Desperate Dem Turns to Despicable Vote Trading

Faced with an historic Republican supermajority in the Legislature, it’s no surprise Democrats are having a difficult time trying to get their priorities included in bills. They’re having an even more difficult, if not impossible, time trying to derail Republican-sponsored bills. But last week a Senate Democrat apparently turned to the despicable practice of vote trading on a particularly egregious bill — and it didn’t go well, no, not at all.

The bill in question, SJ 2, is a resolution brought by Republican Senator Tom McGillvray and calls for a federal constitutional convention to basically re-write the American Constitution to suit the ultra-conservative interests behind the national effort. If two-thirds (34) of the states pass such resolutions, Article V of the Constitution is unambiguous and requires that Congress “shall” call a convention when that number of state applications are received.

There has never been a federal constitutional convention called since the 1787 convention ratifying the Constitution and there remains serious debate on whether or not such a convention could be limited to certain subjects. Some experts say it could, others say once convened, the delegates could open the convention up to any topic whatsoever.

Therein lies the rub — and the fear that rights and freedoms which have guided the nation for more than two centuries may be altered or removed with unknown consequences for what might be inserted.

The resolution passed out of committee and came to the Senate floor for Second Reading — the debate stage. While every other Democrat — as well as a number of Republicans — voted against the measure, two Democrat senators, Ellie Boldman of Missoula and Ryan Lynch of Butte, voted for it, providing just enough votes to pass 26-24.

Alarmed by Boldman’s and Lynch’s votes and the potential the measure might clear the Senate, former Missoula Democratic Senator, Diane Sands, sent out an email alert that read: “This extremely dangerous bill passed second reading in the Senate today 26-24,with 2 Democrats voting yes. Senator Ellie Boldman and Senator Ryan Lynch voted yes…unlike all Democrats in several passed sessions where we were unified in voting NO!!” Adding urgency to her email, Sands wrote: “The future of our country may depend on this vote. No kidding.”

Where it gets real interesting is in the reply Boldman sent back to Sands in which she wrote: “As you know, this session, we Democrats are serving in a superminority and we had a plan going into second reading today which supported leveraging a few ‘things’ important for ALL Montanans, on the Senate side, where we have better relationships with the majority party.” She added: “I was always a ‘no’ vote on third reading.”

Boldman can call her bizarre move “leveraging” but given she intended to vote no on third reading, it’s hard to see it as anything but vote trading. One does not vote yes on one vote with the clear intention of voting no on the next vote without a deal in the works, which Boldman referred to as “things.”

Simply put, vote trading is the very worst way to make law since it relies on trading favors rather than considering the actual substance of the bills and taking a firm position representing their constituents. Moreover, had one senator switched their vote to yes on Third Reading, the resolution would have passed and been transmitted to the House.

Boldman was playing with fire — and she got burned but good. Democrat, Republican or Independent, no one benefits from vote trading in the legislative arena — and shame on those who think they can get away with it.

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