Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jim Messina, Obama’s Fixer


Ari Berman, of The Nation, just published a scathing 3,700-word analysis on the role Montana’s own Jim Messina plays in driving President Barack Obama’s political agenda and reelection campaign.

Messina, of course, was Sen. Max Baucus’ chief of staff until he left to help run Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign.

Berman paints a picture of a tough political enforcer intolerant of dissent and fiercely loyal to his boss. It is not a flattering picture of “the most powerful person in Washington that you haven’t heard of.”

Messina, who has served as Obama’s deputy chief of staff under Rahm Emmanuel, is now running Obama’s reelection campaign. The article portrays Messina as the man responsible for turning the Obama ‘08 campaign of  “hope and change” into the Obama administration of “legislative compromises and political timidity.”

“Under Messina, Obama ‘12 could more closely resemble the electoral strategy of Baucus or Bill and Hillary Clinton—cautious, controlling, top-down in structure and devoted to small-bore issues that blur differences between the parties—than Obama ‘08, a grassroots effort on a scale modern politics had never seen.”

The article chronicles Messina’s rise in politics from an organizer in Missoula, to working for Democrats in the Montana Legislature, to working as chief of staff for Sen.Max Baucus.

According to Berman, Messina’s devotion to Baucus played a major role in the Obama administration’s mishandling of the 2009 health care debate:

The administration gave Baucus and his handpicked “gang of six” senators nearly unlimited time to secretly craft a bill, which proved to be one of its most glaring strategic missteps during the healthcare debate. “Some of the difficulty that healthcare is in today is Max’s fault,” says former Montana Democratic Congressman Pat Williams. “He took too long, he tried to satisfy too many—including people that were going to vote against it from the onset—and he gave the opposition time to regroup. That was a bad political decision on his part, and many people out here believe, rightly or wrongly, that Messina was part of that foot-dragging and vacillation.”

Berman digs in to Messina’s Montana past quite a bit. He writes that with Messina as the enforcer, Baucus’ inner-circle was known as “the Montana mafia” for the way they played hard-ball with Montana’s grass-roots Democratic base. Berman chronicles how shortly after Baucus sailed to reelection in 2002 Messina visited Montana Democratic Party chair Bob Ream and demanded that he fire executive director Brad Martin.

The Baucus camp regarded the state party as too grassroots and insufficiently loyal to Baucus. Ream resisted and his executive board unanimously recommended that Martin be retained. Then Baucus insisted that Ream resign. He refused. When Ream ran for re-election in 2004, Messina tried to find somebody to run against him, but could not.

It’s a lengthy piece but well worth the read.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Medical Marijuana reform in jeopardy

medmjAs I write this the Senate is debating the sole remaining medical marijuana reform bill, Senate Bill 423 by Sen. Jess Essmann, R-Billings.

Please indulge me as I prognosticate about the future of reform…

Due to a procedural snafu the Senate didn’t vote on the bill by Tuesday’s deadline because they didn’t have a fiscal note that outlined the estimated cost of the bill.

The fiscal note was delivered today, and now the Senate will have to suspend rules in order to pass the bill on to the House. Suspension of the rules requires an affirmative vote by a two-thirds majority. Democrats have the votes to block suspension of the rules, but I don’t think that will happen. More on that later…

Senate President Jim Peterson told the Senate GOP caucus this morning that even if they don’t have the votes to suspend the rules, the Senate can still move forward and pass the bill under normal procedures. However, if that happens the House would have to suspend its rules in order to accept the bill.

But I don’t think it’ll come to that. Sources close to the debate tell me that Gov. Brian Schweitzer wants a medical marijuana reform bill on his desk…even if Democrats aren’t comfortable with the restrictions and limitations contained in SB423.

My guess is that Senate Democrats will vote to suspend the rules pass the bill, possibly with some Democrat-friendly amendments. If it then passes in the House, I’m hearing Schweitzer will offer an amendatory veto easing some of the restrictions contained in the bill, particularly as it relates to the use of medical marijuana by chronic pain patients. That could make it more palatable to Democrats and medical marijuana patients while allowing the Legislature to save face on reform.

