Hey! You Can’t Do That!

Hey! You Can’t Do That!

By Ken Toole

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. 

County Hiring Elections Administrator

County Hiring Elections Administrator

Cascade County has posted the job listing for the new Elections Administrator.

Check out the job posting here:

https://www.cascadecountymt.gov/DocumentCenter/View/4563/Elections-Administrator

Among other qualifications, the County is seeking an individual with “a comprehensive knowledge of election laws and regulations.” That’s what we call a step in the right direction!

 

Here’s a snapshot of the job summary.

 

 

 

 

Election Errors Forced Change in Cascade County

Election Errors Forced Change in Cascade County

The recent decision by the Cascade County Commission to remove election administration from the Clerk and Recorder’s office has generated heated (often false) accusations and covered facts in smoke. To put it simply, the elected Clerk and Recorder was not performing the duties of  the job. The Cascade County Commission should be commended for taking action.

In late 2022, a small group of election deniers submitted a petition to the County Commission demanding election “reforms” which included requiring all voters to re-register, eliminating mail- in ballots and banning all forms of electronic voting machines. The reforms requested were based on the disproved conspiracy theory that Trump won the 2020 election. 

The November 2022 election was a Republican sweep in Cascade County. Election denier, Sandra Merchant, defeated 16-year incumbent Clerk and Recorder Rina Moore by less than 40 votes. After the election, Moore made numerous offers to work with Merchant to review the election office operations. But, in the end, Merchant agreed to only one brief meeting. 

The first elections administered by Merchant were held in May 2023. The School Trustee election was plagued with problems. But School District officials did not pursue legal remedies because it was unclear whether the errors would change the outcome and the expense of running another election was significant. In September, the School District formally asked the County Commission to remove the election duties from Merchant’s office.

In May, there were also elections held for a local flood district and an irrigation district. Merchant’s office also made numerous errors in those elections. As a result, lawsuits were filed against the county. The outcome of these elections remains uncertain. They are currently winding their way through the court system.

An election on a proposed library mill levy was held in June. Numerous problems were found in Merchant’s handling of the library election materials.  Early in the process, supporters of the library mill levy went to court requesting the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the election because of these problems. In addition, materials opposing the levy were handed out by volunteers working in Merchant’s offices.  The judge appointed a monitor to oversee the election and required regular reports be sent for her review. 

Throughout this time, Merchant was hiring staff and election judges from the ranks of local election deniers, including many who had signed the 2022 petition to the County Commission demanding “reforms.”  Two family members of Republican Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci (who was recently charged with felony witness tampering) were also given jobs in the Clerk and Recorder/Election office. 

Throughout all of 2023, Merchant consistently refused to talk to the press and blamed problems in the elections office on former employees, other county employees, contractors and vendors.  Merchant was also criticized for having a private meeting with Douglas Frank, a national figure in the election denier movement who is under investigation by the FBI for an alleged breach of voting machines in Colorado. When asked about the meeting, Merchant was quoted in the Daily Montanan saying it was “interesting hearing what he had to say” and was eager to hear more.

It was the November 2023 Municipal election that finally prompted the County Commission to remove the election duties from the Clerk and Recorder. Merchant again made numerous errors which included failing to provide 48-hour advance public notice of the canvass meeting for the Municipal election. After hours spent re-calculating data from the vote tabulator machine, Commissioners were unable to balance the canvas with the information Merchant provided.

Last month during a seven-hour public hearing where Cascade County Commissioners deliberated on whether to remove the election duties, and ultimately voted to do so. Commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson were vilified by Merchant’s supporters both during this meeting and in the days since. The truth is both of these commissioners set politics aside and focused on ensuring free and fair elections are held in Cascade County. They did the right thing.

Jasmine Taylor is the Coordinator for The Election Protection Committee, a volunteer citizen’s group dedicated to free and fair elections in Cascade County

 

Biddick is Temporary Hire to Run Elections Office

Biddick is Temporary Hire to Run Elections Office

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/

Trebas Fails to Apologize for Anti-Semitic Tweet

Trebas Fails to Apologize for Anti-Semitic Tweet

Trebas Spreads Anti-Semitic Lies

Earlier this week, Great Falls Senator Jeremy Trebas retweeted a horribly offensive Anti-Semitic tweet. We’ve included the tweet at the end of the article, but we ask that you don’t share it on your socials. (Why? Because we don’t want to further spread these harmful and inaccurate tropes about Jewish people. After discussion we decided it was important for folks to actually see what Trebas shared. People need to see that this ugliness really exists, and that Senator Trebas is actively contributing to it.)

If you aren’t familiar with the many forms of anti-semitism, that particular tweet is based on “blood libel.” Blood libel is the entirely FALSE allegation that Jewish people use the blood of children for ritual purposes. No, seriously. This disgusting lie has been used for centuries to persecute – and justify the MURDER of- Jewish people. 

