Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tester faces liberal furor over DREAM Act vote

Jon Tester’s vote Saturday against the DREAM Act has sparked bitter backlash from liberals that continues to play out on the web this week.

The blogosphere and twitterscape is roiling with accusations that Tester abandoned his progressive base by voting against the measure, which would have created a path to citizenship for certain undocumented children who were brought at a young age to the United States by their parents.

The DREAM Act was a favorite issue of many progressives, civil rights groups, and immigration advocates who saw it as a solid and achievable first step toward comprehensive immigration reform. Five Democrats, including both of Montana’s Democratic senators, voted against it.

(You can read more about the DREAM Act and meet a Montanan whose hopes may have hinged on it’s passing, here and here.)

Max Baucus’ “no” vote came as no surprise to Democrats, few of whom consider Baucus a progressive, but Tester has become a political punching bag for the left.

Byron York at the Washington Examiner first noted the “ugly breakup on the left” on Saturday when he reported on influential progressive blogger Markos Moulitsas’ outrage over Tester’s “no” vote on the DREAM Act:

Markos Moulitsas, the influential founder of the lefty website DailyKos, used to love Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.  Starting back in December 2004, when Moulitsas first praised Tester, then a farmer-turned-state-legislator, as a Democrat who "naturally speaks the language of rural America," the DailyKos has portrayed Tester as the cutting edge of a movement by which once deep-red western states would become swing states and then, perhaps, permanently blue.

In June 2006, Moulitsas was rhapsodic when Tester won the Democratic primary to challenge then-Sen. Conrad Burns.  "What a great night," Moulitsas wrote.  "Not only did the best Democrat win, but so did Conrad Burns' worst nightmare. Say hello to the next Senator from the great state of Montana."  Electing Tester and other favored progressives would create "a whole new ballgame in Washington DC," Moulitsas added.  "Let's do everything we can to make it happen."

Moulitsas certainly did his part, promoting the Tester campaign -- "This is the future face of the Democratic Party," he swooned -- and contributing $1,500 to Tester in October 2006.  When Tester defeated Burns, part of a Democratic wave that took over the Senate and House that year, Moulitsas was ecstatic.

Now that's all a bitter memory.  On Capitol Hill, Democrats have been using the lame-duck session to try to ram through some key unfinished parts of their agenda.  Among them is the DREAM Act immigration bill, a favorite of Moulitsas'.  On Friday, Jon Tester, once the darling of DailyKos, announced that he would vote against it.

Moulitsas' reaction was swift and furious.  "Jon Tester to vote against DREAM," Moulitsas tweeted Friday night.  "Good luck getting re-elected, a--hole."  Moulitsas began re-tweeting negative comments about Tester -- one said, "Sen. Tester's active misrepresentation of DREAM act isn't just burning his bridges, it's going at them with a blowtorch."  And then Moulitsas added his own final remark: "Anyone who votes to punish innocent kids is a de facto a--hole."

Moulitsas later had this to say on the Daily Kos:

There are Democrats I expect to be assholes. I never thought Jon Tester would be among them.

Anybody who votes to punish innocent kids is an asshole. Plain and simple. And while I expect it from Democrats like Ben Nelson and C-Street denizen Mark Pryor, I honestly thought Jon Tester was different. I was wrong. I am now embarrassed that I worked so hard to help get him elected in 2006. I feel personally betrayed.

Not only will I do absolutely nothing to help his reelection bid, but I will take every opportunity I get to remind people that he is so morally bankrupt that he'll try to score political points off the backs of innocent kids who want to go to college or serve their country in the military.

To me, he is the Blanche Lincoln of 2012 -- the Democrat I will most be happy to see go down in defeat. And he will. Nothing guarantees a Republican victory more than trying to pretend to be one of them.

To which Matt Singer, founder of Left in the West, responded that Tester was wrong on the DREAM Act, but Kos was wrong about Tester. Singer argues that progressives need to take the long view (please read Singer’s entire post at the link above for the complete context) and not be too harsh on one vote by Tester. According to Singer:

