Montana’s Political Trifecta of Shame

Back in the old days there was a slapstick comedy show about three goofy men whose continuous bungling brought laughs to millions. It was called “The Three Stooges.” Now, Montanans get their own version, as three of the top Republican politicians in the state bungle their way through what seems like poorly-scripted political vaudeville. But there’s nothing funny about it because the consequences of their actions are so tragic.

Only two weeks ago Montanans were subjected to a right-wing “I love guns” act by Congressman Matt Rosendale. He trumpeted his support for a bill that would dismantle a long-standing minimal excise tax on firearms and ammunition saying it was “taxing” our Second Amendment right to bear arms. And my oh my, we can’t have that.

The depth of ignorance exhibited by Rosendale was stunning since he appeared to not understand that the tax was returned to the states to be used for the conservation of our lands, waters, fish and wildlife. Instead, he wanted to substitute money from oil and gas development — an activity that is antithetical to the conservation of lands, waters, fish and wildlife. It’s fair to say his ill-fated move backfired spectacularly — not just in Montana, but across the nation. If there was any humor in Rosendale’s debacle, it was watching his fellow right-wing supporters fleeing the bill like rats jumping off a sinking ship.

Not to be outdone, our junior senator, Steve Daines, had to strut his moment on the stage. And when he did, the result was national condemnation for “fist-bumping” Texas senator Ted Cruz when the Republicans derailed a bill sponsored by Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester that would provide billions in funding for veterans suffering from illnesses caused by their deployments. That would include cancers caused by the notoriously toxic “burn pits” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, as well as the panoply of debilitating effects from the defoliant Agent Orange that continues to plague many Vietnam veterans.

Leave it to the flag-waving politicians who continually throw their phony patriotism in our faces to be the ones to turn their back on the veterans they so willingly send to war. Like Rosendale, Daines soon found out that his cheap political theater blew up in his face, too. Again, it wasn’t just Montana’s veterans who rose up in indignation, it was a national repudiation heaped upon Daines, Cruz, and their fellow Republicans for so callously disregarding the suffering veterans they endlessly claim to support. Like a dog with his tail tucked between his legs, Daines was forced to reverse his blunder and vote to pass the measure.

And then came Governor Gianforte with a request to Montana’s Supreme Court to overturn its 1999 decision that the Montana constitution’s clearcut “right of privacy” applied to a woman’s decision whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. This is nothing short of Gianforte pushing his religious beliefs upon the good people of Montana and abandoning the constitution he swore an oath to uphold.

What could be more private than a woman’s right to chose? Overturning Roe v. Wade by a right-wing religious majority on the U.S. Supreme Court does not overturn the Montana constitution’s right to privacy. Gianforte might want to check out the election results in “deep red” Kansas, where the citizens just crushed a measure to amend their consitution to limit abortion rights.

Yet this is what passes for governance in Montana right now. But governance is not vaudeville. And the national shame these three flailing politicians are bringing us isn’t one bit funny — not to Montana’s veterans, Montana’s women, or Montana’s conservation legacy.

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