Saturday, January 29, 2011

First cracks in decorum beginning to surface



1.dignified propriety of behavior, speech, dress, etc.

2. the quality or state of being decorous; orderliness; regularity.

3. an observance or requirement of polite society.

On Monday Senate Minority Whip Kim Gillan, D-Billings, rose on the Senate floor on a point of personal privilege to raise the issue of Decorum. (Click here and fast forward to 41:45).

According to Gillan, she received several e-mails last weekend that questioned her behavior in a Senate Public Health Committee hearing . The hearing was a heated one over Senate Bill 161, sponsored by Sen. Verdell Jackson, R-Kalispell, to declare federal health care reforms "null and void" in Montana. (Clink here to watch the hearing).

At several points throughout the hearing proponents of the measure cheered and applauded, which is generally not allowed in committee hearings. Gillan and fellow Democrat Sen. Kendall Van Dyk took issue with the applause and Van Dyk eventually objected, saying the hearing was not a “political rally.”

However, the committee’s chairman, freshman Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, allowed the applause, saying he didn’t want to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment rights.

Gillan didn’t specifically criticize Priest on Monday, but it was clear to anyone watching what she meant.

“We all have to be concerned about the decorum of the Senate and in hearings,” Gillan said. “We have a lot of contentious hearings coming, and I just ask that members of the Senate who have been here a longer time join me in feeling we have a responsibility to help our more junior members, and when they are in difficult situations…all of us need to help people.”

Sen. President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, emphasized Gillan’s point. Peterson, along with Republican House Speaker Mike Milburn, have made decorum one of their top priorities this session.

“The decorum of the Senate applies to us senators, but in committee meetings it applies to everybody, including the public,” Peterson said. “For those of you who chair these committee hearings it’s important that you maintain civility and proper decorum in your committee hearings. If things start to step out of order it’s up to us, in the committee meetings, to support each other to maintain civility.”


Decorum was dealt another blow on Friday when Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez, of Billings, told Rep. Derek Skees, one of a handful of Republicans who sat in on a House Democrats’ caucus meeting, that "I felt so much hatred from your caucus."

"I feel like if it was up to you we would all be dead," Pease-Lopez said. "We are going to keep having babies and live and thrive no matter how much you try to oppress us."

Pease-Lopez was upset over a Republican amendment to a bill to move Montana to an all mail-in balloting system. The amendment  stripped special provisions aimed at outreach on reservations where Indian leaders say many residents don’t have mailing addresses.

Republican Majority Leader Tom McGillvray issued a strong rebuke.

"With the increased attention on civility in politics, we are disappointed and disheartened by the shameful comments from Rep. Pease-Lopez and the ensuing applause from the Democrat caucus," McGillvray wrote in an e-mail to reporters. "To claim that the GOP caucus, which includes several Native Americans, would want an entire people killed is entirely untrue and deeply offensive."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Legislators: Show some respect

I  referenced this in a tweet earlier so it probably deserves a little explanation. First a little background…

I come from a small Wisconsin town populated by a lot of Polish, Belgian, German, and Scandinavian decedents. When I was a kid my dad would listen to the local radio station every morning as he got ready for work. The local morning newscasters would recap high school sporting events, read headlines from the local newspaper, read obituaries, etc. It drove my dad nuts every time the morning DJ—who had been broadcasting the local news for decades—would time and time again mispronounce surnames of local residents on-air. It was a huge pet peeve of his that I must have inherited.

I mention this because this pet peeve has surfaced in recent weeks up here at the Capitol as I watch legislators repeatedly butcher the names of people who are testifying before their committees. Maybe it’s not a big deal to some people, but I find it incredibly insulting to Montana citizens who take time away from their jobs or families or businesses to come before the Legislature to testify on issues they care deeply about only to have members of the committee butcher their names on TV and over the Internet.

In some cases the people who continually endure the name-butchering have testified several times throughout the session before the same committee members. Legislators regularly call these people up to the podium to ask them questions. Over and over again certain members of the committee make little-to-no effort to learn how to pronounce these peoples’ names, and they’re really not that difficult to pronounce.

I suggest that if a committee member can’t learn to pronounce the name of a testifier after the second attempt then they should lose their privilege to ask questions.  Write it down. It’s not that hard.

Why am I making such a big deal about this? Because it’s about respect.

If Legislators want citizens to respect the work they are doing up here, then they should show a similar level of respect to the people who go out of their way to take part in the governing process.

