Judge Blocks Drag Ban

Judge Blocks Drag Ban

First, we stole the rainbow from God. Today, the LGBTQ+ community celebrated yet another victory.

Braxton Mitchell’s own hateful words have come  back to bite him  as a judge temporarily blocked Montana Drag Ban- HB359. Several plaintiffs, including Two-Spirit author, Adria Jawort and the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center, have filed suit over the new law, arguing that the ban is unconstitutional. Adding fuel to these claims, the city of Helena failed to approve permits for next weekend’s planned Pride parade prompting Montana Pride to join the lawsuit as well.

In today’s ruling, Judge Morris cited Representative Mitchell’s own words to prove the discriminatory intent of his bill.  Morris writes, 

Plaintiffs highlight […] that Representative Braxton Mitchell’s introduction in support of  H.B. 359 justified the legislation on the basis that drag shows expose children to ‘mature themes’ and ‘inappropriate activities,’ purportedly risking that children ‘adopt and accept certain stereotypes or attitudes,’ ‘creat[ing] an inadequate understanding of gender roles’ and ‘damag[ing] [children’s] long-term social and emotional development.’

Judge Morris confirms what members of the LGBTQ+ community have said all along. The intent of this law has always been discrimination.  Representative Mitchell spent the last legislative session making hateful and misinformed comments about the Queer community and pushing bills that will now cost Montana taxpayers. Each time the state passes an unconstitutional law, taxpayer funds are used to defend that law in court. And although I’ll never tire of watching Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, lose in court, the reckless waste of our tax dollars should outrage Montanans. 

After today’s ruling, the city of Helena has indicated they will issue all necessary permits.  The lawsuit against HB 359 has its next hearing set for August. In the meantime, we’re going to keep celebrating Pride.

Check out all the Montana Pride activities here: https://montanapride.org/

Big corporations get tax benefits, while Montana resident get higher property taxes

Big corporations get tax benefits, while Montana resident get higher property taxes

By Ken Toole

I’m writing to respond to a recent opinion column from Brendan Beatty, the Montana Department of Revenue Director, explaining the property tax mess in Montana. I’m still trying to decide if he really doesn’t understand the property tax system or if he is engaging in an lame attempt to provide cover for the Republican legislature and Governor’s office.

Though everyone talks about how complicated property taxes are, the basic framework is simple.  Your property tax is determined by the value of your property times the state tax rate times mills levied by state and local governments.  We all understand that property values are going up dramatically, and there isn’t much we can do about that.  Changing mills is also difficult, because many of the mills are statutory and the remainder depends on local governments acting.

But we can control the state tax rate people pay for residential property.

By doing nothing, the Governor and supermajority Republicans ensured that residential property taxes will increase while other classes, that are already getting hefty tax breaks from the 2023 Legislature, will see their taxes drop even more significantly.

We have seen rapid appreciation of values before.  In the past, the legislature has addressed increased values by reducing the state residential property tax rate.  Everyone knew this was coming, and there were several bills in the legislature to address the issue this way.  In their wisdom, the Republican supermajority decided not to act.

Surprisingly, Beatty’s editorial only addressed the mills portion of the equation. There’s a reason for that.

There are currently 18 different classes of property in Montana. Each one is taxed at its own rate. Imagine a big pie with 18 slices.  The increased residential values is essentially adding more filling to one piece of that pie – our residential property taxes.  We can’t make the pie much bigger because of caps put in place by the legislature. The only option is to shuffle things around within the pie.  But if you do that, you end up increasing the size of other pieces of pie, and their taxes go up.  When the value of residential property increases like this and you leave the tax rate for residential property the same, other classes of property end up paying less.

By refusing to adjust the residential tax rate, the Governor and legislators protected corporate property payers like NorthWestern Energy and Burlington Northern while letting residential property taxes increase dramatically. Imagine that!

Now let’s talk a little about politics.  There are numerous organizations dedicated to representing other classes of property.  Those organizations have things like offices, budgets and lobbyists.  Naturally these folks don’t want to see their state property tax rate go up. There is no organization for residential property taxpayers.

Importantly, the priority of the Republicans has always been to protect and promote corporate interests.  They have reduced business equipment taxes, capital gains taxes, taxes on investment income, and on the list goes.  All of  these things have increased taxes on the rest of us and reduced the quality of our public services.  The only tax they like is a general sales tax which falls heavily on consumers.