Trebas’s disgusting retweet resulted in him being called out by the Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Jewish Project, and the Anti Defamation League  You can read all of those responses here:

https://www.mhrn.org/resources/mhrns-response-to-sen-jeremy-trebas-antisemitic-retweet?fbclid=IwAR3g8XZ4tXpo8hddRrlNA_JCHQ1gdNv8nzS8LdxyKcNQ8J-IKMy7Yz0mALA

https://www.facebook.com/montanajewishproject

https://twitter.com/ADLPNW/status/1737540722608476453?fbclid=IwAR086jXSzABELV4qtz0FWln26og9Qk4CZBiq49uxIgaqiG-a6dN6OfKe88M

When the Montana Jewish Project voiced their concerns regarding  Trebas’ retweet, his first response was to publicly argue with them. Apparently Trebas felt he was owed a personal phone call rather than a public call out. To be clear, he wasn’t owed this. No one should have to tell a state senator that it’s not okay to spread lies that Jewish people use the blood of children in rituals. I mean, even typing that sentence is wild, right? Regardless, Trebas’ first instinct was to act like he himself was the wronged party. Unfortunately for ol’ Jeremy, the Montana Jewish Project had attempted to contact him first. Seemingly, Trebas had not checked his messages from his legislative accounts. Although the Montana Jewish Project now reports they had a productive phone call with Trebas, an apology is still nowhere in sight.

Trebas’ History of Bigotry

Over the past year, Great Falls has been inundated with Neo Nazi activity.  We’ve seen our Black, Jewish, and LGBTQ+ neighbors targeted by hate literature and our downtown littered with nazi propaganda. Some local Republicans have taken an actual stance, condemning this activity and even helping us clean it up. Then there’s Senator Trebas and his ilk. Rather than fighting this flurry of hate, Trebas instead contributes to it.

We’ve already written about Trebas’ extreme anti-lgbtq views, and his disgusting behavior towards Rep. Zooey Zephyr. You can read about that here: https://wtf406.com/2023/04/transphobic-trebas-hateful-twitter-rant-reported-by-nbc/ 

 We even contacted the Great Falls Rescue Mission, where Trebas serves as Director of Operations. (Their lackluster response made it clear they aren’t taking any measures to protect the unhoused from Trebas’ bigotry.) So, here we are again. Senator Trebas is using his public platform to spread hate, and this time it’s towards the Jewish community.  

Where’s The Apology?

Trebas did indeed remove his offensive retweet, which is a positive step. It’s also the bare minimum and doesn’t take any real accountability for the damage he’s already done.  He didn’t say “Hey guys, sorry I spread horrible, harmful, completely libelous things about the entire Jewish community.” He didn’t acknowledge the impact this has on Great Falls, or the very real ways rhetoric like this results in violence. He didn’t even accept responsibility. Instead, he’s seemingly trying to sweep this bad behavior under the rug because he’s been called out by more than just the Left this time.

Forgive us if we don’t feel  hitting “delete” rights the wrong he has done here. There’s no place for Anti-Semitism in Great Falls, and least of all from those who are elected to represent us.

So, we’ll go ahead and ask for it formally now.

Senator Trebas, when can Great Falls expect your public apology?

 

The Grinch in Great Falls

The Grinch in Great Falls

By Pamela Carroll

On Tuesday, December 12, 2023, the Grinch revealed itself in Great Falls, Montana. I saw the mean-spirited character manifested in citizens of Cascade County. 

Cascade County Commission held their bimonthly meeting at the Expo Park in anticipation of large public attendance. Commissioner Joe Brigg brought forth a resolution to remove election duties from the Clerk and Recorder. This resolution has been talked about for several years. 

Public comments were heard from over one hundred people. With many more in attendance to witness the spectacle of vile and spiteful testimony. This went on for seven long and excruciating hours. 

As I sat in the audience listening to the public comments, I was so ashamed of the behavior of those speaking in opposition to the resolution. These are my neighbors who used threats, yelled, and told outright lies. The Bible quotes were thrown out over and over to attack commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson. Two pastors in our community spewed hateful words. Not once did I hear these so-called church attending people speak to the call to love thy neighbor as thyself. It was like watching school yard bullies and toddler temper tantrums. Never in the 62 years that I have lived in Great Falls have I ever experienced anything like the hateful actions and words that I saw that day. I fought back tears of sadness that day for my community. 

The restraint shown by Commissioners Joe Briggs, Jim Larson and those that spoke in support of the resolution is to be commended. Supporters spoke with decorum and integrity while expressing their concerns for the election process that has been flawed since Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant has taken office. They stuck to the facts and kept religion and emotion out of their testimony. 

We are in need of change in Great Falls and around Montana as this type of extremist behavior spreads and basic community norms around public discussion and debate dissolve. Perhaps, the most disturbing aspect is the appeal to theocratic ideals which could not be more un-American. This country was founded on a fundamental separation between church and state, and we have upheld that value, embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution, for almost 250 years. The opponents’ dogmatic appeal to a narrow-minded, intolerant brand of Christianity would be ridiculous if it were not so fundamentally dangerous and unconstitutional. 

There is hard work ahead for all reasonable people of goodwill in this community and across Montana to try to bring us back to a semblance of decency and behavioral norms of civility and respect necessary for the community to not only survive but thrive. “Love thy Neighbor no Exception.”