Reforming the law has been a priority of both parties, and Democrats don’t want to see repeal. If the Legislature passes some sort of reform, I think it’s less likely that voters repeal it at the ballot box. I think that’s part of the calculation Democrats are making as they decide whether to pass SB423.

Then again, if Democrats have the votes to block the bill, it could end up being a powerful bargaining chip for restoring funding for human services in the governor’s budget.

Just some thoughts to keep you guessing as the Legislature nears the end of debate on one of the most contentious issues of the session.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

House floor debate on Gold Standard gets lively

In case you missed it, the Montana House of Representatives had a highly entertaining debate on a measure to require the state to back transactions of state business with gold and silver coin.

wagner gold standardThe bill, by Rep. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison would establish a state reserve of silver and or  gold in various forms to accommodate transactions using the tobacco tax revenue stream.

The measure narrowly fell on a 52-48 vote.

Wagner said the bill would protect “honest money” from “political manipulation and value.”

“To return to this system of honest value, former Federal Reserve Chairman Allen Greenspan suggested that a system would be needed to developed to operate in a dual currency,” Wagner said.

Democrats openly mocked the bill during house debate, offering a pair of amendments aimed at ridiculing the bill.

Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, wondered if taxpayers would still file their income tax returns using dollars.

“If I’m filling out my income tax return, that’s still going to be done in dollars, is it not?” Barrett asked.

“Actually Rep. Barrett it’s going to be done in Federal Reserve note equivalents,” Wagner said.

At that point laughter began rippling through the House chamber.

“By Federal Reserve note equivalents do you mean what most of us mean by the term dollars?” Barrett asked.

After a lengthy pause, and a mild scolding from the chair for addressing Rep. Barrett as “Mr. Barrett,” Wagner responded:

“Mr. Chairman, Rep. Barrett, Article 1 section10 in the…Coinage Act, April 2, 1792, states the definition of a dollar. I don’t know what other people to know as to be a dollar, but that’s probably the problem in this bill.”

After a discussion about how tax return forms will look if the bill is passed, Barrett offered an amendment to allow the state to back transactions with coal.

“What this bill provides for is for the payment of taxes in-kind. Or for the receipt of payment from the governor in-kind. It’s a little bit like the old days when you paid the school teacher with chickens,” Barrett said. “There’s no particular reason why we should restrict payments in kind to one particular commodity like gold. In fact all this amendment does is suggest we should expand those possibilities.”

Barrett said if it’s a good idea to pay taxes in-kind, then why not pay taxes in coal?

Snickers could be heard throughout the House chamber, and some representatives covered their faces with bills so as not to be seen on camera smiling and laughing.

Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Butte, offered a similar amendment, but this time the state would back transactions in copper instead of gold or silver.

“When Butte prospers, Montana prospers and that’s why I think it’s in the best interest of Montana to go to a copper standard. Please make like oxidized copper and go green,” Noonan said.

Again, laughter from the floor.

Some Republicans didn’t find the floor debate so funny.

Wagner was among them.

“This reminds me of the bullying bill we had before (the House Education) committee the other day. However, I will not be bullied,” Wagner said.

Rep. Dan Kennedy said he didn’t find the Constitution funny at all.

“And to read out of it it exactly it says no state shall enter into any treaty, alliance or confederation grant and coin money emit make things but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debt,” Kennedy said.

The actual language of Article 1 Section 10 that Kennedy referenced says:

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

Both amendments failed on mostly party-line votes.

The Twitterverse had a heyday with during the debate. If you’d like to see all of the tweets from the #mtleg hashtag, click the link below to view the Sortify story.

I’ll post video from the debate once it loads.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bar owner/lawmaker doesn’t like DUI bills

As Associated Press reporter Steven Dockery reported today, the House passed a proposal to toughen penalties against repeat drunk drivers:

House Bill 14 carried by Democratic Rep. Mike Menahan would let courts look back to impaired driving offenses up to 10 years old when someone is being punished for a drunk-driving charge, a change from the current five-year cutoff.