We can’t change the increase in residential property values.  The state mill part of the equation is mostly statutory and difficult to change.  If you eliminate the option of changing the tax rate for residential property because you don’t want to increase taxes on corporations, you are left with reducing local mills.  That means pointing your finger at local governments, and somewhat ironically, the voters themselves.

That’s exactly what Republicans are doing.

Like cats in a litter box, the Gianforte administration and Republican legislative leadership are scrambling to cover their mess.  The increase in residential property taxes isn’t a surprise.  It isn’t an accident or oversight. They knew this was coming, and they refused to do anything about it, because their priority is taking care of corporate board rooms.

Ken Toole served on the Senate Taxation Committee 2001 and 2003 and was the vice chair of that Committee in 2005.  He also served on the Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee in 2005.  He was elected to the Montana Public Service Commission in 2006.  He was the founder and Executive Director of the Policy Institute, a Montana Non-profit group that worked on tax and energy policy in Montana.  He now has a small farm outside Cascade and writes occasionally for WTF406.com a political blog in Great Falls.

Originally featured in The Daily Montanan here: https://dailymontanan.com/2023/07/26/big-corporations-get-tax-benefits-while-montana-resident-get-higher-property-taxes/

ANOTHER Republican Police Blotter

ANOTHER Republican Police Blotter

When we wrote our first Republican Police Blotter post we didn’t think it would become a regular thing but. . . .

Belgrade school board trustee, Brian Heck has been arrested in a human trafficking and child exploitation sting organized by law enforcement in Gallatin County.  He has been charged with patronizing a prostitute.  Heck has resigned his  position.  Of course School Board trustee positions are nonpartisan.  But during his campaign, the Belgrade News reported that Heck said, “I will have no tolerance for progressive social agendas being pushed on children in the classroom” and that he was a big “parents’ rights” advocate. He also received a $300 contribution from the local Republican Party during his school board race. He only had one other contributor.  We’re going out on a limb here and saying he is a Republican. Correct us if we are wrong.

In other news, on July 12th Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen pled guilty to causing a rear end collision in Helena Municipal Court.  The accident occurred on June 12.  She was cited for following too close.  Arntzen initially pled not guilty but changed her plea.  Someone must have told her that rear ending another person’s vehicle is almost always the fault of the person in the following car.  She was fined $100.

Speaking of Arntzen’s driving skills, in June of last year she pled no contest to passing a school bus with its stop arm extended.  She said she was unaware she had done it.  The video provided by the bus driver clinched the investigation.  Ironic that, in her official capacity, she oversees the School bus safety program for the state.  

City Commissioners McKenney and Tryon . . .Hypocrites

City Commissioners McKenney and Tryon . . .Hypocrites

The library is once again the target of the right-wing here in Great Falls. This time it’s about filling a vacancy on the library board. At its July 18 meeting, the Great Falls City Commission chose not to fill an open position by reappointing an existing board member, which is the common practice when incumbent city board members wish to be reappointed. Instead, the commission voted (without Mayor Bob Kelly, who was absent) to delay until the appointment process could be “reviewed.” And that is where the hypocrisy comes in.

City delays library board reappointment

Commissioners McKenney and Tryon donned the mantle of transparent government and argued that, since the city appointments are not consistently advertised, the commission should review the process before filling the opening. The city does not advertise all available board openings. It probably should. The problem with McKenney and Tryon is they didn’t mean it. At the July 5th meeting, the commissioners appointed two members to the business improvement district without advertising and without a peep about the appointment process. Hmm what could the difference be?

Of course the difference is politics. Tryon and McKenney should just be honest about that and not use some smoke screen like “transparency” and “good government” to cloak their political agenda. Tryon comes directly out of the tin-foil-hat-conspiracy Republicans here in Great Falls, and McKenney has been pandering to the Pachyderm Club for votes in his bid for mayor. Not to be cynical or anything like that, but it sure appears that the decision to hold up a library board appointment is just one more chapter in the far right attack on our library. Stay tuned for the actual appointment to the library board. No doubt the right wingers will put forth a candidate who is committed to being a thorn in the library’s side. And it looks like they will have McKenney and Tryon in their back pockets.

End Note: The attack on local libraries is occurring nationally and here in Montana. Here are a couple of Montana examples.