  • Change Comes "Slow" Even When It is "Fast." We're in a period of rapid change. The last two years have been among Congress's most productive. That said -- it feels absolutely glacial when experiencing it in the 24-hour news cycle. When we consider historic periods of "rapid change," we gloss over the entire 1960s as though it didn't take 10 years.
  • We've Had Some Huge Victories this Congress. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the first comprehensive health care reform in history, ARRA, Lilly Ledbetter, etc., etc.
  • Montana is Montana. There's an old joke about Missoula -- that it's nice and only 15 minutes from Montana. Missoula also stands out as the only historic Dem stronghold that held this legislative election. If you think that every Dem eyeing holding or winning statewide office isn't looking at an election where we lost House seats in 3 Reservation districts, Butte, and the heart of Helena, then you've misjudged how political actors behave.
  • Jon Tester is Jon Tester. He's a great guy -- smart, genuine, honest, down-to-Earth. He's also not a Paul Wellstone, Barbara Boxer, or Sherrod Brown. He actually disagrees with them and me sometime. The only painful thing I see in the criticism of Jon is that he's entirely a calculating political machine. Jon's no naif, but he really gives a shit about this stuff.
  • We Didn't Do Our Job. To be honest, I had read one news story in Montana about the DREAM Act (and seen virtually no tweets or Facebooks about it) prior to the vote. John Adams wrote a great piece about a UM student who would be affected. But here's the deal -- you can't fail to organize and build a campaign on an issue for something longer than a couple weeks if you genuinely want to move a U.S. Senate office. At the request of friends, I asked both Senators where they stood on this issue and got word early that they didn't see eye-to-eye with me. Springing vitriol after a vote is unfair -- especially to a friend.

Singer also points out that “both of our Senators voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and further noting (and emphasizing) that Rep. Rehberg opposed both DADT repeal and the DREAM Act.”

Helena immigration attorney and reform activist Shahid Haque-Hausrath, took issue with Singer’s argument in a lengthy response on his blog:

Singer is mistaken that Montana’s political environment has given Tester no incentive to rethink this stances.  In Montana’s 2009 legislative session, over 10 anti-immigrant bills were proposed.  The cumulative effect of these bills would have been identical to Arizona’s SB 1070.  Iwrote about these bills extensively as I worked with the Montana Human Rights Network and the ACLU to defeat them.  All of these bills were ultimately rejected by the Montana legislature, with Democrats taking a party stance opposing these prejudiced and reactionary bills.  The Montana Democrats’ resounding show of disapproval for anti-immigrant legislation should have given Tester a reason to re-think his stances.

Then Kos chimed in again with some statements from Montanans who participated in a survey sponsored by a group called Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and adding at the end that those who “punish children for something they did not do” can “rot in hell”. One of those responses came from a Bozeman university professor named Petrus C Marten:

"I am nauseated by this basically racist stand. I am an immigrant myself. One of my children is adopted from Russia."

Tester’s vote wasn’t just noted by the “far left” of the Democratic party. GOP wunderkind and Public Service Commissioner-elect Travis Kavulla chimed in on the Electric City Weblog, and the Montana Republican Party piled on with an e-mail blast today entitled “Tester’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week,” in which they cited Kos’ furious response to Tester’s vote.

It’s important to note that Tester’s “no” vote on the DREAM Act isn’t some late shift for Montana’s junior Senator. As his staff has told me in recent days,  “[Tester] has—and always had—firm beliefs about immigration policy.”

He voted against the DREAM Act three years ago, and said again in September, when the Senate was considering an amendment that would have included the DREAM Act in a defense spending bill, that he would vote against it then. So Montana progressives shouldn’t be at all surprised by what happened on Saturday.

That doesn’t take away from their fury this week. Time will tell if this vote will have an impact on Tester’s reelection bid, but as one liberal activist I spoke with on Friday said, “I will never carry a clipboard for Jon Tester again.”

If that attitude is pervasive among Montana liberals, that has to concern Tester’s camp. After all, Tester narrowly defeated Conrad Burns in 2006 and he owes much of that narrow victory to the hard work of the liberal activists who are now so angry over his DREAM Act vote.

As I was writing this post, this amusing video appeared in my inbox:

UPDATE: Politico also reported on the liberal ire over Tester’s vote. I think this statement illustrates why the backlash is so newsworthy:

“… the liberal netroots were a critical part of Tester’s campaign machinery in 2006, helping him raise sufficient funds to upend party favorite John Morrison in the primary election.

ActBlue, which acts as a clearinghouse for Democratic fundraising, helped Tester haul in $342,000 from more than 10,500 donors during his primary alone.”

Also, Adam Green, c0-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said the following in an e-mail regarding the survey the PCCC sent out:

"The people we surveyed are the ground troops Jon Tester will be depending on in 2012, including some very influential Democratic operatives in the state. Overwhelming, they were disgusted with his vote and considered it to be made out of fear -- and to have played into people's fears -- instead of being made out of principle. Tester was once known as a bold prairie populist who was willing to fight for the little guy, and if he wants to prevent the enthusiasm gap that crushed so many Democrats in 2010, he needs to stop playing defense and start crusading for the popular progressive change he campaigned on in 2006."