The measure, which was backed by the House on an 88-12 vote, allows courts to hit more offenders with tougher second-offense penalties, such as suspending offenders' licenses.

Rep. Alan Hale, R-Basin, was one of the 12 no votes on the measure. Hale, who according to his campaign website owns the Saddle Bar and CafĂ© in Basin, gave a passionate speech in opposition to not only HB14, but to all of the bills aimed at stiffening DUI laws. According to Hale, the DUI bills are “destroying” small businesses by preventing people from drinking and driving.

The AP story has a rather truncated quote from Hale’s opposition, so here’s the full text of Hale’s floor speech:

"These DUI laws are not doing our small businesses in our state any good at all. They are destroying them. They are destroying a way of life that has been in Montana for years and years. These taverns and bars in these smaller communities connect people together. They are the center of the communities. I'll guarantee you there's only two ways to get there: either you hitchhike, or you drive, and I promise you they're not going to hitchhike."

Here’s the video if you watch to watch it yourself. It was posted by user Montana Democrats.

Friday, March 25, 2011

All but seven state lawmakers get health benefits

Caduceus_on_whiteThe Legislature finally agreed to Lee Newspapers’ request to release all the names of state lawmakers covered by taxpayer funded health care benefits.

Mike Dennison has the story here.

The Legislature’s former chief legal counselor, Rob Stutz, initially denied Dennison’s request in January.

Lee Newspapers indicated that it planned to sue, but held off after Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, and Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, introduced a bill  that would require the Legislature to disclose the information.

Senate Bill 284 passed the Senate 47-3, but was tabled Wednesday without debate in the House Human Services committee.

Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, attempted to blast the motion on the House floor today. GOP opponents argued that the measure was aimed at “embarrassing Republicans” for criticizing federal health care reforms while at the same time accepting taxpayer-funded health benefits. The motion failed 38-54.

Nevertheless, the Legislature today released the names of lawmakers accepting benefits.

Here’s the list.

Here’s the letter Legislative Services Division Executive Director Susan Fox wrote to Dennison.

Will the Legislature adjourn early?

Republican lawmakers — ever mindful of Gov. Brian Schweitzer's veto power—are considering a plan to temporarily adjourn the legislative session after delivering the state budget bill to the governor's desk in an attempt to avoid a special session.

Last week, Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, and House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, requested a memo from the Legislature's legal staff examining possible veto scenarios. The memo outlines the procedural requirements with respect to House Bill 2, the spending bill, including the Legislature's legal and procedural options should the governor veto the budget while the Legislature is in session.

Here’s a link to the full memo from acting chief legislative council Todd Everts.

MilburnMilburn confirmed Wednesday that GOP lawmakers are considering the idea of putting HB2 on Schweitzer's desk early, and then taking a break from the session and resuming it after Schweitzer makes his move on the budget.

"We have certainly studied that option," Milburn said.

Schweitzer sent a clear message to the GOP-controlled Legislature last month when he unveiled a "veto" branding iron.

Schweitzer refuses to say which bills he plans to veto, but he has indicated that he wouldn't hesitate to use the "hot iron" on HB2 if the measure is not to his liking.

schweitzer vetoThe governor repeatedly has criticized GOP-proposed cuts to human services and education, including a plan to turn down $120 million in federal money.

"We've mentioned to them that they're just going to make taxes go up for property owners, and make health care costs go up for people who are paying private health insurance. Those really aren't acceptable solutions," Schweitzer said in an interview Wednesday.

Once a bill gets to his desk, the governor has 10 days to decide whether to sign it into law, administer a line-item veto, use an amendatory veto or veto the bill in its entirety. If Schweitzer doesn't sign or veto the bill, it becomes law after 10 days.

If the governor vetoes a bill that arrives on his desk after the Legislature has adjourned for the session, lawmakers can attempt to override the veto by mail-in ballot. If they fail to override the veto, the bill dies.

