Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

National media focuses on Montana Legislature

 


National media focuses on Montana Legislature

Controversial bills catch the eye of Stephen Colbert, CNN and more

Tim Leeds

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, and Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, are in agreement about the national — even international — coverage of the Montana Legislature: Neither thinks the media are doing a good job.

Warburton, a leading conservative in the Legislature, said she believes the media are filtering stories about the work the Legislature is doing, selecting sensationalized issues while ignoring important bills the legislators are proposing and passing.

"And the media, overall, are losing credibility because of it, " she added.

She also said that the writing of this story is contributing to the sensationalized coverage.

"These stories are 'old news' by now, and your writing an article on them in the Havre Daily would seem more political than newsworthy …, " she said in her e-mail reply to the newspaper.

Bennett, a liberal Democrat, also said the media are reporting the issues poorly, and said it is not reporting enough about the bills being proposed.

"I believe that this Legislature has been a showcase of the right-wing agenda, " he said in an e-mail to the Havre Daily News. "I believe that the national media has only got a glimpse of the radical bills that we debate on the House floor every day. "

The differences in the two responses mirror many opinions — in a partisan split — of what the coverage is like, what it is doing to national perceptions and what impact it might have in future elections.

The coverage also follows a state and national "shellacking, " to use President Barack Obama's term, by the Republicans in November's election. That included, for the first time, a Republican sweep of the legislative general election in traditionally Democratic Hill and Blaine counties.

The bills coming out of the Legislature elected last fall have prompted Gov. Brian Schweitzer to register a new brand with the state — "VETO. "

***Widespread coverage of the Legislature

Bills put forth in this session of the Legislature have attracted attention, ranging from videos posted on YouTube of testimony in committees, to mock-conservative comedian Steven Colbert joking on "The Colbert Report" about a Montana House bill declaring that greenhouse gases are not harmful and that global warming is a natural phenomenon that is beneficial to Montana.

The Havre Daily asked numerous officials, organizations and commentators in Montana and around the nation for comment on the coverage, which includes Colbert's comedy, an interview of a Montana legislator on CCN's "Anderson Cooper 360" and a story on the online news source "Huffington Post" about Warburton's bill to redefine the nature of the home guard of the Montana militia.

Some issues have received widespread coverage. The bill that would repeal medical marijuana, sponsored by Speaker of the House Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, is one. Stories about his bill have appeared across the nation, including in the New York Times and on CNN and Yahoo News.

A story on the repeal of medical marijuana also has appeared in Australianews.com, and in a radio interview with Milburn by the Swedish World Federation Against Drugs.

The bill is stalled in a Senate committee after passing the House. A vote to send it to the floor failed on a 6-6 vote.

Many of the stories appearing nationally and internationally are about bills and issues focusing on states rights, including the bill by Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, which would allow the state to seize federal land using eminent domain; bills allowing the state to nullify federal laws, and a recent Montana Tea Party rally at the Capitol where the participants carried firearms.

Associated Press stories on many issues have been picked up around the country and around the world, and the international news service Reuters also has carried stories on the controversial issues and events.

The attention continues. In a column looking at state bills published Tuesday in the Washington Post, Dana Millbanks discusses Warburton's home guard bill and Montana bills to nullify health care reform, the Endangered Species Act, gun laws and food-safety laws. Others he lists are bills by Rep. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison, to restore the gold standard in Montana and by Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, effectively overturning Missoula's ordinance banning discrimination against gay, a bill calling on Congress to have the United States leave the United Nations, and one requiring FBI agents to ask permission from local sheriffs before taking actions.

Millbanks also refers to the bill Anderson Cooper covered on his program.

***Differing views of the coverage

Rep. Bob Wagner — who also sponsored a bill asserting state sovereignty — was interviewed by Cooper about his bill that required candidates for U. S. president to provide proof they were born in the United States.

Wagner told the Havre Daily News that the popular thing for the media to do is to use clips or partial statements or to misstate people's intentions when presenting information. That is done to discredit the ideas, he said.

