MT Supreme Court keeps I-166 on ballot, throws out LR-123

The Montana Supreme Court today decided the status of two ballot measures slated for the 2012 election. The court dismissed a petition seeking to remove Initiative 166 from the ballot. That initiative establishes a state policy that corporations are not people.

Another measure submitted to the voters by the State Legislature, has been stricken from the ballot.

A political committee called ‘Montanans Opposed to I-166’ filed the petition to get that initiative removed from the ballot. That committee includes Helena Republican State Senator Dave Lewis. The petition argues the initiative is unconstitutional and the State Attorney General’s Office should have thrown it out in their legal review of all the ballot measures. Attorney for the committee Chris Gallus says he’s disappointed the state’s high court dismissed the petition.

“I think the Attorney General does or should have the authority to look at a proposed measure and just on it’s face determine if it violates Constitutional mandates to appear on the ballot,” he said.

State Law Librarian Judy Meadows says the Court threw out the petition because while yes, the Initiative may not line up with parts of the Constitution—that’s the point. The initiative would change the Constitution.

“The Attorney Generals responsibility does not include consideration of the substantive legality of the issue if it has been approved by the voters,” Meadows said. “So it’s basically up to the voters to decide whether they think this will be Constitutional or not.”

She adds the Montana Supreme Court cannot add or subtract items from the Constitution or block new material. Neither can the Attorney General.

“The only people who can change that and do something about it are the voters themselves,” she said.

Initiative 166 Campaign Treasurer C.B. Pearson is happy with the court’s ruling.

“We thought this was a frivolous lawsuit from the beginning, by a bunch of corporate hired guns. It’s never a good thing when people try to prevent Montanans from voting for issues,” Pearson said.

Attorney for ‘Montanans Opposed to I-166’ Chris Gallus, says he is filing a different complaint with District Court. But for now, the initiative will make the ballot.

That will not be the case for LR-123. This was submitted to the voters by the legislature. It would require state budget surpluses be returned to tax payers. The Supreme Court agreed with a District Court Ruling saying the measure is unconstitutional.

But the court did not file opinions, yet. State Law Librarian Judy Meadows says the court knew some ruling was needed as soon as possible so ballots and voter information packets can be printed.

“They had the votes, they knew exactly what was going to happen, that they were going to uphold what the District Court did. But they’re not ready to write anything, it’s August. They’re on vacation,” she said.

The court says analysis and rationale for this decision will follow in due course.

Attorney General Steve Bullock confident in winning Democratic Primary for Montana Governor

Steve Bullock

Democratic candidate for Montana Governor current Attorney General Steve Bullock seems all but certain so sew up his party’s nomination on this upcoming June Primary Day.

Bullock leads all gubernatorial candidates from any party in fundraising. But he has spent very little of that cash.

His primary opponent, Heather Margolis, is seen by many to be a token primary challenger.

Bullock himself considers the campaign in full swing.

 

“We’re going full bore, I mean everybody’s workin’ real hard and keepin’ movin,” he said.

Bullock yard signs have been going up in Helena and other communities. The campaign has yet to release any Television ads yet.

He says his campaign had nothing to do with Heather Margolis’s last second gubernatorial bid, but during our interview he speaks as if he’s already won the Primary.

Meanwhile, candidates in the Republican primary are fighting hard for their party’s nomination.

Many are releasing their vision for the state, their jobs plans. Bullock really hasn’t.

“Yeah, and I don’t know I’ve seen a lot of overall plans out of the Republican side,” Bullock said, “not much of substance a lot of which is probably noise and at the end of the day I think Montana is at a crossroads and the decisions that we’re gonna make are going to define the kind of Montana we have. We’ll be focusing on jobs, doing more additional work for value added to make sure more of what we produce in Montana stays in Montana, looking at the overall economy. We’ve also been talking a lot about education and some of the things that are needed there.”
“If people are going to the polls and they vote for Steve Bullock, are they voting for a continuation of a Montana that looks very much like it did under Governor Schweitzer?” I asked.

“Well, I think in part. Look, there’s some good things going on in Montana and I want to continue pieces of that.”

He does believe there are areas for improvement. Bullock wants to work on education—investing more in early childhood education and our two year colleges. And he wants to look into how the state can better help small business and tech startups.

Republicans have attacked Bullock for some positions he’s taken on natural resource development.

They point to his vote on the state land board against leasing Eastern Montana’s Otter Creek coal tracts. Bullock says he has always supported selling Otter Creek Coal, but he thought Montana wasn’t asking for enough money.

“I’ve said from the start there’s a number of things we need to do when looking at resource development,” he said. “One, not giving our resources away. Two, make sure to follow and actually comply with environmental laws to make sure it’s done right and three on the backend of it to make sure that reclamation occurs.”

Conservative pundits also attack Bullock’s position on the Affordable Care Act. Bullock did not join a lawsuit filed by many other state Attorneys General against the national healthcare law.

“We’re in a good fiscal position and we didn’t get there by joining lawsuits where our involvement wouldn’t make any difference. So all I would have done by joining that lawsuit is cost taxpayers dollars,” I said.