Green added that the PCCC has run ads in Montana before and will be “pushing Tester to act boldly in 2011.”

UPDATE: These posts are coming so fast and furious these days I can’t keep track of them. I failed to mention above that jhwygirl at Missoula’s 4and20 Blackbird’s is also mad:

“I’ve slept on this two nights, and I’ve failed to find a moral or a logical reason for Tester’s vote, other than pandering for votes.

I guess I’m one of those idealistic ones who expects the people I vote for to do the right thing. Even when it’s tough.”

Pogie at Helena’s Intelligent Discontent is also disappointed:

“I’ve had a couple of days to process my feelings of frustration about Senator Tester’s disappointing vote on the DREAM Act, a sensible and fair piece of legislation that would not only have provided opportunity for a more realistic position on immigration and increased national security, but had the added benefit of being the moral choice. To demonize young people eager to serve in the military and attend college for the sake of a few votes is the kind of cynical realpolitk that Montana voters rejected in 2006.”

Rob Kailey at Left in the West says, “what the hell did you expect”:

Most of the Montana left disagrees with Tester on this vote, me very much included,  and yet we expect the man to break faith with what he said he believes/would do/has done.  There is no politician alive today who us good voting folk will agree with 100% of the time.  So, what can be expected?”

I’m sure I’ve missed a lot more out there. I’m also sure there are plenty of Montanans, and Democrats, who support Tester’s vote. Please feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Buckle Up!

house floor1

We’re  just a few short weeks from the start of the 2011  Legislative Session, and lawmakers are hard at work drafting potential new laws that will affect Montanans.

Over the next couple of weeks the Great Falls Tribune will run a series of stories previewing some of the biggest issues and hot-button bills of the coming session.

In the meantime, here’s a by-the-numbers look at the bill drafting process as of Friday afternoon:

 1,788 – Total number of bill draft requests legislative staff had received as of 3 p.m. Friday.

232 – Total number of bills that have been introduced.

30 – Number of Senate bills that have been introduced and referred to committee.

1,556 – Number of bills that have been requested but not yet introduced.

Highest number of bills requested by a single stahllegislator:

78, by Rep. Wayne Stahl, R-Saco. Click here to see the bills Stahl has requested.


   Highest number of bills requested by a freshman legislator:

 55, by Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls. Click here to see the bills Fitzpatrick has requested. 

9 – number of requested bills with the word “immigration” in the short title.

7 – number of bills with the word “firearm” in the short title.

5 – number of bills with the word “abortion” in the short title.

45 – number of bills with the word “environment” or “environmental” in the short title.

35 – number requested bill short titles that begin with the word “eliminate.”

I’ll update this post as I find more interesting numbers in the vast sea of bill requests flooding the 1st floor of the capitol.

Senate omnibus falls, taking Tester’s forest bill with it

This is old news already, but last night Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, faced with having to read the text of the entire 1924-page measure on the Senate floor, pulled the $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill.

For all intents and purposes that means Sen. Jon Tester’s Montana Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative, which was tacked on to the measure earlier this week, is most likely dead.

Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy told the Missoula Independent:

“Partisan politics shot down this measure last night, but it won't keep Jon from creating Montana jobs—through middle-class tax relief, strengthening family agriculture and small businesses, and working together with Montanans on bipartisan plans like his forest jobs bill.”

Alleged rape victim recants; prosecutor seems disinterested

I was re-reading Mike Dennison’s piece on the Missoula man who fought for eight years to overturn is rape conviction and I was absolutely stunned by the prosecutor’s quote in the story.

First a little background...

Cody Marble, 26, was convicted in 2002 of raping a 13-year-old fellow inmate at the Missoula County Juvenile Detention Facility and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Marble adamantly denied the charges from the beginning and has insisted all along that he was set up by his fellow inmates.

Now, according to Dennison’s article, the alleged victim said the rape never happened and that Marble was indeed framed by fellow inmates (emphasis are mine):
“In a statement filed Tuesday with Marble's petition, the alleged victim, now 22, says he was not raped by Marble and that he was told by other teenagers held in the detention center to make up the story to frame Marble for the crime.
"I testified falsely against Cody Marble at the trial,” he said in his statement. “I thought by then that the story had gone too far and I could not go back. I never thought he would be found guilty or go to prison. ... My hope now is to set the record straight.”
That a HUGE twist in this case.

The alleged victim, and the only real witness other than Marble, says he wasn’t raped and that he lied in court because he “though that the story had gone too far.” It’s pretty easy for me to imagine that a 13-year-old might be afraid to tell the truth after a lie had gone that far.

