Greg Gianforte’s selection of Republican Legislator Paul Green to lead the Department of Commerce is being questioned by a long-time Democratic political leader. In a letter to the Daily Montanan and Montana Free Press, the former Chair of the Public Service Commission and Democratic Senator from Chinook Greg Jergeson wrote, “I believe that appointment violates Article 5, Section 9 of the Montana Constitution. Section 9. Disqualification. No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he shall have been elected, be appointed to any civil office under the state; and no member of congress, or other person holding an office (except notary public, or the militia) under the United States or this state, shall be a member of the legislature during his continuance in office.”
Green was appointed to fill the Commerce position when previous director, Scott Osterman, abruptly left. He was forced to resign after an internal review found he had violated state expense policy by billing the state for vehicle and lodging expenses related to traveling to the state capital in Helena from his home in Kalispell.
Green, who is a rancher and businessman from Hardin, was elected for the first time in 2022 to a seat representing a majority Native district which includes reservation communities in southeast Montana. Green is not a tribal member nor Native American. His legislative district includes much of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and likely will favor Democratic candidates in the coming election cycle.
In his letter pointing out the constitutional issue, Jerrgeson said, “I had conversations with the Constitutional Convention Delegates with whom I served in the legislature about this particular provision (especially the first part), and they told me the convention adopted this provision in order to prevent some future governor from securing the vote on a matter before the Legislature by offering to appoint that person to a position that is much better compensated than the relatively minor compensation that is afforded to Legislators.”
It remains to be seen whether the governor will address this situation and this apparent legal conflict. Given this administration’s consistent disregard for legal limitations, it seems doubtful.
Recently Great Falls Republican Senator Jeremy Trebas was challenged by the Montana Jewish Project, the Montana Human Rights Network and WTF 406 for sharing an antisemitic post on his Twitter feed. Trebas has so far declined requests to apologize but did take the offending post down. Please see related WTF406 post for more information: https://wtf406.com/2023/12/trebas-fails-to-apologize-for-anti-semitic-tweet/
Antisemitism is on the rise nationally and here in Montana. Unfortunately, the rise of the current right wing and the intrusion of conspiracy-driven political activists has brought antisemitism out of the back rooms and increasingly into the political mainstream. Donald Trump leads the way with repeated comments which trade in antisemitic tropes, from wealthy Jews (George Soros) to accusing “liberal Jews” of voting to destroy America and Israel.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which tracks antisemitic incidents reports that in 2022, there were 3,697 antisemitic incidents across the United States. This represents a 36% increase from the 2,717 incidents recorded in 2021 and is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.
In the last session of the legislature, Rabbi Ed Stafman’s scheduled prayer opening the day’s legislative session was canceled at the last minute without explanation by Republican House leader Matt Regier. Stafman, who is also a legislator, was replaced by a Christian delivering a Christian prayer. Stafman said from the house floor that he felt he had been “shut down,” because “I’m not a Christian or delivering a Christian prayer.” He would not lead a prayer, it turned out, for the rest of the session. https://forward.com/news/547677/montana-lawmaker-rabbi-invocation-prayer-legislature-ed-stafman-legislature-house/
House Speaker Matt Regier refused to respond to numerous questions about canceling Stafman’s invocation. Several weeks later, Regier published an editorial about the incident explaining why the action was not antisemitic . The focus of Regier’s response pointed to several bills which were pro-Israel. For the record, many Jews do not support Israel’s policy in a number of areas, such as Netanyahu’s effort to “restructure” Israel’s court system and, of course, Israel’s bombing in Gaza. But the conflation of Israel’s political stances and the interests of Jews worldwide is a staple of American right-wing politics.
Most Christian Evangelicals strongly support Israel, because their “end times” theology requires that Israel’s political boundaries be reestablished to what God promised the Israelites according to the Bible,” Polling shows that 80% of Evangelicals believe that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy that would bring about Christ’s return. If you have wondered why so many Evangelicals support the sinner in chief, Donald Trump, it is the same belief that he is fulfilling biblical prophecy. It is no surprise that Regier ended his editorial explaining why he is not antisemitic by saying, “May God continue to bless Israel and may God bless the United States of America.” A Jewish man at a community meeting in Hamilton put it succinctly, “Republicans love Israel. They just don’t like Jews”.
Back in February we wrote about our concern that newly elected Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant was hiring election denier political cronies who knew little about administering free elections. Those concerns were prompted by Merchant’s first hire, Devereaux Biddick, who apparently had little relevant experience or related education. Biddick was among the signers of a petition presenting a list of demands to the Cascade County Commissioners, which included requiring all voters in the county to “re-register,” banning all electronic voting, banning mail in ballots, and requiring all ballots be counted in one day. It was hard for us to imagine then, and now, that people who advocated these changes, most of which are either impractical or illegal, could be considered qualified to hold positions in the elections office.
We were also concerned that hiring Biddick was a precursor to more crony hiring. Since that time, two family members of Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci have been hired, along with others who had signed the denier petition. The below is from our article back in February.
“Is This Just the Beginning?
The fact is that recently elected County Commissioner Grulkowski and Clerk and Recorder Merchant, who have worked extensively together on their election denier mythology prior to being elected, have now offered a full-time permanent position to a friend of theirs who worked on the same effort. Biddick could be just the beginning of Sandra Merchant’s opportunities to move her cronies from the election denier crowd into government jobs at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. The election supervisor job will be open thanks to Deroche’s resignation. In addition, the office has traditionally hired additional temporary employees to help during the election cycle.”
We began this article by pointing out that this kind of cronyism is illegal. Specifically, the Governmental Code of Fair Practices prohibits discrimination in government employment based on political beliefs. If any of the unsuccessful applicants for the position decided to file a complaint under that law and won, we would all get to pay for the insider dealing of our newly elected county officials. We’ll stay tuned and keep watching.”
Now, Biddick is being hired to run the elections office on a temporary basis while the County Commission is developing a position description and opening the position. She will also receive a 15% raise. We can see the need to have someone filling the position, but we can only hope that this time around the county will have an open and transparent process for filling the new election administrator position. See our full story from last February https://wtf406.com/2023/02/clerk-and-recorder-staff-changes-is-new-hire-a-political-crony/
Well, you probably already heard about the marathon County Commission meeting to take testimony about eliminating election administration from Clerk and Recorder, Sandra Merchant. For the record, the Commission decided the right thing to do was have elections handled by someone who knows what they are doing, a novel thought! We’ll be publishing more on that later.
This post focuses on one of the more bizarre claims made by a Merchant supporter. There were plenty of weird statements, but we think Representative Steven Galloway takes the cake. After waiting almost to the end of public comment, Galloway rose to impart his wisdom to the Commissioners. Saying he is concerned about the county’s ability to find qualified applicants to administer elections, Galloway continued, “You can’t find employees, because the population is decreasing – through people not having kids, having abortions, we’ve got folks that are retiring.” Check out the full article here: https://dailymontanan.com/2023/12/12/cascade-county-clerk-and-recorder-stripped-of-election-duties/
But the thing that really caught our attention was his assertion that abortion is a contributing cause to our labor shortage. In 2021, 1,728 abortions were performed in Montana. (FYI of those 73% were chemical). Montana’s population in 2021 was 1.104 million. Don’t rush for your calculator, that amounts to 00.0015%. Hardly a big enough number to cause an unemployment problem. But facts coming from Merchant’s supporters were in short supply during the meeting.
If Galloway really wants to do something about the labor market, he should get his head out of his right-wing play book and consider supporting reasonable immigration reform, rather than building a barbed wire fence around the country.