The On-Going Failures of Republican Governance

Montanans got a good dose of the good, the bad, and the ugly this week in both politics and policy. Some of our politicians’ actions are simply unbelievable in their sheer idiocy while others are just downright vicious. But like a beam of sunlight breaking through storm clouds, there’s also some good news — which is very rare in this era of stumbling Republican incompetence in lawmaking and governance.

From the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up Department comes the national ridicule heaped on Montana’s Republican Sen. Steve Daines for his inane comparison of “pre-born” turtle and eagle eggs to the right of women to control their own bodies.

There’s not enough room in one column to list all the places where Daines’ blunder drew utter derision and mockery from everyone from Business Insider to Vanity Fair to Jimmy Kimmel’s incredible turtle and eagle hand-puppet show that left ‘em laughing in the aisles.

It’s fair to say biology wasn’t one of Daines’ top subjects as he claimed that sea turtle and eagle eggs are protected by federal law and that “unhatched sea turtles would have more protections than an unborn human baby.”

Of course our brilliant senator seems to miss the fact that sea turtles and eagles are reptiles and birds, not humans. And the primary reason their eggs are protected by law is to attempt to bring their populations back from the brink of extinction. Humans, someone should tell him, are actually struggling with the different and very real problems of over-population, which certainly will not be helped by mandating all pregnancies be carried to term by government fiat.

But while Montanans may flinch at the shame Daines has brought upon our fair state by being dubbed “The Senate’s Dumbest Republican” in national media, Governor Gianforte has decided to one-up his very own hand-puppet senator by declaring he’s ready to call a special legislative session to outlaw abortion in Montana based on the potential that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.

Now one might credibly wonder if our governor has ever read the Montana Constitution he took an oath to uphold, which explicitly contains a “right to privacy” provision declaring: “The right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.” Moreover, the Montana Supreme Court has already ruled that provision guarantees a woman’s right to decide what to do with her own body — including terminating a pregnancy.

Given there is no “compelling state interest” in the invasion of personal privacy by outlawing abortion, it’s predictable that any such law passed by a special legislative session would be quickly overturned by Montana’s Supreme Court. But considering the ever-growing list of unconstitutional laws from the last session that have already been overturned, constitutionality doesn’t seem to be a great concern for the latest batch of legislators.

Constitutionality, however, isn’t the only foil for the Montana legislature’s pitiful recent attempts at lawmaking. In some good news, the Environmental Protection Agency has rejected last session’s repeal of science-based limits on water pollution in favor of “narrative standards.” Why? Because the narrative standards violate the federal Clean Water Act — to say nothing of ignoring the Montana Constitution’s “inalienable right” to “a clean and healthful environment.”

Not in recent history have Montanans witnessed such blatant incompetence from their legislators and top elected officials. While the national media made fun of Sen. Daines’ inane turtle and eagle comments, the sad truth is there’s nothing even remotely funny about the on-going failures of Republican governance.

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