Gov. Schweitzer’s State of the State

Schweitzer 09 SOTS

Tonight, at 7 p.m., Gov. Brian Schweitzer will deliver his fourth and final State of the State address to the full Legislature.

As far as I know the address won’t be streamed live on the Legislature’s website. However, Montana Public Radio, Montana PBS and Yellowstone Public Radio will provide live coverage on their member stations and online.

MTPR News Director Sally Mauk will host the coverage.

University of Montana journalism Professor Dennis Swibold and UM political science Assistant Professor Christopher Muste will join Mauk to provide analysis of the governor’s speech and the Republican response.

This is the first time Schweitzer has delivered the SOTS address to a Republican-controlled Legislature. Should be interesting. Be sure to tune in and to check tomorrow’s Great Falls Tribune for full coverage.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hacking at the Capitol: the dangers of Bluetooth

Internationally recognized hacker and computer security expert Brad Smith took me on an unusual tour of the Capitol on Thursday. brad the hacker 2Smith runs the Computer Institute of the Rockies here in Helena and he’s the director of the National Cyber Defense Force (the website is down for upgrades). He’s an ethical hacker, or “white hat,” whose well-known in security circles for his expertise on hacking, social engineering, interview and interrogation techniques, and network security based on Biomimicy.

I’ve wanted to cruise the Capitol with Brad for months now, but I haven’t been able to catch up with him between his travels to security conferences in Las Vegas, Miami, Washington, D.C.,  Egypt, and most recently Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But on Thursday we were finally able to link up, so to speak. I wrote about our experience in Saturday’s Great Falls Tribune.

brad the hackerWith a computer in his briefcase and a USB Bluetooth antenna up his sleeve, Smith wandered around the Capitol demonstrating how a hacker could easily break into smartphones, iPhones and laptops with nothing more than an inexpensive netbook, a $2.99 USB adapter, and free hacking software available online. Think I’m kidding? Click this link.

Smith strolled the hallways as his computer scanned nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices and identified those that could easily be broken into. In about 30 minutes of wandering his computer identified seven smartphones and three Apple MacBooks that had unsecured Bluetooth signals, and eith cell phones that were not as easily hackable.

Now, before you freak out and start wrapping your cell phone in tinfoil, I should say that very few people in Montana have the expertise required to execute a successful Bluetooth attack. Smith intern on phoneestimate there are probably fewer 100 people in the state with necessary know-how. That said, as we continue to advance into this bold new age of near-permanent Internet connectivity, the threat will only continue to increase, Smith says.

After the demonstration Smith sat down to talk to The Lowdown about the risks associated with using Bluetooth and other wireless devices and explained how people can protect themselves from digital attacks.

Hacker and security expert Brad Smith outlines the risks associated with using Bluetooth and wireless devices in places such as the Capitol.

Of course the threat isn’t unique to the Capitol. Basically any Bluetooth-enabled device anywhere is potentially susceptible to attack. As Smith explains, what makes the Capitol a desirable target for unscrupulous hackers, or “black hats” is the sheer volume of opportunities to steal valuable information like address books, account log-in info and even bank account information from lobbyists and lawmakers.

Check out this article from TechRepublica that explains how Bluetooth works, and how you can protect your Bluetooth devices.

This Secure Network whitepaper goes into even greater technical detail about the security vulnerabilities of Bluetooth and offers tips on how not to fall into the Bluetooth trap.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Latest MT Leg social calendar

You can download the latest updated 2011 Montana Legislature Social Calendar here.

The calendar is now in an easy-to-read .pdf file. This should be a piece of cake to post from now on. Whenever I get an updated version I’ll post it here, so be sure to check back regularly.

More on Sen. Shockley

There’s been a lot of talk around the capitol today about Sen. Jim Shockley’s open container citation and subsequent resignation as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

I think it’s safe to say that this story is—by virtue of the fact that there’s not much else going on in the gossip department—the first “scandal” of the session.

I haven’t heard anyone question that fact that Shockley demonstrated extremely poor judgment when he decided to sip a can of “red beer” on his way back to Stevensville last Friday. The incident is magnified by the fact that his committee is tackling a slate of DUI-related bills this week, including four that Shockley is sponsoring.

I’ve also heard a number of bi-partisan expressions of admiration and respect for Sen. Shockley’s integrity as a legislator.

Take this Tweet from fellow judiciary committee member Sen. Shannon Augare, D-Browning, for example:

@shannonjaugare: Shockley is a man of honor and respect and will continue to be instrumental in the work of the judiciary cmt. He is missed as chair.