But here’s the part of the story that left my jaw on the kitchen table (again, emphasis mine):
Marble's petition, filed in state District Court in Missoula, asks the court to hold a hearing on the new evidence and either set aside Marble's conviction or schedule a new trial.
Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who had seen the petition only briefly Tuesday afternoon, said it's surprising to see a victim recanting testimony eight years later.
“It's just one more thing that Cody Marble is trying to do to avoid responsibility for his case,” Van Valkenburg said. “We're just going to have to deal with it.”
Faced with a signed statement from the alleged victim saying the rape never actually occurred, and that Marble has indeed been telling the truth—that he was framed by fellow inmates—Van Valkenburg dismisses the new evidence and says Marble “is trying to avoid responsibility.”

Responsibility for what? Being in jail at the wrong time with the wrong inmates? For being convicted of a rape that even the victim now says never happened?

I’m absolutely dumbfounded by VanValkenburg's statement.

The Montana Innocence Project obtained the victim’s statement last summer. Jessie McQuillan, executive director of the Innocence Project, had this to say:
“Our investigation yielded information that supports his innocence and raised more questions, and we turned that over (to Marble's attorney),” said Jessie McQuillan, executive director of the Montana Innocence Project. “The centerpiece of the petition is that the alleged victim has recanted. He says what many people suspected: That the rape never took place.”
Innocence Project staffers and lawyers learned that the alleged victim was ready to recant his trial testimony, and visited him at the state prison in Deer Lodge 11 months ago, McQuillan said.
“He told us it was time to recant and we got the signed statement in July, at a subsequent visit with him,” she said.
Good job Mike Dennison for following this story and reporting on Cody Marble’s case after many journalists—including yours truly—weren’t able to put all the pieces together.

And hats off to my former Missoula Independent colleague Jessie McQuillan and the Montana Innocence Project for obtaining this startling admission from the alleged victim. For those who don’t know, Jessie McQuillan is also the award-winning  journalist who made Barry Beach a household name in Montana. You can read her excellent reporting on Beach’s case, the article that lead  to a 2-hour Dateline NBC special, here.

Am I over reacting here? Please read the whole story and this stunning statement by an elected official and share your thoughts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tester introduces bill to criminalize “misuse” of airport body scanners

Thankfully, the two airports I’ll be flying in and out of this holiday season are probably too small to have these invasive new “body scanners”…yet.

Body Scanner

Sen. Jon Tester on Thursday introduced a bill that would criminalize the misuse of these dastardly devices. (Personally, I think the government’s use of a body scanners on citizens for any reason is a “misuse”).

You can read the proposed bill here.

The law’s purpose would be:

“To impose a criminal penalty for unauthorized recording or distribution of  images produced using advanced imaging technology during screenings of individuals at airports and upon entry to Federal buildings, and
for other purposes.”


In my humble opinion, TSA has gone way overboard with the heavy-handed “security” procedures at airports. I had a very unpleasant experience with a TSA agent at the Great Falls airport a few years ago.

I usually travel with my laptop and one other carry-on bag and I’m familiar with all of the proper procedures for passing smoothly for airport security screening. On this occasion—after I had already gone through the metal detector, my bags had come out the other side of the x-ray machine, and I was getting ready to put my shoes back on—I was “randomly” singled out for a more intrusive search. They opened all my luggage, gave me a pat down, looked through my computer bag, etc. They told me I was chosen at random; however, this was the THIRD time I had been “randomly” selected for increased search in the past five or six years. I almost wasn’t able to board a plane in San Diego in 2002 because, I was told, my name was on a “security list.” Imagine that, John Adams is on a security list. I wonder how many John Adams there are in the world?

Anyway, I was pretty frustrated with the whole scene in Great Falls. I felt like a criminal. It was intrusive. It was embarrassing. Other passengers look at you funny as you board the plane. It’s just generally unpleasant, to say the least.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the TSA agent who was screening my luggage picked up my laptop, and to my horror, tossed it back into the plastic bin. The brand new laptop fell at least 8-10 inches with a clang. At which point I said (I admit, in a potentially hostile tone), “Hey! Easy on the computer!”

The TSA agent glared at me as if to say, “Hey buddy, do you want to go in the back room for an even more thorough search…?”

There was no apology. They did not repackage my luggage. I was left to stew about the incident for the next 3 hours of flight time.

When I was a kid, flying was one of the most exciting things in the world. Now it’s just miserable…and not because I’m afraid of terrorists.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tester: “widespread bi-partisan support” for forest bill

I received an e-mail this morning from Sen. Jon Tester’s office regarding the “widespread, bipartisan support for Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.”

