News & Updates
Equal in Theory Only
Events this week showcased both high points and low points in our collective journey that we call the American Experiment. On the high side, we celebrated Independence Day, our chance to remember the vision and courage that it took to dissolve the political chains that bound us to Great Britain and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of God entitled us. It was risky, it was painful, it was costly, but above all, it was necessary, and the founders embarked on this journey fully aware of all of those ramifications. Six years later, they succeeded, the Revolutionary War was over, and the Treaty of Paris was signed. Then the hard work began, taking the theoretical freedoms they had won and turning them into the concrete freedoms embodied in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Independence Day is a celebration of all of that, and more. It is a chance to celebrate freedom from oppression, in this case, the oppression of a foreign government led by King George. But it’s also the chance to celebrate the concept of sovereignty, the idea that we the people are the sovereigns with the right to chart our own destiny, both independently and collectively as a nation.
It was a heady concept, but it has served us well for the past 237 years. One reason it has served us well is a result of one of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence itself, the concept that we are all created equal, each and every one of us. It’s a guarantee of equality, not necessarily of outcomes but of opportunity. We are also a nation of laws and those laws are supposed to be applied to all of us equally. The idea that no one is above the law is critical to the social order of our nation.
And that brings us to the low point of the week, the decision by the Democrat-controlled Department of Justice not to indict Hillary Clinton for egregious and blatant breaches of national security, the same types of breaches, ironically, yet on a much larger scale, than those that ended the careers of people like General David Petraeus. The refusal to indict takes the notion of equality under the law and throws it under a bus. Are we or are we not equal? It is a question that not only needs to be asked, but answered. Are we all subject to the same laws, the same level of scrutiny and the same punishment when those laws are broken, or is there a de facto elite political ruling class that exists outside and above the laws that govern you and me? The evidence was overwhelming. Secretary Clinton ignored well-established security protocol and set up an unsecured server that, in all likelihood, was hacked by our enemies. Forget the hacking, just the existence of such a server would be enough to get any other federal employee thrown in prison, yet she miraculously walks free, which takes us back to our original question.
Does there exist one set of laws for the politically well-connected and another set of laws for everyone else? And if so, what does that mean to the rule of law going forward? It is not enough just to remember the freedoms that were won during the Revolutionary War. The harder task is to administer those freedoms. Equality under the law either means something or it doesn’t. It either applies to everyone or the principles we celebrate on Independence Day are nothing more than a grand illusion. I, for one, hope that is not the case.
Win Some, Lose Some
With Tuesday’s primary election behind us, it’s time to evaluate: to evaluate the results; to evaluate the tactics and their effectiveness; and to evaluate the political landscape as we move toward the general election in November.
So, first the primary election results: Shocking in some cases, predictable in others, but in the end, the needle moved very little. Last week we talked about how Democrats pretty much march lock-step while the Republicans are split into two very different factions. In the Montana legislature, the Conservative faction makes up almost 90% of the Republican caucus and still adheres to the party platform on issues such as life, marriage, smaller government and lower taxes. The liberal wing of the Republican caucus, for the most part, ignores the platform and in some cases, scores worse on the Montana Family Foundation legislative scorecard than do some members of the Democrat caucus. They have helped Governor Bullock in the last two sessions to grow government spending and regulation. They only make up about 10% of the Republican caucus, but their numbers are large enough when combined with the Democrats, to push a very liberal agenda. Surprisingly, some of them come from the most Conservative districts in Montana and shockingly, all of them won re-election on Tuesday. Also shocking was the fact that for all the money the liberal Republicans spent trying to unseat Conservatives, they were, for the most part, unsuccessful. There were a couple of cases where Conservatives were ousted, but there were also cases where moderates who were termed out were replaced by Conservatives.
