Commentary

Montana, just say when …

January 12, 2023 4:25 am

Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana, speaks on the House Floor nominating a Speaker in a viral speech (Courtesy C-SPAN).

I guess the question is really simple: Montana, have we had enough?

Have we had enough of a viral speech by Matt Rosendale, one of our state’s only two representatives in the House, who gave what many characterize as an unhinged-yet-viral speech about the House’s longstanding rules being some kind of conspiracy?

Imagine how ridiculous it would look if a basketball player seemed shocked that there was something called a “foul?” Or a chef arguing it is unfair that you have to boil water to cook pasta?

Rosendale’s little tirade that accused House leaders of trying to muzzle members via parliamentary procedure, while novel, is another instance in a long line of gaffes and strange positions Rosendale has taken, including being one of the few to support Putin’s Russia.

Next, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, Montana’s … ahem … more moderate congressmember, has arrived with what now appears to be his signature western hat, which he wore while being interviewed by CNN.

I suppose we should be thankful that at least this time when Zinke wore his cowboy hat to D.C., it appears he didn’t have it on backwards.

Meanwhile, our state superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction laments the teacher shortage gripping the state, while pushing for what may be legal penalties for any instructor who violates a sexual education law that requires parents to be notified 48 hours in advance about a conversation regarding reproduction, contraception or sexuality.

Good luck trying to time when teenagers bring up the topic of sex.

The state Republicans, which swept to a historic victory in November’s election, have announced the formation of an election integrity committee even though they’re really the biggest winners. While no one is really sure what they’re going to do, the only ones who would have any credibility in this conversation would be Democrats, who were summarily drubbed during the election.

A new state-led “Montana Freedom Caucus” is using Congress as its North Star, modeling itself on the U.S. Congressional Freedom Caucus for those aspiring state lawmakers who would regard Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Marjorie Taylor Greene as luminaries. Among their top goals are preserving personal liberty and medical autonomy while opposing abortion and endorsing book banning, all without a whiff of irony.

We have an attorney general who has used state resources to remind the state’s Supreme Court that he doesn’t have to follow their little rules. And we have state lawmakers who used taxpayer resources to lobby against a high school district that was trying to pass a levy so that it could, in part, not send students to another building just to use the bathroom.

The father of Montana’s Speaker of the House, Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, proposed alternatives to the reservation system throughout America, but suggested no reasonable alternative – or any alternative for that matter. After public outcry and a vow by a Native American senator to require Indian Education for All for all the Legislature, Regier pulled the resolution, saying he didn’t have time for it.

I guess we won’t know if Regier pulled it because he was rightfully shamed, or if he just resented the thought of having to return to the classroom.

Keep in mind that one of the candidates who was vying to replace Rep. Becky Byrd in the Legislature actually posited that Native Americans aren’t really …  Americans – and it kind of seems like some of our leaders may still have some lingering hang-ups with Native Americans, leading them to try to legislate before first understanding anything about the lives our Indigenous brothers and sisters live.

Some may say that all of this has one commonality — being a part of political theater that can be found in both parties. But if that’s the case, when does the performance end and the real-life work begin?

As details of the Republicans’ backroom dealings are reported, we’re learning what kinds of concessions now-speaker Kevin McCarthy brokered in order to preserve a razor-thin majority and control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republicans insist that they’ll drop spending to levels seen two years ago, despite inflation. And those Republicans won’t even touch the defense budget, though the Pentagon can’t seem to pass an audit. And that leaves other programs like education, agricultural payments, and Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block.

For those who put Rosendale into office: He and his hard-right acolytes have all but sky-written that they’re coming after your Social Security and health care, all in the name of making American great again. Maybe the time to which they aspire was the Montana during the days of poorhouses and county farms.

Montana’s transformation seems nearly complete, from a live-and-let-live kind of place where freedom meant both staying out of each other’s medical records as well as chipping in to help pay for roads and schools, without being subjected to a purity test or accusations that you are a sell-out, Californian, communist, socialist or baby killer.

Instead Montana, we’re becoming a caricature of some low-budget western film where we wear big hats on television, talk real tough in speeches, fight against American Indians, regard ourselves as the authority, and fight with our neighbors about what they may be doing in their home.

The problem is that each new, radical idea begets another round of one-upsmanship where in order to provide loyalty to the party or purity to the ideology, politicians continue a version of “Hold my beer” (or Kool-Aid, as the case may be). But to continue a gambling analogy, they aren’t playing with their reputations, they’re doing it in the name of Montana, and the livelihood of its residents.

To use a passage from the playwright Christopher Marlowe, this “desperate lunacy” is nothing more than the laboring brains begetting a world of idle fantasies.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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