When Politicians Go Off the Rails

Montanans would be fully justified to seriously question what’s going on with the Republicans elected to our state’s top positions. Their actions are outside the boundaries of any attorney general or governor in recent memory, regardless of political affiliation. They range from potentially illegal abuse of power and law enforcement personnel by Attorney General Austin Knudsen to Gov. Greg Gianforte allowing Montanans to get sick and die because his political ideology doesn’t believe in government mandates.

Whatever talents these so-called “leaders” may have, competence in governance is not one of them.

Attorney General Knudsen went way off the legal and ethical rails last week by seriously interfering in the treatment of a hospitalized COVID patient in Helena. As reported: “St. Peter’s Health can confirm that several providers were contacted by three different public officials last week regarding the treatment of a patient in our care. These conversations were deeply troubling to our physicians and staff because they were threatened and their clinical judgment was called into question by these individuals.”

Turns out the patient wanted to be treated with Ivermectin, which is generally used as a de-wormer for horses and which the FDA says should not be used for COVID treatment in humans.

The incident has also sparked a jurisdictional dispute since the hospital is within Helena city limits and as reported: “The highway patrol’s jurisdiction is outlined in state law as offenses on highways, rest areas and state highway properties adjacent to the highway or involving motor vehicles. The hospital is not located on or adjacent to a state highway.”

It’s hard to say what motivated Knudsen to misuse the attorney general’s office to interfere with a patient’s treatment, but he must be held fully accountable for such a blatant abuse of power by a public official. And while it may go nowhere, Democratic legislators have requested an investigation into Knudsen’s actions.

Meanwhile, regardless of whatever Trumpian rhetoric he wants to spew, numbers don’t lie — and what they prove is that Gov. Gianforte has been an incredible failure in dealing with the pandemic and the surge of COVID’s more contagious and lethal Delta variant. Much to its shame, Montana is now Number One in the nation for per capita COVID infections. To put that in perspective, we now have more sick and dying Montanans than we had in 2020 when there was no vaccine available!

That’s a rather stunning position for the fourth-largest state in the Union, with barely more than a million people, to hold. So why, in an uncrowded state, do we have more infections per 100,000 people than in the big cities where people live shoulder-to-shoulder every day? And nearly two years into the pandemic, why oh why does Montana now have record levels of hospitalizations?

To explain the horrific toll of his failure, Gianforte says: “The government’s role is to educate, to communicate — it’s not to mandate.” Not sure where our delusional governor got his civics education, but it is absolutely inane to say government doesn’t “mandate.” Don’t believe it? See what happens if you run a few red lights, touch off the hunting rifle in city limits, or don’t pay your taxes. Of course government issues mandates — or we have anarchy.

It’s evident our governor and attorney general are out of control. What to do about it is the question. Perhaps it’s time, for the good of all Montanans, to think about recalling these very bad actors and remind them that they took an oath to serve the people  not their own irrational political ideology.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.