Flathead County Library- https://flatheadbeacon.com/2022/07/23/in-wake-of-library-board-shake-up-book-removal-advocates-appear-emboldened%ef%bf%bc/

Billings Library-

Citizens Identify Man Who Screamed Slurs at Local Pridefest

Citizens Identify Man Who Screamed Slurs at Local Pridefest

Pride month has come and gone, but the consequences for a local bigot are just beginning. The Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center hosted its first annual Pride Fest on June 24, 2023. The event featured performers, a slam poetry contest, food vendors, and numerous local artists and businesses. Focused on family fun and inclusion, hundreds of community members joined in the fun.

The only blight on an otherwise lovely day was a single angry man. Holding a sign that read, “F*gs Deserve Oppression” the lone “protestor” walked the perimeter of the Festival. He alternated between blowing a whistle and screaming slurs at passersby.   A Festival volunteer followed a few paces behind the man in an attempt to prevent any violence. But violence was clearly what this man was after. 

After sharing photos and videos on social media, numerous citizens wrote in identifying the man as William Ross. Research shows that Ross is a Great Falls local and a
“Master Mason” at the Euclid Lodge No. 58 AF & AM. The Lodge’s facebook page shows Ross on the right in their cover photo.  

The universe loves irony, and Ross was previously quoted in an article about the Masonic temple. Ross states, “Yeah, that we’re [Masons] a bunch of devil worshippers, child sacrifice, goat ridden’ degenerates. That is the farthest from the truth in every way possible.” 

The Freemasons themselves seem to preach a different ideology than the hate displayed by Ross. Euclid 58’s website describes the Freemasons, writing, “ Masons represent virtually every occupation and profession, yet within Freemasonry, they all meet as equals. Masons come from diverse political ideologies, yet meet as friends. Masons come from varied religious beliefs, yet all believe in one God, in religious tolerance, and in individual freedom of thought and conscience.”

You can read about the lodge (and even CONTACT THEM) by accessing their website here: https://euclidlodge58.com/aboutMasons.html

As Pridefest went on, Ross’s behavior escalated. Eventually Ross yelled at citizens crossing the street and engaged in a physical altercation with a man leaving the event. Despite his bravado, Ross immediately began screaming “I’m being assaulted.”  Dear readers, Ross was in no way being assaulted. Rather, I put myself in front of Mr. Ross while a volunteer pulled the other man away.   After this incident, Ross told Pridefest volunteers that he had a weapon and was willing to use it if he felt “threatened.”  Ross was calling people “f*ggts” – it’s quite clear that he was not the one being threatened. One volunteer believed they saw Ross with a gun, at which point the police were called and a report made. Ross left shortly thereafter.

Although Ross openly marched with his sign and even interviewed with a local news station, he then requested his face be hidden for the interview.  Most assuredly, Ross has the legal right to yell slurs at people he hates. However, freedom of speech  is not freedom from consequences.

After Ross was identified, WTF406 reached out to his employer, Culligan Water. Culligan’s website lists the company’s “Commitments” with #4 reading “Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”  Read our correspondence with Culligan below:

[email protected]
Culligan Great Falls Telephone: (406) 761-5050

Good evening, 

 I write for What The Funk 406, a blog that covers local politics. I am also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and on June 26, 2023, I attended Great Falls Pride Fest. During this event, a lone individual carried a sign reading “Fags Deserve Oppression.” The man yelled slurs  and his behavior eventually escalated to the point that he had to be physically separated from event attendees. 

I took the attached video and also shared pictures of the individual on social media. Multiple community members reached out and identified this man as William Ross. Some of the folks that contacted us recognized Ross as a Culligan employee. They also expressed concern about Ross delivering water to their businesses. 

A quick look at the Culligan website shows the company has multiple “Commitments.”  Commitment #4 reads, “Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

With this commitment in mind, we request your response to the following questions:

Is Culligan aware of Mr. Ross’s behavior on June 26, 2023?

Does Culligan share Mr. Ross’s view that “Fags deserve oppression?”  

Further, should LGBTQ+ community members such as myself feel safe doing business with Culligan and allowing such employees into our offices and homes?

I appreciate your time and will happily answer any questions you may have about the attached photos and video.

Thank you,

WTF406 Staff”

As of this evening, WTF406 has received no response from Culligan.

The man identified as William Ross held this sign during Pridefest.

This video shows Ross screaming at Pridefest attendees