Or this statement from Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, who spoke during Thursday’s hearing prior to Shockley officially stepping down:

“I don’t think anybody that’s here is an angel. We’re taking on some important public policy. I think each of us is probably a hypocrite in some way or another, and I don’t think that disqualifies any of us from doing our best to take on these important public policy issues.”

Augare added during committee:

“We continue to look up to you as a leader for this committee and you have our appreciation and, mostly, our respect.”

Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, issued this statement Thursday afternoon after Shockley resigned as chair:

“Senator Shockley is undoubtedly embarrassed by the situation, but he has accepted responsibility and is making the right decision for the right reasons.”

[Editor’s note: It’s not up yet, but soon the archived audio from Thursday’s hearing will be available here. Meanwhile, you can hear Montana Public Radio reporter Emilie Ritter’s report here.]

As far as I know, there has been no public admonition of Shockley from either the Montana Democratic Party or the Montana Republican Party. While I wouldn’t expect Republicans to go out of their way to draw attention to this matter, I’m mildly surprised that the Democrats  haven’t yet lobbed a few “hypocrite” charges Shockley’s way.

Then again, as Blewett so eloquently pointed out this morning, most people “are hypocrites in some way or another.” And let’s face it, it’s a long session and poor judgment is bi-partisan.

In related news…

Reporters were treated to a rare glimpse inside the Senate GOP’s damage control center Wednesday evening when a majority staffer inadvertently sent the wrong attachment in an e-mail press release.  The attached document, which arrived in my inbox at 5:30 p.m., contained a version of the Senate GOP’s statement that was obviously still in the editing process. The mistake wasn’t caught until about a  half hour later when a second e-mail went out at 6:09 p.m containing the fully edited statement.

The original statement (click here to view it) contained the closest thing to a public scolding Shockley has thus-far received for his ill-advised choice of road beverage.

The revised statement from Peterson removed phrases such as:

“This situation shows a lack of judgment that we have been working to change in this state…”


“The horrendous accidents that can occur from drinking and driving related offenses are serious crimes and a major issue facing Montana every day.”

Those lines were struck in favor of a considerably toned-down statement that didn’t even mention Shockley by name. Heck, the statement didn’t even acknowledge that Shockley is a member of Peterson’s party: 

We are obviously very disappointed to hear the report that a member of our body was found to be in possession of an open container while driving last Friday evening. We are in full support of strong laws against drinking and driving that apply to every Montanan. We are committed to pursuing meaningful DUI reform and working to change the culture of drinking and driving in Montana.

I don’t expect Shockley’s open container citation to have much, if any, effect on the passage or failure of any of the DUI bills. In fact, barring another high-profile drinking-and-driving incident, I don’t expect it to be much of an issue at all for the remainder of the session. Budget cuts, education spending, medical marijuana reforms, etc. will keep lawmakers plenty busy with more important business.

That said, Shockley is gearing up to run against Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock in 2012. I think it’s safe to say voters will be reminded of this incident often once that campaign heats up.

Shockley steps down as Judiciary chair

Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, stepped down as chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, a day after news broke that he was cited for violating the state’s open container law.

Shockley, who until this morning chaired the committee that’s working on a slate of DUI bills, was pulled over in Missoula on Friday after an off-duty law enforcement officer saw Shockley drinking beer while driving on Interstate 90. Shockley passed a breathalyzer test with a blood alcohol content of .03, which is below the legal limit of .08. He was cited for having an open container and paid the $51 fine on Tuesday.

Shockley is also a Republican candidate for Attorney General.

"I broke the law," Shockley told the committee. "Considering the emphasis of this committee has been DUI — I wasn’t DUI but it’s related to that — I think it’s appropriate that I step down as chairman of this committee."

Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, will take over as chair and Shockley will serve as vice chair.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed their support and respect for Shockley in an emotional start to Thursday’s meeting.

“I appreciate you accepting responsibility and doing the right thing and for what I think are the right reasons,” said Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, after Shockley announced his resignation.

Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, thanked Shockley for sharing with him information and knowledge throughout his time in the Legislature:

“I respect very much how difficult this must be for you, but I want you to know I continue to see you in the same vein,” Larsen said.

Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, became emotional as he expressed his respect and support of his former law school teacher.

“I don’t think anybody that’s here is an angel. We’re taking on some important public policy. I think each of us is probably a hypocrite in some way or another, and I don’t think that disqualifies any of us from doing our best to take on these important public policy issues,” Blewett said.