"This is a sad statement on society, " Wagner said in his e-mailed comments to the Havre Daily News.

Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, said national attention on controversial bills ignore good bills that are going through the Legislature.

"I think in the stories you brought up — it must have been a series of slow news days, and they were looking for something to write about, " he said.

He said bills such as efforts to revise the state workers compensation laws or to require daily testing for people after a second or subsequent charge of driving under the influence of intoxicants will make the state a better place.

"(Those) bills are going to be good for our future; they just don't have the pizazz to make the news, " he said.

But not all take that stance.

Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, said the reason the Republican legislators are getting national attention is because of the "unconstitutionality, absurdity, and frankly, bigotry inherent in many of their bill proposals, and it isn't just a few bills, it is a lot of bills. How can that be ignored? "

She said legislators this session have ignored the Legislative Services "junque files, " the consultation as to whether bills are constitutional. That has prompted Hill and Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, to introduce an act requiring a constitutionality analysis of every bill.

"Enough is enough. We have wasted too much time on this extreme political ideology, " Hill e-mailed to the Havre Daily News. "The Montana Legislature is not the Rush Limbaugh show. "

Markos Moulitsas, founder and CEO of the liberal blog "Daily Kos, " said it is the actions of the legislators that are grabbing the headlines.

"Montana Republicans are certainly a national laughing stock, " he e-mailed to the Havre Daily News.

He said a post on the liberal blog "Montana Cowgirl, " titled "Nutjob Bills in the Montana Legislature, " "was a viral sensation" with myriad bloggers adding links and tweets "like crazy. "

"Now, Republicans can whine that the coverage is unfair because not everything they do is crazy, but that would be like a death row inmate whining that his punishment is unfair because he didn't spend all his time killing someone, " Moulitsas said.

***Purpose of the bills and the coverage

Hill County Republican Chair Andrew Brekke said the coverage on the national level is leaving something out. Even bills he may not agree with have serious, important intentions, Brekke said. Wagner's global warming bill was trying to deal with the task of balancing environmental regulations while trying to develop Montana's coal industry. It may not be right to say global warming is good, but issues must be addressed, Brekke said.

The national coverage of Montana bills often stems from simply looking at the short title of the bill, or picking up coverage from another source, he said.

It also comes from what sells, he added.

"The national media likes to talk about crazies, " Breke said.

But John Musgrove, chair of the Hill County Democrats, said he believes the media coverage is fair.

"It's looking at (the bills) from a standpoint of what good government cosists of, and I'm sure that most of those fringe bills are not designed for good government, " he said. "They're designed for pushing forward personal beliefs of the legislators. "

Contrasting views also come from the think tanks The Policy Institute, a liberal research organization based in Helena, and The Montana Policy Institute, an advocate of free-market economy.

Molly Severtson, interim director of The Policy Institute, said last fall's election brought in a number of legislators from the far right who she said do not represent Montana's traditional values or the views of most Montanans.

"Historically, Montana has led the way in the nation in terms of promoting progressive concepts like collective bargaining rights, environmental protection and individual liberties, " Severtson said.

Carl Graham, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute, said the opposite is true — the media are creating a false image. He said he finds it as offensive as Southern redneck stereotypes or blackface comedy when the state is portrayed as being populated by "ignorant rubes. "

"Our governor, by the way, only reinforces that stereotype when he does his 'aw shucks, that dog won't hunt' and 'there's critters need'n brand'n' routine for Bill Maher and his other friends in the national media who look at us as their cultural inferiors, " Graham added.

"(These stories) are merely cases of the cultural and media elite playing to their mostly urban and liberal fan base by pulling out an old stereotype of rural states like Montana, " he said.

***Source of the stories, and the bills

Warburton said during a fundraiser in Havre in February that the media is ignoring many good bills, and that the coverage is focusing on extremes. The Legislature is discussing and voting on just as many bills as it did in the last session, but the media is only covering some bills.

Musgrove, a former four-term state representative, said there seem to be more extreme bills this session.

He said while he spent his eight years as a state representative, bills like those receiving national coverage always were proposed — but not like this session.