However, the state Constitution requires that lawmakers pass a budget, so if Schweitzer vetoes HB2 after lawmakers go home for the summer and they are unable to muster enough mail-in votes to override it, the Legislature must return to the Capitol for a special session at a date of the governor's choosing.

That's the scenario GOP leaders want to avoid.

If they get the budget on the governor's desk with legislative days to spare, and then temporarily adjourn for the 10 days Schweitzer has to act on the bill, it will leave time for lawmakers to take up the measure without a special session.

"The idea of adjourning early to leave time was to eliminate the possibility of a special session," Milburn said. "I would say that was more of an option earlier on. A lot of this depends upon what the governor wants to do. Is he interested in using his veto brand on House Bill 2 and then get on with the issues, or sit down and discuss it early on?"

Milburn said he and Peterson briefly met with Schweitzer about the budget on Monday.

"I think that after speaking to him and with Senator Peterson and I, we're all willing to sit down early in the process and get the executive branch included in House Bill 2," Milburn said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essman, R-Billings, was less candid about the GOP's strategy for heading off a budget veto.

Asked if Senate Republicans were exploring the possibility of adjourning early, Essman said, "We are trying to pass a responsible budget that tightens the belt of state government, just like people are trying to do in their own homes. We think we need to go through a fact-based budgeting process. We think every dollar in the state budget needs to be looked at."

When pressed, Essman refused to say whether Republicans are considering early adjournment.

"We think it's important to have a process that we put forth a balanced budget that's responsible for all of Montanans, and give the governor an opportunity to look at it and react to it," Essman said. "I would say the requested memo speaks for itself in terms of all options being examined."

Democratic lawmakers said they are distressed with the pace at which Republicans are pushing the budget and related spending bills through the legislative process.

"I think they're pushing these bills without having given thoughtful consideration," Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula, said. "The speed with which they're trying to get done is undercutting the quality of the product that we're putting out here. That does disturb me."

The Senate is expected to take up the budget early next week, and pass it as early as Wednesday or Thursday. If the House then accepts the Senate's changes to HB2, the measure could arrive on the governor's desk by the end of the week.

"I would say that would be iffy," Milburn said. "The House may not accept the amendments the Senate puts on."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Helena IR bars Planned Parenthood from Health Fair

IMG_2914About a dozen picketers demonstrated outside the Helena Civic Center Thursday to protest the Helena Independent Record newspaper's decision to bar Planned Parenthood of Montana from participating in a health fair.

Demonstrators held signs that read "The Helena IR bans Planned Parenthood from health fair," and "I stand with Planned Parenthood."

Stacey Anderson, Planned Parenthood public affairs director, said her organization was initially invited to join the more than 60 health and wellness businesses and organizations exhibiting at the event fifth annual event.

"Then about a week ago they walked the check back to our office," Anderson said. "They said they decided not to let either side exhibit."

"Either side," Anderson explained, meant anti-abortion groups and pro-abortion rights groups.

Anderson said Planned Parenthood provides a variety of family planning, medical, counseling and educational services to women, including abortion services. Last year the Helena Planned Parenthood clinic served 1,685 clients, most of whom are low-income individuals.

Questions directed to the Independent Record regarding the decision to bar Planned Parenthood from the health fair were directed to publisher Randy Rickman. Rickman did not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment.

"We are deeply disappointed that our local paper is choosing to censor our community, our providers and dismiss our patients," Anderson said.

This is not the first time Planned Parenthood and the Independent Record have publically clashed.

In May 2010 Rickman penned a controversial editorial supporting the Oklahoma Legislature's passage of a bill that requires women to get an ultrasounds and hear a detailed description of the fetus prior to an abortion.

Pro-abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood, blasted Rickman for the piece.

"We’ve had challenges with the IR in the past months and had hoped that after our staff met with the publisher and editorial board that a greater understanding of the breadth of our services would have prevailed," Anderson said. “Anti-choice sentiment and politicization should not weaken our ability to advocate for our patients or have access to the only newspaper in Helena."