Click on the image below or here to see the full “Who supports the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act?” file included in the e-mail. 
Tester's support oppose 
UPDATE (12-14-10, 4:40 p.m.): I just received a modified version of the chart above from Mike Garrity at the Alliance for the Wild Rockies [the source of the document is Denny Rehberg’s office] listing quite a few more opponents. Clink on the image below to see higher-resolution image:

UPDATE (12-15-10, 2:30 p.m.): just received another update to this chart:

supporter and opponents 1

First off, it’s worth pointing out that the bill that was attached to the Senate Omnibus Appropriations Act, now titled the “Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative,” is not the same bill as the one Tester introduced in July 2009, then called the “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.” As I posted yesterday, the final version included in the omnibus bill contains a number of significant changes from the original bill introduced in 2009. You can read about those changes in this post

You can view the entire Senate omnibus bill with links to Tester FJRI in an easy-to-use DocumentCloud viewer here.

The e-mail also referenced a an Aug. 2009 poll by Harstad Research  that found “73% of surveyed Montanans support FJRA based on bill’s description.”

Here’s the poll question Harstad Research asked participants of that poll:

Q 7. Let me briefly describe the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which would do the following:
  • Create jobs in Montana by directing the Forest Service to use light-on-the-land logging and forest restoration projects aimed at improving forest health and reducing forest fire risk;
  • Employ forest stewardship contractors to restore Montana’s damaged streams, forest roads, campgrounds and trails;
  • Guarantee that motorized vehicles will have access to designated recreation areas;
  • Protect Montana’s wildlife habitats and watersheds by designating certain places as Wilderness areas in the Beaverhead Deer Lodge, Lolo and Kootenai National Forests.
Do you FAVOR or OPPOSE the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act that I just described?
Results: Favor--73 percent; Oppose--15 percent; no answer--12 percent.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign is not a single organization, but a campaign that 16 conservation organization from Montana and 39 conservation organizations from around the nation signed-on to. You can see the complete list of groups associated with the LBPWC here.

Here' are the Montana-based groups that signed the official Senate  testimony opposing Tester’s FJRA:

Alliance for the Wild Rockies (MT)
Big Wild Advocates (MT)
Buffalo Field Campaign (MT)
Central Montana Wildlands Association (MT)
Conservation Congress (MT)
Deerlodge Forest Defense Fund (MT)
Friends of the Bitterroot (MT)
Friends of the Rattlesnake (MT)
Friends of the Wild Swan (MT)
Montana Rivers (MT)
Swan View Coalition (MT)
Western Montana Mycological Association (MT)
Western Watersheds Project (MT)
Wilderness Watch (MT)
WildWest Institute (MT)
Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation (MT)

Also notably absent from the list of opponents Tester sent out this morning is former Democratic Senatorial candidate Paul Richards, who accused Tester of breaking key campaign promise by introducing the FJRA. Richards dropped out of the Democratic Senate primary race in 2006 and threw his support behind Tester, who polls showed was deadlocked with state auditor John Morrison. According to Richards, Tester earned his endorsement by agreeing to certain terms, which Richards posted on his campaign website on May 31, 2006.

According to Richards, the top two terms of that agreement were:
1. Help stop the Iraq War, withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq, and work for peace.
2. Work to protect all of Montana’s remaining roadless wildlands.
As one Lowdown reader pointed out in an e-mail to me this morning, the Senate omnibus bill containing the Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative “also contains another $158 BILLION for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…the wars Jon Tester vowed to not fund when he ran for office.”

On another note, I’ve received an e-mail from Wayne Hirst, a staunch supporter of the bill who appeared at the unveiling of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act at RY Timber in in Townsend last summer.  Hirst takes issue with criticisms leveled by Matthew Koehler of the LBPWC and Mike Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies:
   As the person on the "timber" portion of Testor's bill here on the Kootenai, I must point out some facts that Matt Koehler and Mike Garrity seem to avoid, or outright tell falsehoods about:

   1.  There in NO mandated logging in the bill.  The word "logging" is not there.  The bill mandates "treatment" of these acres, and I have personally discussed this with local USFS people as to just what kind of treatments they will do, or envision.  Logging is one "treatment" for sure. But there are many other "treatments" as well, (now, 1" brush, as well as needles even are considered "merchantable" and fit in the bill) and the bill defines "treatment" as just using a "tool".   Now, since that definition was simplified to using a "tool", there will be court arguments over just what is a "tool" I am sure.