"It's almost like something's in the water to create craziness, " Musgrove said. Jim Lopach, political science professor at the University of Montana in Missoula, said part of the reason for the kinds of bills the Montana Legislature sees is due to the high level of representation in the state — with 100 representatives and 50 senators representing fewer than a million Montanans, it will result in widespread — and often narrow — views in the lawmaking body, he said.

He said the national discontent that led to many Republican victories, often fanned by tea party activism, probably also played a part.

"I think that was reflected in the results of our own legislative races, " Lopach said.

Hill said that many of the bills "may border on the absurd, but bills that are transparently anti-gay, anti-woman and threaten to secede from the Union are dangerous and un-American. "

***Impacts on perceptions — and elections

Conservatives say they doubt the coverage of controversial bills will have much long-standing impact.

Brekke said he doubts, even if the coverage is causing a stir now, that will carry on to the next election. Montana voters tend to look at the issues and candidates at the time of the election, not dwell on past legislative sessions, he said.

He said the national media always is trying to categorize Montana, with little success, such as in 2004 when the state passed medical marijuana while voting down gay marriage. That reflects the state's independent spirit, he added.

"I think people sometimes are confused about our state, and sometimes we seem to like that, " Brekke said.

Graham said that the media coverage is not embarasing to the Legislature.

"These people are playing to fan base that disdains all that our rural independent heritage stands for, and I would guess there are many more Americans admiring than mocking us for our courage to speak out and assert our liberties. They just don't have a national stage, " he said.

Severtson said it is creating an impact.

"I think coverage like this definitely has a negative effect on the national perception of Montana …, " she said. "The national coverage of the extremely conservative legislators in the 2011 session is giving the impression that Montana is more conservative than it actually is. "

Musgrove said the negative coverage seems to be overwhelming the good coverage, citing stories about Montana being one of few states with a positive balance in the bank

"Schweitzer is getting a lot of press on that and a lot of press on his branding iron, " Musgrove said. "He's really the only thing we have to counter the craziness of the legislative session. "

But Musgrove would not commit to whether the coverage could have an impact on the next elections.

"We can hope, " he said.

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, and Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, are in agreement about the national — even international — coverage of the Montana Legislature: Neither thinks the media are doing a good job.

Warburton, a leading conservative in the Legislature, said she believes the media are filtering stories about the work the Legislature is doing, selecting sensationalized issues while ignoring important bills the legislators are proposing and passing.

"And the media, overall, are losing credibility because of it, " she added.

She also said that the writing of this story is contributing to the sensationalized coverage.

"These stories are 'old news' by now, and your writing an article on them in the Havre Daily would seem more political than newsworthy …, " she said in her e-mail reply to the newspaper.

Bennett, a liberal Democrat, also said the media are reporting the issues poorly, and said it is not reporting enough about the bills being proposed.

"I believe that this Legislature has been a showcase of the right-wing agenda, " he said in an e-mail to the Havre Daily News. "I believe that the national media has only got a glimpse of the radical bills that we debate on the House floor every day. "

The differences in the two responses mirror many opinions — in a partisan split — of what the coverage is like, what it is doing to national perceptions and what impact it might have in future elections.

The coverage also follows a state and national "shellacking, " to use President Barack Obama's term, by the Republicans in November's election. That included, for the first time, a Republican sweep of the legislative general election in traditionally Democratic Hill and Blaine counties.

The bills coming out of the Legislature elected last fall have prompted Gov. Brian Schweitzer to register a new brand with the state — "VETO. "

Widespread coverage of the Legislature

Bills put forth in this session of the Legislature have attracted attention, ranging from videos posted on YouTube of testimony in committees, to mock-conservative comedian Steven Colbert joking on "The Colbert Report" about a Montana House bill declaring that greenhouse gases are not harmful and that global warming is a natural phenomenon that is beneficial to Montana.

The Havre Daily asked numerous officials, organizations and commentators in Montana and around the nation for comment on the coverage, which includes Colbert's comedy, an interview of a Montana legislator on CCN's "Anderson Cooper 360" and a story on the online news source "Huffington Post" about Warburton's bill to redefine the nature of the home guard of the Montana militia.