Rift splits groups fighting to keep wolves on endangered species list


The law firm that represented 13 environmental groups in a successful push to return wolves to the endangered species list has withdrawn from the case because of a rift among the plaintiffs.

Attorneys for Bozeman-based Earthjustice, which represented the 13 environmental groups, filed a motion in federal court in Missoula Wednesday to step aside.

According to Earthjustice attorney Douglas Honnold, some of the plaintiff groups that brought the lawsuit have "established different positions" about how to proceed with the case.

"There will be different lawyers that are going to step in in short order," Honnold said.

Honnold declined to comment on what the "different positions" were among the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Don Molloy ruled in August 2010 that the government made a political decision when it removed gray wolf protections from just two of the states where Northern Rocky Mountain wolves roam.

The decision returned wolves to the list of endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in most states and stopped planned wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho. The ruling was heralded by wildlife advocates and reviled by anti-wolf interests across the nation.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks joined the federal Department of Justice, the state of Idaho, the Idaho and Montana Farm Bureau federations, and the Mountain States Legal Foundation in appealing the ruling last fall.

Since then both sides have tried to negotiate a settlement, but Wednesday’s motion and Honnold’s statement indicate that those negotiations failed to produce an agreement all parties were willing to go along with.

Mike Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said some plaintiffs wanted to settle the case and others did not.

The Alliance, Western Watersheds Project and Friends of the Clearwater refused to settle, Garrity told the Tribune Thursday.

"I believe these other groups will ask Judge Molloy for stay of his ruling which put wolves back on the Endangered Species List. This would mean that wolves could then be shot on sight and the states could have a hunting season on wolves before the wolf population is fully recovered," Garrity said. "We are sticking to our original request that wolf management should be based on science and the law, not politics."

Michael Leahy, Rocky Mountain region director for Defenders of Wildlife, the lead plaintiff in the case, declined to comment. Other plaintiffs in the case also declined to comment Thursday.

According to court documents filed in federal court Thursday, Bozeman attorney Brian Gallik will represent Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Wildlands Network and Hells Canyon Preservation Council.

James Jay Tutchton, of Englewood, Colo., will represent the Alliance and Friends of the Clearwater.

Summer Nelson, an attorney for the Western Watersheds Project, will take over representation of that group.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rob Stutz, legislature’s chief attorney, resigns

The Legislature's chief attorney resigned Tuesday after fewer than 9 months on the job.

Rob Stutz replaced longtime legal services director and code commissioner Greg Petesch in July. Petesch had served as the Legislature's chief lawyer for 26 years until his retirement in June.

Susan Fox, executive director of Legislative Services Division declined to comment on the reason for Stutz's abrupt resignation because it is a personnel matter.

"We respect his privacy," Fox said.

Stutz did not immediately return a call for comment.

Fox said Stutz's departure will have little impact on the work of the Legislature's legal services staff at this point in the session.

"The timing of his resignation was respectful to the process," Fox said. "The bulk of the legal review work is complete."

Fox said general bills that survived the 45-day transmittal deadline have already been reviewed by legal staff.

Fox said she was grateful for the work Stutz did in his during his brief tenure.

"I want to thank him for all of the hard work he did pre-session and during transmittal," Fox said.

Stutz's brief term as legal director was dominated in the months leading up to the session defending a lawsuit Gov. Brian Schweitzer filed against the Legislature last fall alleging that lawmakers violated the Montana Constitution's "single subject" rule when it passed a spending measure in 2009.

"It was a lot of work and took a lot of his time and a lot of staff time, time that could have been spent on session business," Fox said.

A Helena district court judge dismissed the lawsuit in December.

Legislative attorney Todd Everts will take over as interim legal services director, Fox said.

Legislative attorney Lee Heiman, who took over as code commissioner upon Petesch's retirement will remain in that job, Fox said. The code commissioner is responsible for incorporating laws passed by the Legislature into the Montana Code. That work will begin this summer after the Legislature adjourns.