Blewett said the committee, which is hearing a raft DUI bills this week, will probably pass many of those measures in large part due to the work Shockley did on the committee.

“I commend you for that,” Blewett said. “I think you’re definitely not an angel.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Legislature’s social calendar, and other stuff

Below you will find the Legislature social calendar through February. You’ll notice it gets thin the further out you go. Events will continue to be added throughout the session, so each week I’ll update it in a blog post. I just got fancy new scanner which now makes the task much easier.

On another note…

I know I’m not the most prolific or consistent blogger and tweeter. Writing the Lowdown is secondary to my day-to-day reporting duties for the Great Falls Tribune. Sometimes I’m swamped with committee hearings. Sometimes I’m chasing down leads. Sometimes I’m just flat-out too busy to blog.

That said, I always encourage readers to submit tips and ideas for blog posts. It was a reader’s tweet that prompted me to post the Legislature’s social calendar online.

E-mail tips, story ideas or comments to mtlowdown(at)

Without further ado, the social calendar for the remainder of the session (click on images to see larger version):




Monday, January 10, 2011

Montana Legislature Social Calendar: Week 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ll try to publish the Montana Legislature’s social calendar here on a regular basis throughout the session. I’ll check with the Secretary of the Senate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to see if there have been any changes. Click on the image below to bring up a larger readable version:

mtleg social calendar Jan 9 -15

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011 MT Legislature Social Calendar

A number of folks around the capitol have complained that the Legislature is no longer posting its social calendar online.

Legislators are regularly invited to brunches, mixers and after-hours events sponsored by special interest groups, lobbyists, and other organizations who have business before the body.

In 2009, in an effort to increase transparency, Democratic leadership decided they would post the Legislature’s social calendar on the website. It was an unprecedented move aimed at giving the public a better idea of the events lawmakers are invited to and attending throughout the session.

This year the social calendar is only available in hard copy and you have to ask for it.

I’ve heard speculation in the hallways that Republican leadership’s decision not to post the social calendar online might have something to do with Gov. Brian Schweitzer infamous “boozer” comments.

Serial capitol tweeter @JameeGreer wondered about that on Friday:

“And there's no online social calendar in the 2011 #MTLeg like in 09. Guess the "boozers" comment got to leadership?”

I’m not sure if that’s the case or not. I haven’t had a chance to ask Republican leaders about change.

However, in the interest of giving Lowdown readers the…well, lowdown…I’ve decided to post the legislative social calendar on this blog. Since it’s constantly changing, I’ll aim to post it here on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The calendar is in hard copy, and I don’t have a scanner, so the best I can do is to take a photo of it and post it. Also, I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the calendar.

Here’s the calendar for Jan. 9-22 as of Thursday, Jan. 6 (click on the photo for a larger version):

Jan 9-22 soc calendar

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Medical emergency at the capitol

Rep. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton, was transported by ambulance suffering a nasty fall on the barrel vault steps in the capitol rotunda. Taylor appeared to strike her head and was bleeding when emergency crews arrived.  Witnesses said Taylor appeared to “misstep” while descending the large marble stairscase. 

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, was walking with Taylor when the accident occurred. Warburton said Rep. Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell, was walking up the stairs at the time the accident occurred and stopped Taylor from falling all they way down.

“He was the real hero,” Warburton said.

According to witnesses, Taylor, who was bleeding severely, never lost consciousness. The extent of her injuries is not known at this time.

UPDATE 1-6-2011, 2:34 p.m.: A friend just overheard someone in the hallway say Rep. Taylor broke her nose. Hopefully her injuries are not as serious as they appear to be. When I have more definitive information on her condition and expected return to the capitol I’ll let you know.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blog Party! Links galore!

In this bold new digital age there are more people blogging, tweeting, facebooking and tumbling than ever before. That holds true at the state capitol where journalists, legislators, lobbyists, and everyone in between are reporting the day-to-day happenings in near real time and online.

In addition to the The Lowdown (where, dear readers, you already know to turn for the latest and greatest news and insight from under the dome and beyond) there is a growing list of great online resources for tracking the 62nd Montana Legislature.

As a service to loyal Lowdown followers, I’ve compiled many of those online resources in one convenient location, namely, this blog post. I’ll continue to update this list as I discover new blogs and websites and Twitter feeds. By no means is this list complete. These are simply the blogs and feeds I’m currently aware of. If you have others that didn’t make the list, please e-mail me and I’ll add them. Remember, these are folks who are writing from the capitol.