Some issues have received widespread coverage. The bill that would repeal medical marijuana, sponsored by Speaker of the House Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, is one. Stories about his bill have appeared across the nation, including in the New York Times and on CNN and Yahoo News.

A story on the repeal of medical marijuana also has appeared in Australianews.com, and in a radio interview with Milburn by the Swedish World Federation Against Drugs.

The bill is stalled in a Senate committee after passing the House. A vote to send it to the floor failed on a 6-6 vote.

Many of the stories appearing nationally and internationally are about bills and issues focusing on states rights, including the bill by Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, which would allow the state to seize federal land using eminent domain; bills allowing the state to nullify federal laws, and a recent Montana Tea Party rally at the Capitol where the participants carried firearms.

Associated Press stories on many issues have been picked up around the country and around the world, and the international news service Reuters also has carried stories on the controversial issues and events.

The attention continues. In a column looking at state bills published Tuesday in the Washington Post, Dana Millbanks discusses Warburton's home guard bill and Montana bills to nullify health care reform, the Endangered Species Act, gun laws and food-safety laws. Others he lists are bills by Rep. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison, to restore the gold standard in Montana and by Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, effectively overturning Missoula's ordinance banning discrimination against gay, a bill calling on Congress to have the United States leave the United Nations, and one requiring FBI agents to ask permission from local sheriffs before taking actions.

Millbanks also refers to the bill Anderson Cooper covered on his program.

Differing views of the coverage

Rep. Bob Wagner — who also sponsored a bill asserting state sovereignty — was interviewed by Cooper about his bill that required candidates for U. S. president to provide proof they were born in the United States.

Wagner told the Havre Daily News that the popular thing for the media to do is to use clips or partial statements or to misstate people's intentions when presenting information. That is done to discredit the ideas, he said.

"This is a sad statement on society, " Wagner said in his e-mailed comments to the Havre Daily News.

Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, said national attention on controversial bills ignore good bills that are going through the Legislature.

"I think in the stories you brought up — it must have been a series of slow news days, and they were looking for something to write about, " he said.

He said bills such as efforts to revise the state workers compensation laws or to require daily testing for people after a second or subsequent charge of driving under the influence of intoxicants will make the state a better place.

"(Those) bills are going to be good for our future; they just don't have the pizazz to make the news, " he said.

But not all take that stance.

Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, said the reason the Republican legislators are getting national attention is because of the "unconstitutionality, absurdity, and frankly, bigotry inherent in many of their bill proposals, and it isn't just a few bills, it is a lot of bills. How can that be ignored? "

She said legislators this session have ignored the Legislative Services "junque files, " the consultation as to whether bills are constitutional. That has prompted Hill and Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, to introduce an act requiring a constitutionality analysis of every bill.

"Enough is enough. We have wasted too much time on this extreme political ideology, " Hill e-mailed to the Havre Daily News. "The Montana Legislature is not the Rush Limbaugh show. "

Markos Moulitsas, founder and CEO of the liberal blog "Daily Kos, " said it is the actions of the legislators that are grabbing the headlines.

"Montana Republicans are certainly a national laughing stock, " he e-mailed to the Havre Daily News.

He said a post on the liberal blog "Montana Cowgirl, " titled "Nutjob Bills in the Montana Legislature, " "was a viral sensation" with myriad bloggers adding links and tweets "like crazy. "

"Now, Republicans can whine that the coverage is unfair because not everything they do is crazy, but that would be like a death row inmate whining that his punishment is unfair because he didn't spend all his time killing someone, " Moulitsas said.

Purpose of the bills and the coverage

Hill County Republican Chair Andrew Brekke said the coverage on the national level is leaving something out. Even bills he may not agree with have serious, important intentions, Brekke said. Wagner's global warming bill was trying to deal with the task of balancing environmental regulations while trying to develop Montana's coal industry. It may not be right to say global warming is good, but issues must be addressed, Brekke said.