Fox said the search for a new legal director will begin no sooner than May.

"We'll wait until after the dust of the session has settled before we make those decisions," Fox said.

U.S. Attorney Cotter: “When criminal networks violate federal laws those involved will be prosecuted.”

U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter said federal agents executed 26 criminal search warrants and four civil seizure warrants in Montana.

According to a three page press release, the raids were “the culmination of an 18-month multi-agency investigation into the drug trafficking activities of criminal enterprises operating throughout the state of Montana.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a total of 26 criminal search warrants were executed on Monday, March 14 at medical premises in Belgrade, Big Sky, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Dillon, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City, Missoula, Olney, and Whitefish.

“Twenty-six search warrants were carried out yesterday where there is probable cause that the premises were involved in illegal and large-scale trafficking of marijuana,” Cotter said. “When criminal networks violate federal laws those involved will be prosecuted.”

More to come on The Lowdown and the Great Falls Tribune.

UPDATE: Click here for the complete text of Cotter’s press release:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Feds raid at least 10 medical marijuana operations in six Montana cities

Editor’s Note: I’ll update this blog as developments surface including additional links, photos and videos. Send tips and information to

2011-03-14_14-09-39_294Federal and local law enforcement officials raided medical marijuana operations in at least six Montana cities Monday.

According to the Oakland, Calif.-based pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access, at least 10 raids occurred across the state in Helena, Missoula, Belgrade, Columbia Falls, Bozeman and Billings.

According to a search and seizure warrant served at one of the raided facilities, officials were looking for evidence of illegal drug trafficking offenses in violation of federal law.

Under state law registered patients are allowed to use limited amounts of the drug for certain health conditions, and registered caregivers can grow up to six plants per registered patient.

Federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration were seen clearing hundreds of marijuana plants out of Montana Cannabis' greenhouses Monday as local law enforcement officials stood by outside the building. Montana Cannabis, located just west of Helena, is one of the state's largest medical marijuana operations.

Medical pot raidSeveral employees were also detained for questioning.

According to Chris Williams, one of the owners of Montana Cannabis, one employee was arrested on an unrelated outstanding warrant but no other arrests were made.

According to Williams, agents were executing a warrant signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch of Missoula.

A copy of the warrant served at a different facility and also signed by Lynch states that the warrant was issued on Friday but that officials had until March 24 to execute the search. It is not clear if more raids are planned in the coming days or weeks.

warrantAccording to the warrant agents were authorized to seize everything from marijuana and hashish and Ziploc bags to cell phones, computers and medical marijuana patient lists.

"(Judge Lynch) authorized federal agents to come in and enforce federal law above state law," Williams said "This is a state issue not a federal issue. There shouldn't be federal agents on my ground when we've done everything we can to do this right."

Local officials in Lewis and Clark and Flathead Counties confirmed their agencies' involvement but directed media inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Victoria Francis, assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, declined to comment on the raids other than to say that the U.S. Attorney's office would be issuing a press release in the coming days. Officers at the scene also refused to comment.

Williams told reporters that agents showed up at the greenhouse west of Helena around 10 a.m. Monday without warning. Williams said armed agents burst into the business with guns drawn and ordered employees to get down on the ground. At least eight hand-cuffed people could be seen through the chain link fence that surrounds the facility. Several employees were released after questioning.

2011-03-14_14-09-29_579Federal agents donning paper masks, respirators, and what appeared to be oxygen masks attached to large yellow tanks, were seen through the large glass windows of the greenhouse pulling plants from their black plastic pots and removing them from the building.

Medical marijuana supporters were outraged at the timing and scope of Monday's raids as lawmakers at the state Capitol continue to debate the future of Montana's medical marijuana law.

Tom Daubert, one of the lead authors of the 2004 marijuana law and founder of the pro-medical marijuana group Patients and Families United, condemned Monday's raids, calling them "calculated and political on the part of the federal government."