Montana Journalists tweeting from the Capitol

Emilie Ritter at Montana Public Radio is posting her audio feeds on her Tumblr account. You can listen to streams or subscribe via RSS. You can follow Emilie on Twitter @emilieritter, or on Facebook. You can also listen to MTPR live, or download podcasts of the news programs  here.

MarneĆ© Banks at Montana’s News Station has a blog called The Banks Account. You can follow MarneĆ© on Twitter @MarneeBanks, or on Facebook.

Mike Dennison of the Lee Newspaper Capitol Bureau is tweeting @mikedennison.

Matt Gouras of the Associated Press is Tweeting @mattgouras.

Jackie Yamanaka of Yellowstone Public Radio is tweeting @jackieyamanaka. You can also listen to live or archived audio at

Cody Bloomsburg is covering the Legislature for the Community News Service, a project sponsored by the Montana Newspaper Association and the University of Montana School of Journalism. Cody’s blog and news reporters can be found at You can follow him on Twitter @CodyatSession11.

Brittany Wooley is covering the Legislature for the University of Montana’s Legislative News Bureau. You can find her legislative blog here, or follow here on Facebook.

Phil Drake and Michael Noyes are reporting for the online publication Montana Watchdog. You can follow them on Twitter @MTWatchdog.

Party Blogs

Legislative Republicans and Democrats have also  launched their own respective blogs.

The Republican blog, called The Rotunda Report, can be found here. The Montana GOP twitter feed is @MontanaGOP.

The Democratic blog is called Montana Capitol Report and can be found here. The Montana Democratic Party Twitter feed is @MtDems.

Twitter feeds

More and more folks are tweeting from the capitol and using the hashtag #mtleg. Search for #mtleg in your Twitter application for tweets specific to the 62nd Legislature. 

Here are just some of the feeds from folks I know are tweeting from the capitol:


Legislators who Tweet


Rep. Bryce Bennett @montdem
Rep. Ellie Hill @EllieHill

Rep. Tom McGillvray @repmcgillvray

Rep. Mike Miller @MikeMillerHD84

For a list of other legislators and statewide elected officials who have Twitter accounts, visit Tweet Montana. Many legislators have Twitter accounts but don’t tweet. The Legislators listed above seem to actually Tweet from time. I’ll update the list as I find more.

Other Statewide Elected Officials’ Twitter Feeds

Gov. Brian Schweitzer @brianschweitzer
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch @SOSMcCulloch
Attorney General Steve Bullock @AGSteveBullock
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg @dennyrehberg
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester @jontester

Remember, e-mail at mtlowdown(at) if I left anybody out.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PSC impasse ends with Gallagher as chair

After nearly two days of stalemate, unconventional parliamentary tactics, firey accusations and sensitive negotiations the Montana Public Service Commission finally settled on new leadership on Tuesday.

Newly elected Republican commissioner Bill Gallagher, of Helena, will serve as chairman of the five member panel after reluctantly agreeing to a deal that also put embattled GOP commissioner Brad Molnar, of Laurel, in the vice-chairman's seat.

The PSC adjourned on Monday having not elected a chairman after newly-elected Republican commissioner Travis Kavulla, of Great Falls, refused to vote for Molnar, the senior member of the commission.

Kavulla said he had concerns about Molnar's "temperament and leadership" abilities as well as Molnar's ongoing ethics case. The state Commissioner of Political Practices ruled last fall that Molnar violated state ethics laws by accepting gifts from companies that appear before the PSC and using state-owned equipment for campaign purposes.

Gallagher, who repeatedly declined Kavulla's nomination of him for chairman on Monday, finally agreed on Tuesday to accept the nomination on the condition that Molnar would serve as vice-chair.

Molnar reluctantly agreed to the deal, but not before chastising Kavulla and accusing him of doing the bidding of utility lobbyists for NorthWestern Energy and legislators who "carry their water" by blocking Molnar's ascension to the panel's top post.

Kavulla on Sunday presented Molnar with a list of nine conditions that Molnar had to agree to in order to secure Kavulla's vote for chairman. Most of those conditions revolved around Molnar agreeing not to act on behalf of the commission without prior approval of the other Republicans on the panel. Molnar angrily rejected Kavulla's "Chairman's Code of Conduct" in a heated exchange on Monday. Kavulla told reporters that he developed the list of conditions after consultation with utility industry representatives of companies and other groups who appear before the commission and some Republican legislators. (Note: Kavulla told me that he spoke to other groups besides just utility company representatives. Corrected 1/5, 9:45 a.m.)  