   2. There is no "allowing" motorized use in IRA's in this bill.   I don't know about the Beaverhead, although we were just told Monday nite that there is none of this allowed on the Beaverhead, but here on the Kootenai, it has always been clear, due to Judge Molloy's rulings, that nothing can ever be done in IRA's, as they must be managed as wilderness. Any statement that motorized use in IRA's can be done on the Kootenai is just plain false.

  But, I never knew that Rehberg agrees with Mike Garrity and Matt Koehler.  Who would ever have thought that could occur?

UPDATE: Matthew Koehler responds at length to Hirst in the comments section of this post.

UPDATE: Congressman Denny Rehberg is holding an "Emergency Tele-Town Hall Meeting" to discuss Tester's bill tonight. Click this link for more information.

UPDATE: Another opponent not on Tester’s list: Ruby Valley Stock Association. Montana Standard guest column here.

Again, I urge anyone with thoughts on this bill to e-mail me or post your comments in the comment section below. You can reach me at mtlowdown(at)gmail.com. I’ll continue to post comments as I receive them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Responses to Tester getting forest bill in omnibus spending bill

The response to the news that Democratic Sen. Jon Tester successfully included his Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative (formally Forest Jobs and Recreation Act) into the Senate Omnibus Appropriations Act has been fast and furious.

Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg issued the following statement this afternoon:

“This is government at its worst. Montanans have had zero input on this new wilderness bill. It hasn't even had a public hearing in Congress. [Editors note: The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources did hold a hearing on Dec. 17, 2009 Updated Editor’s note: After further review of the actual language included in the omnibus bill, I have determined that Rehberg is correct: THIS bill hasn’t had a hearing. The language included in the omnibus bill is substantially different than the bill that was heard at the Dec. 17, ENRC hearing].  What's more, Senator Tester is jamming his unpopular bill into yet another trillion dollar spending bill jam packed with pork. These are exactly the sort of underhanded tactics the American people rejected in November.  Apparently, the message didn’t get through.  There’s not enough time to read this bill, let alone seek out public input.  This is nothing but a shameful attempt to force-feed Montanans another dose of big-government before the clock runs out on the Pelosi regime.”

Tester’s spokesman, Aaron Murphy, sent this response to reporters shortly thereafter:

Since its introduction in July of 2009, Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act has been publicly debated, discussed and extensively reported across Montana. His final bill reflects comments and requests made in this process. Here is a recap of the transparency surrounding the legislation:

Sen. Tester held 11 public listening sessions with Montanans, across the state, before and after the bill’s introduction:

  • Deer Lodge (3/6/2010 with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and 2/18/2009)
  • Missoula (10/26/2009 and 2/18/2009)
  • Butte (11/12/2009)
  • Troy (10/10/2009)
  • Bozeman (9/28/2009)
  • Dillon (9/26/2009)
  • Seeley Lake (7/18/2009)
  • Libby (4/18/2009)
  • Townsend (4/9/2009)

Sen. Tester’s online transparency:

  • Most recent legislative language kept current at tester.senate.gov/forest.
  • Legislation, maps and summaries online since bill’s introduction
  • Online posting of all draft versions of the bill written by Sen. Tester
  • Online input collected through tester.senate.gov/forest
  • Sen. Tester posted a list of changes made at the suggestion of Montanans

Contrary to some statements put forward today, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act had a public Senate hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on December 17, 2009. [Editor’s note: While Murphy is correct that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act had a public hearing, the Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative, which is a substantially modified version of the original bill, has not had a hearing.] The hearing included supporters and opponents of the bill so they could discuss the bill in an open forum and suggest changes.

Other responses to the bill I’ve received in recent days regarding the latest developments:

Statement from Matthew Koehler of the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign:

“Many Montana's have expressed serious, substantive concerns with this bill, including the mandated logging provisions, motors in Wilderness and turning some wildlands into permanent motorized recreation areas.  That's a major reason why the bill never made it out of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the US Senate and never was introduced in the US House.  Instead of honestly listening to these concerns, Senator Tester apparently decided to work behind the scenes to attach his bill to this completely unrelated $1 trillion-plus spending bill that's nearly 2000 pages long.  It's unfortunate that Senator Tester has chosen such a questionable, and might say underhanded, tactic to pass his logging bill.

“Senator Tester likes to say this is a jobs bill for the timber industry, but new home construction in America is down 70% and overall wood consumption is down 50%.  Just where are all these forests Senator Tester wants cut down going to end up? The fact is that the Forest Service ended 2009 with more timber volume under contract to loggers and mills in our region than any point in the last decade, but still mills either closed or have dramatically reduced their work force because of the economic crisis, which drags on with little relief in sight.”