The big take-away is something that I mentioned two years ago, and that’s the power of the incumbency. It appears that spending big bucks trying to oust incumbents is a losing proposition. In our opinion, that money would be better spent trying to affect races in districts with open seats. Going after incumbents and losing just makes it harder to work with them in the next legislative session. It will be interesting to watch groups like the Montana Contractors Association and the Montana Farm Bureau try to play “kiss and make up” after unsuccessfully attacking so many Conservatives in this primary cycle.
So what’s the bottom line? At this point, it is certain that the moderates will control the Montana Senate. Although the Republicans will have a numerical majority, the liberals within the Republican caucus will give the working majority to the Democrats. On the House side, the jury is still out. Two prominent Conservative Republicans lost their re-election bids, but in other cases, Conservatives replaced liberal Republicans who were termed out.
In essence, it’s still a donnybrook and will come down to the outcome in about five races where Conservative Republicans are facing Democrats in swing districts. It’s fair to say the Republicans will maintain control of the House. The question is whether they will have a working majority or simply a numerical majority. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
From the voters’ perspective, we can expect a short reprieve as candidates take a breath. Then it’s on to the general election in the fall. From a Conservative perspective, the primaries were neither as good, nor as bad, as they could have been. Let’s hope we do better in the fall.
Wolves in Costume
While Americans remain transfixed on the presidential election and the unpredicted rise in popularity of candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, there’s another election much closer to home that will, in many ways, affect Montanans far more profoundly than the presidential race. I’m talking about Tuesday’s primary election and the hotly contested seats, especially on the Republican side, that will determine control of Montana’s legislature before November’s general election even arrives.
While most voters understand the concept of numerical control in terms of Republicans and Democrats, few understand the concept of philosophical control. When Republicans control the legislature, we assume conservative laws will pass, and when Democrats are in the majority, liberal laws will carry the day. But when Republicans are in control and spending increases and liberal social programs expand, we ask ourselves, “How can this be?” We thought Republican control meant lower spending and smaller government. We don’t understand because we have fallen victim to the fallacy that numerical majorities equate to philosophical majorities. And nothing could be further from the truth.
In recent sessions, a liberal faction within the Republican caucus has increasingly joined with Democrats to help the Democrats pass a liberal agenda. These are Republicans who claim to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate. In reality, they are neither. They are liberal through and through and align much more closely with the Democratic platform. They often score as low as 30% on conservative legislative score cards at a time when 90% of Republicans score 90% or higher. They are consummate “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and it’s really only a problem on the Republican side of the aisle. Democrats tend to be uniformly liberal on most issues.
Another interesting twist to this primary cycle is the number of liberal Republicans being supported by organizations that used to be solidly conservative. These include the contractors, the medical community and the Farm Bureau. On closer examination, the common denominator within all of these groups is the fact that their members increasingly rely on government spending. It makes perfect sense, then, that they will support candidates who will vote for higher taxes and increased government programs. All that to say that Tuesday’s elections are extremely important for anyone who wants to forward a particular political philosophy, not just a political party. Numerical majorities mean absolutely nothing if members of the majority are willing to abandon their party’s platform and side with the other party on key votes. It used to be unthinkable; now, it’s just part of the game.
Yes, it’s frustrating. But what’s more frustrating is that these unscrupulous politicians continue to get elected. They say one thing while their voting records tell a completely different story. As I have said before, it does not have to be this way. Primary elections may not seem as important as general elections, but in many ways, they are more so. It is up to us to engage enough not just to vote, but to cast informed votes. And the hard work has already been done. Many groups publish voting records that tell at a glance whether or not a candidate is who they claim to be.
Tuesday’s primary election will determine, in large part, the outcome of the 2017 legislative session, and it’s up to us to determine who will carry our values to Helena.
Score One for the Good Guys
Well, score another win for the good guys! For the second week in a row, a Federal judge has ruled that part of Montana’s laws governing political campaigns to be unconstitutional. This wasn’t unexpected as we stood in front of the legislature a year ago and told them that the Disclose Act, better known as the Dark Money Bill, was unconstitutional on at least six or seven points.