He says the states need to wait for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the law. Bullock does believe the Affordable Care Act has positives, “but no one would say the affordable care act is perfect and I don’t think that would be the case from Democrats or Republicans.”

Bullock does not have a page on his website listing his stances on issues, like many candidates.

On social issues, Bullock is pro gun rights, pro-choice. He is in favor of the death penalty. His stance on gay marriage has angered some in his Democratic base.

“Do you support Gay Marriage?” I asked

“I mean, really the constitution until anybody even makes a proposal on that it’s a non-issue in Montana from that perspective. I do support legislative measures to try to change that, but the Constitution is what it is right now,” Bullock said. He does support outlawing discrimination toward same-sex couples.

Steve Bullock says there is still a long time left in this election. He says voters will learn a lot more about him and his goals for the state.

“The campaign goes on a long time and we’ll roll out a full jobs plan. Certainly not needing to do that now, I don’t think,” he said.

Perhaps not until after the primary.

Heather Margolis stresses civic engagement and collaboration in Democratic Primary for Governor

Heather Margolis poses for a photograph recently on Helena’s walking mall.

Helena Democrat Heather Margolis has been running a curious primary campaign for Governor against opponent and front-runner, Attorney General Steve Bullock. Margolis quietly announced her candidacy the weekend before the primary filing deadline. At that point, Bullock was unopposed and state law says without a challenger he would have had to refund any donations to his primary campaign. Now that he is facing Margolis, he gets to keep that primary cash to use whenever he wants on the campaign trail.

Heather Margolis meets me in Helena’s walking mall outside her husband’s office. He works at Strategies 360, a public relations company that represents many Democratic candidates. She works out of her home, raising the couple’s 3 year old son Bridger and doing some work for the Montana Education Partnership–which supports collaboration between schools and communities. Her campaign has given her the chance to get out and spread her primary message of greater civic engagement.

“I’ve had the opportunity to travel the state,” Margolis said. “I’ve had the opportunity to connect with voters and get my word out via the media.”

So far that’s about the only way voters have had the chance to learn about Heather Margolis. She does not have a campaign website or staff.There’s no phone number to call. She does have some Margolis for Governor yard signs and a Facebook page—where she only has about 70 fans. Margolis calls it a cost effective primary campaign, but latest figures show it’s about $300 in the hole. From the beginning, this has had political pundits doubting the legitimacy of her campaign, as a real alternative to Bullock.

“How do you convince those people that you’re taking your candidacy as seriously as possible and if they vote for you they’re voting for someone who really wants to see this through to the end?” I asked. She responded, “I think it’s become clear there are certain distinctions between Steve Bullock’s campaign and my own around certain values.”

She mainly means Bullock’s opposition to gay marriage, which she strongly supports. She is also against the Death Penalty, which Bullock supports. Margolis says this presents a moral compass for Democrats.

“People can send a message to the Democratic party about the values that represent our party,” Margolis said.

The economy and jobs have become a central issue in this year’s Gubernatorial race. Margolis says her jobs plan first and foremost calls for restructuring and investing in our public education sector. She says resources at K-12 schools and the state’s two year colleges need to be reorganized to create a more prepared workforce.

“In doing so,” she said, “we need to figure out what are we doing to tap into new, emerging energy markets, i.e. wind and solar.”

Margolis also thinks a job market exists in retrofitting buildings around the state to be more energy efficient. As for natural resource development, she wants it done in the most responsible way possible—minimizing environmental degradation. And she wants industry to shoulder a greater share of the cost of damage that is caused in and around communities.

“We can’t always be in a place where we are socializing risk and privatizing gains. We need to have a more balanced approach,” she said.

If elected, she says her first priority would be to bring down barriers between state agencies and local governments. Ultimately, though, she does not seem convinced she will have that opportunity.

“Do you see yourself making it past this primary?” I asked.

“I see the message that I’m trying to convey that service and civic engagement can play a vital role in supporting better collaboration between government and communities as moving past this primary,” she replied.

Montana, Blackfeet Tribe sign oil and gas tax agreement

Blackfeet Chairman T.J. Show, Governor Brian Schweitzer, and Attorney General Steve Bullock sign the Blackfeet Oil and Gas Tax Agreement Monday

The state of Montana has signed an agreement with the Blackfeet Tribe to lower taxation on oil and gas development. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and Attorney General Steve Bullock signed the agreement Monday with Blackfeet tribal chairman T.J. Show. Schweitzer says the agreement prevents developers from being taxed by both the tribe and the state.

“Unfortunately in the past there have been oil and gas companies who have said and sometimes it’s actually occurred that they decided to drill off the reservation as opposed to on the reservation so they didn’t have to pay double taxation,” Schweitzer said adding, instead the state and the tribe will share revenue from development taxes. This agreement comes after years of negotiations. Blackfeet chairman T.J. Show says it will help his people.

“In light of the recent economic boom that’s potentially there right now, so this is another step forward for the Blackfeet tribe,” Show said.

The agreement takes affect after a forthcoming public meeting on the issue. Governor Schweitzer says the Blackfeet Reservation has oil and gas development potential due to a formation stretching down from Alberta.