Statement from Tom France, Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation: 

“There are many supporters, including most of the timber industry and most of conservation community.  What some call underhanded tactics, others would call good and effective legislating by an elected politician doing his job.” 

I’ll continue to update this post as I receive more comments on about the bill.

UPDATE: I just received this comment for Michael Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies:

"Senator Tester broke two campaign promises today. When Senator Tester ran against Senator Burns, he promised to protect all roadless areas and not use riders for public lands legislation. Senator Tester's rider opens up one million acres of the best elk hunting in Montana roadless lands to clearcutting and thanks to Senator Tester we can kiss grizzly bears in the Cabinet Yack, the smallest grizzly bear population in the world, goodbye. Not only will this rider open up roadless lands to clearcutting but it will cost taxpayers a fortune. The Forest Service loses about $1400 per acre on their timber program.

“Senator Tester mandates that 70,000 acres be logged in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and 30,000 acres in the Kootenai National Forest. This $140,000,000 gift to the timber industry is nothing more than corporate welfare.”

So far I have received little word from groups who support Tester’s move to include the FJRI in the omnibus bill. As Tom France’s comments above indicate, there are indeed many supporters out there. Please e-mail your comments to mtlowdown(at)gmail.com, or post them in the comments section.

Tester slips forest initiative into massive Senate spending bill

It’s official.

Sen. Jon Tester got his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, now entitled “Montana Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative” (see page 893), inserted into the $1.1 trillion Senate omnibus spending bill.

The bill is almost certain to pass.

I reported on Tester’s efforts to make this happen last Friday. (I was surprised that I appeared to be the only journalist in the state who thought it was newsworthy. As far as I know no other news outlet reported that Tester was working to get this landmark piece of legislation passed as part of a massive “must-pass” spending bill).

As I reported, opponents of the measure called Tester’s attempt to get the bill inserted into the massive spending package “underhanded.”

Supporters of the bill have a different view.

Tom France, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, maintains that “most of the timber industry and most of the conservation community” support Tester’s approach to getting the bill passed by any means necessary:

“What some call underhanded tactics, others would call good and effective legislating by an elected politician doing his job,” France wrote in an e-mail to me Monday.

Critics on both the right and the left are miffed that a bill that dictates how many of our public lands will be managed into the future is set to pass despite not ever receiving a committee vote.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last summer, after hearing testimony on the bill the previous December, developed a "discussion draft" version of Tester's bill that removed one of the most controversial provisions of the bill: the mandated logging of 100,000 acres of timber on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests. But  Tester, as well as officials for the timber companies and conservation groups who crafted the FJRA, said they would not support a bill that did not have the mandates.

So the bill sat in committee for months where it appeared to be dead. It never got a hearing in the House. It never got another hearing in the Senate. It never got a markup.

Yet now it has been revived and appears poised to pass.

Our Washington, D.C. correspondent Ledge King is tracking this development. Read tomorrow’s Great Falls Tribune for more details on FJRA and other details about the 1924-page Senate omnibus bill. As you may have noticed, we’ve begun truncating some of our stories. For the most complete coverage, please subscribe to the Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.

UPDATE: As I was writing this post Tester’s office sent this memo to reporters. Here’s Tester’s take on the “Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative.” I’m sure there are lots of different views on this bill and Tester’s approach to getting it passed. Please feel free to discuss in the comments.


TO: Interested News Reporters

FROM: Aaron Murphy, the Office of Senator Jon Tester

RE: Forest Jobs and Recreation Act

December 14, 2010

The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2010 includes Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.  The Senate is expected to vote on the bill in the coming days. Until the law passes, nothing is final.

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is “Title VII – Montana Forests” in the Omnibus Appropriations bill. (page 893, online HERE). The most recent language (as it appears in the Omnibus Appropriations bill) is—and has been—online at tester.senate.gov/forest.  The maps are also online—and have been since they were finalized.

An October 2010 letter from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing support for Sen. Tester’s bill is online HERE.

The final version of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is similar to the version introduced by Sen. Tester in July of 2009.  Here is a summary:

What the final version of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act does:

· CREATES JOBS by mandating 70,000 acres of mechanical treatment on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and 30,000 acres of mechanical treatment on the Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest over 15 years. (The original version of The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act called for this 100,000 acres of treatment over 10 years.)

· Mandates the U.S. Forest Service to implement large watershed and forest restoration projects each year over 15 years, prioritizing projects in the wildland-urban interface (forested areas near communities) and watersheds with high road density on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and the Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest.