"Montanans have now spent nearly a year defining problem areas and proposing solutions to our law," Daubert said. "We are now at the height of the process of evaluating those choices and decisions and making those choices and decisions. I think all Montanans, regardless of our agreement or disagreement on medical marijuana, should unite in condemning the federal government for intruding in this way at this critical decision-making moment."

Until November Daubert was a part owner of Montana Cannabis. Daubert said he no longer has a financial stake in any medical marijuana caregiver operations.

As the raids were underway, lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were in the process of voting on a measure to repeal the 2004 voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act. The panel failed to pass the measure on a 6-6 vote.

2011-03-14_14-25-18_621Barb Trego, a medical marijuana patent and the mother of one of the Montana Cannabis employees who was detained, arrived at the scene from the Capitol in tears. Trego said word that the raids were underway spread via text messages as she was sitting in the committee room listening to lawmakers debate the repeal measure.

Trego said she believed some of the senators who voted for repeal of the state's medical marijuana had advance notice of the raids.

"Those smug senators that voted against it were sitting there laughing because they knew all of this was going on," Trego said. "Even though the vote didn't go their way they were all smiling at us."

Here’s what the interior of Montana Cannabis’ greenhouse looked like in December 2009:


Here’s what it looked like an hour after federal agents went to work removing the plants:


UPDATE: I’ve uploaded another video from today’s raid. Listen to patient Barb Trego’s take on the events of the day (sorry about the wind, not much I can do about that):

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

GOP Rep’s “Cattle” comment draws ire of female lawmakers

Three female senators have demanded a public apology from Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, for comments he made comparing women to livestock and property during testimony on a bill that would criminalize offenses involving death to an unborn child.

Senate Majority Leader Carol Williams, Minority whip Kim Gillan, and Sen. Lynda Moss, all Democrats, sent a letter to Republican leaders Tuesday saying that Regier’s comments were “offensive, unacceptable, and embarrassing to our Legislature.”

Regier made the comments several times throughout the session in support of House Bill 167, saying that under Montana law the state recognizes the value of unfinished houses and pregnant cows, but does not recognize the value of unborn babies:

An exhibit that Rep. Regier submitted as part of his testimony in favor of HB167

“Ranchers refer to cows as either preg-tested or open,” Regier told the House Judiciary Committee in January. “A preg-tested cow is a cow that has been tested by a veterinarian and confirmed to be pregnant. Open cows are not pregnant.  Preg-tested cows bring a higher value than open cows. Why? Because the the calf the cow is carrying has a value even though it isn’t complete yet.

“If unfinished buildings and unborn calves have value in Montana, shouldn’t unborn children have a value? Your support of HB167 will show support to all pregnant women in Montana.”

Regier made the same comments on the House floor in January and  again in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The three Democratic female lawmakers said the comments “disrespect the hard work of our female legislators and constituents,” and they asked Senate President Jim Peterson and House Speaker Mike Milburn to censure Regier under joint House and Senate rules.

“We do not place price tags on women in the same way that we do on cattle—and a woman’s worth is not valued based on whether or not she is pregnant,” the female lawmakers wrote.  “Today is the 100th Annual International Women’s Day. Women in Montana make up a majority of our constituents and play an important role in our state. Representatives Regier’s remarks have gone too far.”

The letter also requests that GOP leaders direct Regier to “apologize to the Senate, House, and the women of Montana.

“Representative Regier’s analogy was offensive, an insult to all female legislators, to all women in Montana, and to the decorum of our body,” they wrote.

UPDATE: Chris Shipp, spokesman for the House Republicans, issued the following statement in an e-mail late Tuesday:

“Unfortunately Senate Democrats are more concerned with slinging mud and misrepresenting the statements of fellow legislators. Republicans remain focused on creating opportunities for more jobs in Montana and passing common-sense legislation such as HB 167. This leaves us little time to get in a war of words.
Next thing you know, Senate Democrats are going to issue a statement condemning our state's greatest female legislator, Republican Jeanette Rankin, for saying ‘Women remind me of the cows on our ranch in Montana. A cow has a calf and after a while a man comes along and takes the calf away.’”

