This op-ed initially appeared in the Daily Montanan.
As the old adage goes, “elections have consequences.” As the dust settles on the 2021 Montana Legislative session, we are seeing the consequences of the last Montana election right before our eyes.
During my first legislative session as Governor in 2013, my administration kept our promise of creating jobs and growing the economy. That year we had the 5th fastest employment growth in the nation and we passed legislation to help businesses thrive, like eliminating the business equipment tax for small, Main Street businesses. We invested in public education and made the lives of Montanans economically better – not just in 2013 but in every legislative session thereafter – and did so with a Democratic governor and a Republican-majority legislature.
During the recent legislative session, our new Governor and Republican legislators were more focused on setting our state back than using their positions of public trust to create jobs or grow our economy.
Sure, we’d all like to pay less in taxes. Yet, the Republicans’ economic agenda focused solely on giving a massive tax break to the wealthiest among us, while raising taxes on working Montanans or leaving you with nothing more than pocket change. The administration and Republican legislators have openly acknowledged they want to change Montana so more wealthy, out-of-state elites move here. Meanwhile, hardworking Montanans risk falling behind because of new Republican taxes on workers’ tips and increases in health care costs on our kids. Rewarding the rich and out-of-state corporations – at the expense of Montana working families – is no way to lead us to a better future.
The handouts to the rich didn’t stop there. Republicans and Governor Gianforte enacted a law to take money from the public treasury and funnel money to private schools, giving an up to $200,000 tax credit to individual millionaires who want to fund private schools. Republicans also pushed to privatize our public wildlife and public lands. Behind closed doors, they passed legislation that abandons Montana hunters and favors wealthy, out-of-state trophy hunters.
Our constitutional rights are also under attack as Republicans strip away the freedoms and liberties that allow a woman to make her own healthcare decisions or LGBTQ Montanans to be free from discrimination. These attacks on our neighbors and on our constitution won’t create jobs. Instead, they will prevent new business from coming to Montana and deny economic opportunities.
And while local control seems to be important to the Republican-majority for privatizing wildlife or sabotaging where voter-approved recreational marijuana is available, local control no longer exists for protecting public health or ensuring Montanans can afford to live in their communities where the wealthy are moving to, like Whitefish and Bozeman.
We are now the only state in the nation to roll back same-day voter registration, throwing a wrench into Montana’s long track record of free, fair, and secure elections. While we used to have some of the lowest political contribution limits in the nation, Republicans have made it easier to funnel more special interest money and large contributions into our elections, all but eliminating the progress we’ve made in ensuring our elections are by the people and for the people.
At the same time, a new law will allow our courts to be packed with hand-picked, partisan judges loyal only to the Montana Governor and not to the Montana Constitution. And, when the Legislature’s own attorneys repeatedly warned the Republican majority that the laws they are enacting are unconstitutional, rather than listening to their own staff’s advice and dropping these ideas, they launched an attack against our independent courts to try and delegitimize them. To further these partisan attacks against a separate branch of government, the Republican Party is now sending out campaign-style negative mailers against the entire Montana Supreme Court.
This isn’t a comeback plan, it’s a setback plan. And Montana will pay the price – now and in the years to come.
Montanans deserve better than those who are currently holding positions of public trust. They deserve better than those who are abandoning the Montana we know in order to benefit only the wealthy, out-of-state, and highly partisan interests. Montanans deserve job creation. We deserve thriving economic livelihoods. We deserve to have our constitutional rights protected and the opportunities our revered public lands and public schools provide us.
In Montana when things get tough, we get back on our feet, we keep fighting, and we demand better. Elections do have consequences. Rather than wallowing in disappointment or despair, Montanans should channel that frustration in our communities and at the ballot box to hold the Gianforte administration and Republican legislators accountable, so the next time legislators come to Helena, they will better represent Montanans’ interests, not the wealthy, the hyperpartisan, and the special interests.
Steve Bullock was Montana’s Governor from 2012-2020 and served as the Attorney General of Montana.