"To allow lobbyists, particularly of the utility, to determine who shall be the commissioner, more importantly who shall be the chairman of that commission, is as patently wrong as anything I've ever seen," Molnar said.

Molnar said he has confidence in Gallagher's ability to chair the body, but he added that having a freshman commissioner serve as the leader of the PSC will serve to "weaken" the commission.

"(Gallagher) will need those same lobbyists and staff hired by others to guide him for a long time, and during that time the utility, and lobbyists and legislators who work for them overtly and covertly, will be in control, and that is not a good precedent," Molnar said.

In an unprecedented move that rankled the two Democrats on the panel, the commission voted along party lines to suspend the rules and first vote for vice-chairman before voting for chairman.

Democratic commissioner John Vincent, of Gallatin Gateway, said Tuesday's actions could open the door to unprecedented political gamesmanship for future commissions.

"I think would be a dangerous step to create a ticket in this manner," Vincent said. "I think it is out of character, and I think that it sets a bad precedent. I think it opens up the election of chairman to even a new and higher level of politics. I don't want to be a part of that precedent."

After the panel voted 3-2 along party lines to elect Molnar as vice chairman, Kavulla rose on a point of personal privilege and defended his actions. Kavulla said Molnar's comments demonstrate why he could not vote for him as chairman.

"I'm not going to go into personal interactions…that we've had that have made me doubt your temperament and leadership, but there have been many," Kavulla told Molnar. "I wish to take exception to Brad Molnar's comments, which are exactly a reflection of why he will not be chairman of this body."

Gallagher said after the PSC work session that he did not think a freshman commissioner was qualified to serve as chairman of the state body that regulates the state's public utilities, but that it appeared to be the only way to break the impasse.

"I am not the most qualified for the chair; that was in fact Brad Molnar. But given what we had to deal with, I came to the conclusion that I was willing to lead if I could have Brad Molnar as my vice chair," Gallagher said.

Asked by reporters if the majority party could set aside their differences and work together effectively going forward, Gallagher said: "I think the answer to that question is going to depend on what the question is going to be before the commission. In a lot of cases it is going to be yes and in a lot of cases the answer is going to be no."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fireworks at Montana PSC

The Montana Legislature convened on Monday with Democrats and Republicans exchanging hugs and handshakes on the House floor.

The same can not be said for the Montana Public Service Commission, where an impasse among the body’s Republican members has lead to an interesting procedural conundrum and some heated words between two GOP commission members.

Travis Kavulla presented fellow Republican Brad Molnar with a proposed “Chairman’s Code of Conduct,” a list of nine conditions that Molnar would have to agree to in order to get Kavulla’s vote for chairmanship.

Here’s what transpired in the PSC meeting room between votes when Kavulla asked Molnar if he was willing to negotiate. I hit the record button late and missed the most “colorful” parts of the exchange:

PSC Commissioner Brad Molnar, left, argues with newly-elected commissioner Travis Kavulla between commission votes for chairman.

I’ll update more later. The meeting is in recess until 2:50.

You can watch live when the PSC reconvenes.

UPDATE: After repeatedly failing to elect a new chairman, the commission recessed until Tuesday. In a surprising turn of events, Travis Kavulla nominated himself for the post. The panel voted 4-1 against Kavulla.

The breakdown on repeated votes was as follows:

Gallagher nominated Molnar. Gallagher and Molnar voted yes, Gutsche and Vincent voted no, Kavulla abstained.

Vincent nominated Gutsche. Vincent and Gutsche voted yes, Gallagher, Molnar and Kavulla voted no.

Kavulla repeatedly nominated Gallagher. Gallagher repeatedly declined the nomination.

Kavulla then nominated himself. Kavulla voted yes, Gallagher, Molnar, Vincent and Gutsche voted no.

And so we pick this up again tomorrow!

Here’s the “Code of Conduct” that Kavulla wants Molnar to agree to and sign in order for Molnar to secure Kavulla’s vote for the PSC Chairmanship. Sorry about the poor quality but I had to take a photo of it with my phone.

When presented with the document, Molnar responded, in front of myself and Lee Newspapers reporter Mike Dennison, that he “would be the biggest lowlife motherf***er who ever climbed out from under a rock," if he signed Kavulla's list of demands.

UPDATE: Molnar presented this “Kavulla Karta” to reporters after the exchange above. Who said the PSC isn’t exciting?