· Designates 369,501 acres of recreation areas.

· Designates 666,260 acres of wilderness.  This is 2,800 acres less than the original version of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

How the final version of FJRA differs from the version originally introduced by Sen. Tester in July of 2009.

Based on input from thousands of Montanans, the Forest Service, and the Energy and Natural Resource committee, Senator Tester made the following changes:

Forest and Restoration Changes

  • Change:  Extended the timeframe of the forestry and restoration components from 10 years to 15 years.

Reason: The Forest Service requested this change.

  • Change:  Allow the forest and restoration work to be conducted on Forest Service lands adjacent to the Three Rivers District, as well as within the district.

Reason:  The Forest Service and constituents in Lincoln County requested this change, to give the Forest Service more room to work around grizzly bear habitat.

  • Change:  The final bill expands the authority of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HRFA), to all work performed under this bill. Key provisions are: 

o Streamlines documents needed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to a no action alternative, a preferred alternative, and a second alternative, if it is brought forward by a collaborative group. This saves money and time, reducing administrative costs.

o HFRA uses the objections process instead of the appeals process. This means citizens who with concerns about the projects cast their objections before the Forest Service releases its decision, so those objections can be addressed in the final decision document, likely reducing litigation.

o HFRA directs the courts to consider a balance of harms—that is, to determine whether not doing work is potentially more harmful than doing the work--when assessing whether to let projects move forward.

o Temporary stays or injunctions that may be issued by a court are only 60 days.

Reason:  The Forest Service worked with Senator Tester to find the most appropriate environmental review process for these large watershed restoration projects. Many Montanans asked Sen. Tester to include balance of harms and tightened timelines for court injunctions.

  • Change:  If citizens formally object to the project, a mediator may be used to help resolve the issues.

Reason:  The Three Rivers Challenge in Lincoln County requested this, to avoid using the court system to resolve issues.

Changes to Wilderness and Recreation

  • Change:  Sen. Tester dropped McAttee Basin from the wilderness additions this bill makes to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. McAttee is in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest, not far from Big Sky.

Reason:  Many snowmobilers in and around Gallatin County asked for this change.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester dropped the Lost Cabin wilderness, and instead designated the Tobacco Roots Recreation Management Area.

Reason:  The Montana Mountain Bike Alliance requested this change; this area is very popular for mountain bikers.

  • Change:  The Highlands Wilderness decreased from approximately 20,000 acres to 15,000 acres. Sen. Tester designated the remaining 5,000 acres as a Special Management Area that has many of the protections of wilderness but allows for occasional helicopter landings to help train our nation’s military personnel in wilderness survival. It also enables the City of Butte to maintain the water pipeline that crosses the area.

Reason:  This change was requested by wilderness advocates.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester adjusted boundaries in the West Big Hole to not inadvertently cut off loop roads there.

Reason:  Big Hole valley residents requested this change.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester removed two cherry stems – which is an exclusion of a trail from wilderness, to allow uses otherwise not permitted in wilderness areas – in the Lee Metcalf at Cowboys Heaven and in the East Pioneers.

Reason:  Dozens of Montanans requested these changes.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester added 6,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management wilderness – the East Fork of Blacktail, which is adjacent to the Snowcrest wilderness in the bill.

Reason:  The BLM requested this because it is adjacent to the Snowcrest Wilderness and a state wildlife management area.

  • Change:  Language has been added to allow access to water infrastructure for irrigators in all of the wilderness areas designated by this bill.

Reason: This was added at the request of Montana irrigators.

The final version of FJRA also maintains these original provisions

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest:

· Permanently creates areas that the Forest Service must manage for recreation, including motorized recreation.

· Solves the long-standing Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area debate by designating some BLM Wilderness Study Areas and releasing others from wilderness consideration, and management as if they were wilderness.

· Allows ranchers’ access to water infrastructure (such as stock tanks and pipelines) in the Snowcrest Wilderness Area.

· Allows continued sheep trailing across the Snowcrest Wilderness Area.

Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest:

· Permanently creates Three Rivers Special Management Area, which encompasses separate motorized and non-motorized recreation areas.

· Directs the Forest Service to conduct a study of potential ATV routes.

· Designates 30,000 acres of wilderness at Roderick Mountain.

Seeley Lake District of the Lolo National Forest:

· Creates an area for snowmobiling use until the next revision of the Lolo Forest Plan.

· Designates approximately 87,000 acres of wilderness in addition to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountain Wilderness.

All three areas

· Authorizes use of federal funds for biomass facilities that process biomass material harvested in Montana.