing “till the sun goes down.”
—Alex Sakariassen, Reporter
Wildlife Watch 🦌
During the 2021 license year, the last year for which full data is available, at least 66 domestic and wild animals were caught in traps set for other animals, according to material Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks provided to the Legislature’s Environmental Quality Council Tuesday.
Thirteen animals died or had to be euthanized due to their injuries, including seven mountain lions, five deer and one bald eagle. Thirty-five domestic dogs were caught in foothold traps or snares, most of which were released in “good” condition or with a “minor injury,” according to the data. Two grizzly bears were captured in foothold traps set for coyotes in the Rogers Pass area and were reportedly released with “minor injury.”
The data, which includes incidental captures reported between March 1, 2021 and Feb. 28, 2022, represents a decline from the 2020 license year, when 86 non-target animals were caught in traps.
One public commenter, Jonathan Haufler of Seeley Lake, described the data as “woefully inadequate” due to differences in how state agencies deal with licensing and reporting. The Department of Livestock oversees the trapping of coyotes and foxes, and doesn’t require trappers targeting those species to be licensed, follow setback requirements, or report incidental captures.
“This is a significant gap in the regulation of trapping in the state, and it needs to be addressed legislatively,” Haufler told the council.
—Amanda Eggert, Reporter
By the Numbers 🔢
Price of a 4-day elk-hunting package for up to four hunters on 450 private acres near Hardin, as listed on LandTrust.com, a Bozeman-based Airbnb-style brokerage for ranchland access.
On Our Radar
Amanda — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently released a guidebook to the Lower Yellowstone River complete with maps, a primer on Montana’s Stream Access Law, and information on the region’s history, wildlife and fisheries. The guide is available for free at local sporting goods stores and FWP offices and can also be downloaded as a PDF. It’s part of a larger effort to expand recreational opportunity and tourism along the eastern Montana stretch of the Yellowstone.
Eric — The U.S. Postal Service office in Bozeman is struggling with staffing shortages to the point that as much of five days’ worth of mail awaiting delivery has piled up there, reports Montana-based Newsy correspondent Maritsa Georgiou.
Alex — Montana’s not the only place in the western hemisphere mired in an ongoing debate over election integrity. And I’m not talking about Texas, Arizona or Michigan. Down in Brazil, politicians and election officials are growing increasingly critical of Trump-allied President Jair Bolsonaro’s unfounded attacks on the country’s election process, with some denouncing his statements as “unacceptable electoral denialism.”
Mara — For a great article, adapted from a longer podcast episode, that helps you see the world from behind the wheel of someone else’s vehicle, check out this NPR story about female truck drivers and how they’re making a space for themselves in the industry.
Arren — The Christian Post had the story this week on police reports filed against Sidney pastor and right-wing publisher JD Hall alleging domestic violence and embezzlement on top of existing allegations of drug abuse. Important note: no charges have been filed, as the claims are still under investigation. Hall is now in his home state of Missouri, church officials told the Christian Post.
Brad — You can hardly open a tab these days without finding another story about the housing crisis and what might be done about it. But Henry Grabar at Slate this week turned the genre into a fascinating history of previous generations’ admittedly limited response to certain slices of the housing pie: live in a hotel.
*Some articles may be behind a paywall.