By Ron VandenBoom
Two somewhat embittered sounding legislators, Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, and Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, addressed the monthly meeting of the Hill County Democratic Central Committee Tuesday leveling both political barrels of their double-barreled partisan gun against their Republican counterparts in the recently concluded 57th Legislature.
Jergeson described the session as "grim" and took dead aim at the Republican majority.
"Part of what occurred," he said, "... is due to the fact that Republicans don't really examine issues."
Jergeson illustrated the point by telling his fellow Democrats a story of two children who came across a cow pie in the middle of the road and were unable to determine if, in fact, it was a cow pie. After touching it, smelling it, and eventually tasting it, the children concluded it was indeed a cow pie. As they went on their way, the one child looks at the other and said, "good thing we didn't step in it."
"I think the problem with our Republican colleagues is, they don't examine the issues and decide whether or not they ought to step in it," he said.
Jergeson told the crowd that two years ago Republicans stepped in it "up to their hips" when they passed electricity deregulation.
"They led us down that path," he said, while noting
that a few Democrats sided with deregulation. "But Republicans led us down that path because they didn't properly examine the issue."
Jergeson said what Republicans were really searching for this session was "political cover" for mistakes of the past.
He accused Republicans of not really favoring HB-632, the re-regulation bill, saying instead that what they wanted was "political cover" to be on record as trying to do something about the issue.
HB-632 would have once again given the Public Service Commission the authority to regulate the price of electricity a power that was taken away with the passage of deregulation two years ago.
Jergeson told the Democrats that Republican actions in regards to education were to cover their "virulent" anti-public education bias. But he added that their bias was somewhat moderated in the later days of the session regarding K-12 education. But not enough to prevent the closure of some schools and the placing of an additional burden on property taxpayers for a smaller K-12 education system.
"But in regard to the University System they never stopped," Jergeson said, noting that as far as Republicans were concerned, if a family can't afford to send their child to a university, "that's fine then maybe they shouldn't go."
Freshman Rep. Musgrove told the Democrats that he was unfamiliar with the rules when he first took his seat in the Montana House of Representatives, but he learned quickly that the most important rule was the 58-42 rule.
The 58-42 rule refers to 58 Republicans seats in the House verses 42 Democratic seats.
"And every time something happens, the newspapers write it up as the legislature doing something," he said. "Well it isn't the legislature, it's the majority of those voting in the legislature which happens to be Republicans."
One of the things Musgrove said troubled him most was the failure of the legislature to increase the level of participation in CHIPs (Children's Health Insurance Program) from 150 percent of poverty level to 160 percent of poverty level.
"(We) were shut out on three separate votes to raise it to 160 percent," he said. "That's the way the last few weeks of the session went."
It was a failure despite the wishes of Republican Gov. Judy Martz who asked for the figure to be increased to 160 percent to include more children in the program, Musgrove said.
Musgrove said anything that was of value to working families or small business was thrust aside in favor of corporate welfare. He added that this had always been the case in Montana.
"As long as we have a Republican Majority we're going to stay that way," he said.
Musgrove encouraged his fellow Democrats to start working now to change the 58-42 rule so they can start doing things that matter in the state.