The national coverage of Montana bills often stems from simply looking at the short title of the bill, or picking up coverage from another source, he said.

It also comes from what sells, he added.

"The national media likes to talk about crazies, " Breke said.

But John Musgrove, chair of the Hill County Democrats, said he believes the media coverage is fair.

"It's looking at (the bills) from a standpoint of what good government cosists of, and I'm sure that most of those fringe bills are not designed for good government, " he said. "They're designed for pushing forward personal beliefs of the legislators. "

Contrasting views also come from the think tanks The Policy Institute, a liberal research organization based in Helena, and The Montana Policy Institute, an advocate of free-market economy.

Molly Severtson, interim director of The Policy Institute, said last fall's election brought in a number of legislators from the far right who she said do not represent Montana's traditional values or the views of most Montanans.

"Historically, Montana has led the way in the nation in terms of promoting progressive concepts like collective bargaining rights, environmental protection and individual liberties, " Severtson said.

Carl Graham, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute, said the opposite is true — the media are creating a false image. He said he finds it as offensive as Southern redneck stereotypes or blackface comedy when the state is portrayed as being populated by "ignorant rubes. "

"Our governor, by the way, only reinforces that stereotype when he does his 'aw shucks, that dog won't hunt' and 'there's critters need'n brand'n' routine for Bill Maher and his other friends in the national media who look at us as their cultural inferiors, " Graham added.

"(These stories) are merely cases of the cultural and media elite playing to their mostly urban and liberal fan base by pulling out an old stereotype of rural states like Montana, " he said.

Source of the stories, and the bills

Warburton said during a fundraiser in Havre in February that the media is ignoring many good bills, and that the coverage is focusing on extremes. The Legislature is discussing and voting on just as many bills as it did in the last session, but the media is only covering some bills.

Musgrove, a former four-term state representative, said there seem to be more extreme bills this session.

He said while he spent his eight years as a state representative, bills like those receiving national coverage always were proposed — but not like this session.

"It's almost like something's in the water to create craziness, " Musgrove said. Jim Lopach, political science professor at the University of Montana in Missoula, said part of the reason for the kinds of bills the Montana Legislature sees is due to the high level of representation in the state — with 100 representatives and 50 senators representing fewer than a million Montanans, it will result in widespread — and often narrow — views in the lawmaking body, he said.

He said the national discontent that led to many Republican victories, often fanned by tea party activism, probably also played a part.

"I think that was reflected in the results of our own legislative races, " Lopach said.

Hill said that many of the bills "may border on the absurd, but bills that are transparently anti-gay, anti-woman and threaten to secede from the Union are dangerous and un-American. "

Impacts on perceptions — and elections

Conservatives say they doubt the coverage of controversial bills will have much long-standing impact.

Brekke said he doubts, even if the coverage is causing a stir now, that will carry on to the next election. Montana voters tend to look at the issues and candidates at the time of the election, not dwell on past legislative sessions, he said.

He said the national media always is trying to categorize Montana, with little success, such as in 2004 when the state passed medical marijuana while voting down gay marriage. That reflects the state's independent spirit, he added.

"I think people sometimes are confused about our state, and sometimes we seem to like that, " Brekke said.

Graham said that the media coverage is not embarasing to the Legislature.

"These people are playing to fan base that disdains all that our rural independent heritage stands for, and I would guess there are many more Americans admiring than mocking us for our courage to speak out and assert our liberties. They just don't have a national stage, " he said.

Severtson said it is creating an impact.

"I think coverage like this definitely has a negative effect on the national perception of Montana …, " she said. "The national coverage of the extremely conservative legislators in the 2011 session is giving the impression that Montana is more conservative than it actually is. "

Musgrove said the negative coverage seems to be overwhelming the good coverage, citing stories about Montana being one of few states with a positive balance in the bank

"Schweitzer is getting a lot of press on that and a lot of press on his branding iron, " Musgrove said. "He's really the only thing we have to counter the craziness of the legislative session. "

But Musgrove would not commit to whether the coverage could have an impact on the next elections.

"We can hope, " he said.

 

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