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tea party’s armed “Constitution Rally” a flop

The March 4 “bring your guns to the capitol” rally was more or less a bust. A good number of the tea party Republicans in the House and Senate spoke to just a handful of armed demonstrators. Most of the people in attendance at the rally were members of the media and curious onlookers. As far as actual demonstrators go, I counted 17 including two children.

The rest of the attendees were board members of the Lewis and Clark Conservative Tea Party and  Tim Ravndal’s core supporters, many of whom defected from the Big Sky Tea Party Association after Ravndal was ousted from that group last summer for making offensive comments about gays on Facebook.

Advance apologies for the poor cinematography.

Friday, March 4, 2011

RAW VIDEO: Schweitzer meets with GOP leaders

Gov. Brian Schweitzer met with House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, and Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, Thursday morning.

The three men discussed the state budget and revenue estimates, eminent domain and workers’ compensation reform. I’ve posted video of the entire meeting below. A scanned version of the chart referenced at the 6:45 mark is posted below the video.

Be sure to check out the Great Falls Tribune for a report on the meeting and other news.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Frivolous use of the term “frivolous lawsuits”

According to an online legal dictionary, a frivolous lawsuit is defined as:

…one without any legal merit. In some cases, such an action might be brought in bad faith for the purpose of harassing the defendant. In such a case, the individual bringing the frivolous suit might be liable for damages for Malicious Prosecution. defines a frivolous claim as:

… lawsuit or motion in a lawsuit motivated by an intent merely to harass, delay or embarrass the opposition. In order to be found frivolous, the claim must have no arguable basis in law or fact.

I’m no legal scholar, but my attorney friends tell me that frivolous lawsuits are serious business. Judges don’t take kindly to people wasting courtroom resources, time and money on lawsuits that have no merit. In fact, people who bring frivolous lawsuits can be heavily sanctioned under state and federal laws.

At the Legislature, supporters of weakening the state’s environmental laws have been throwing the term “frivolous lawsuit” around like candy in a homecoming parade as they push a bevvy of bills aimed at increasing development of Montana’s extractive industries.

According to their reasoning, Montana’s economy is struggling and unemployment rates are high not because of Wall Street’s high-risk mortgage schemes that sparked the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, but because of “frivolous lawsuits” brought by “environmental extremists.”

Take, for example, today’s GOP blast from party director Bowen Greenwood about “jobs bills.” According to Greenwood, House Bill 533 by Tom Berry, R-Roundup, would  (emphasis mine):

…create jobs in Montana by allowing a coal lease to be extended if the project has to content (sic) with an environmental lawsuit. Our natural resource industries are hampered by frivolous lawsuits from environmental extremists.

Or this blog post on the GOP’s “Rotunda Report” by Jon Bennion,  government relations director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce:

In response to the overwhelming support for increased responsible resource development, the Senate has acted on two bills that will create jobs and add more revenue in the future for schools. SB 233 (Keane – Butte) and SB 317 (Vincent – Libby) attempt to remove the ability of obstructionist environmentalists from filing frivolous lawsuits to block responsible development.

The thing is, Montana law already forbids frivolous lawsuits. So does federal law.

My point is that just because somebody doesn’t a like the outcome of lawsuit doesn’t make it “frivolous” in the legal sense of the word. 

Accusing “environmental obstructionists” of filing “frivolous lawsuits,”  is essentially accusing them of breaking the law.

That’s not to say frivolous lawsuits don’t happen in Montana. In 2002 a Hot Springs man named Jack Ass (that’s not a joke), sued Viacom, MTV’s parent company, for defamation of character. Don’t believe me? Check it out. Seems Mr. Ass was displeased with the hit MTV show featuring Johnny Knoxville and the gang performing bone-splintering stunts and gross-out gags.

I would be curious to see a list of environmentalists’ lawsuits that judges found to be frivolous. My guess is it’s a pretty short list.

If there are any attorneys out there I’d welcome your thoughts on this subject in the comments section.