The point in question this week was a provision that says that if you make any statements regarding an incumbent’s voting record, you must provide evidence supporting your claims. Furthermore, if you point out that an incumbent voted one way on a bill, you must go back through their entire voting record in previous sessions to see if they voted differently on a similar bill. If so, you must publish that as well. We called it the Incumbent Protection Act for a reason. What a nightmare! Can you imagine going back through a legislator’s record looking for similar bills just to discredit your own argument? And what does “similar” mean? And what if you happen to miss one? The penalties are steep, all of which, by design in my opinion, makes it very difficult to hold politicians accountable.
Ironically, this entire scheme was spelled out clearly in a new book called The Confessions of Congressman X. In it, a long-time Democrat member of the U.S. House of Representatives gives us a glimpse into the dark side of Congress. He says that his main job was to “get re-elected at all costs.” And he calls voters an “easily manipulated group of naïve, self-absorbed sheep who crave instant gratification.” No wonder he wrote the book anonymously. But his confession that ties most directly to our topic today is the fact that he said that Congressmen in both parties routinely vote one way on a procedural vote on a bill, then vote the opposite way on a subsequent vote. This allows them to say they voted either for or against the bill, depending on a particular audience.
It reeks to high heavens, and it’s right here in Montana. Or at least, it was, until Judge Dana Christensen put a stop to it. It’s funny how politicians try so hard to make their voting records off limits when it’s their voting records that really matter. We don’t care what they say. We care what they do.
At the Montana Family Foundation, we publish the voting records of all incumbents at the end of each legislative session on bills that are important to our members. In an effort to be fair, we never cherry pick votes. We always take the last vote cast in either House, because that’s the vote of record. Even if we know that a legislator has tried to kill one of our bills at every step in the process, we still give them credit if they vote our way on the very last vote. You can find that score card on our website at montanafamily.org, along with a link to our 2016 voter guide published by our partner, the Montana Values PAC.
Congressman X said that voters are “incredibly ignorant.” That may be true, but it doesn’t have to be. The Montana Family Foundation and other organizations put out enough information for voters to cast informed votes, no matter what their political persuasion. It’s a grand game of hide and seek. Politicians try to hide their voting records, and it’s up to us to seek the truth. Thank you, Judge Christensen, for making finding the truth just a little bit easier.
Should We Alter or Abolish?
Recently at a civics competition for high school students in Washington, D.C., a student was asked if the Declaration of Independence is still relevant, specifically, that portion that states that whenever government becomes destructive of the ends to which it was implemented, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.
The question was not surprising, given the fact that many in academia question the relevance of all of the founding documents, including the Constitution itself. My answer to the question would have been short and sweet: Of course, it’s still relevant. Let’s not overthink this. The Declaration basically says that we are all created equal and are endowed by God with certain unalienable rights. Governments are instituted to secure these rights, and if government ever becomes destructive of these ends, then it is the job of the people to alter or abolish the government and install a new one.
It’s pretty simple, actually, and it’s still as relevant today as it was 240 years ago. While I’m not saying that our government has become so despotic that it should be abolished, it is definitely time to do a little altering. In a radio interview earlier this week, I told the commentator that we are in danger of losing the ability to govern ourselves. In effect, we are being ruled by fiat. At both the state and federal levels, individual judges are overturning the will of vast majorities of the electorate. Congress and state legislatures are becoming irrelevant, and executive orders are becoming the 21st century equivalent of a royal decree.
Governor Bullock is considering an executive order that would make gender identity a protected class in all government contracts, despite the fact that the people, through their elected representatives, have rejected this idea repeatedly over the past 20 years. Last week the Obama administration issued a set of guidelines that would allow transgender boys to use girls’ restrooms, locker rooms and showers in every school in America that accepts federal dollars. And lest you think this only means public schools, think again. Most Catholic schools and many evangelical private schools also accept some form of federal subsidy.
In reading the guidelines, I was shocked at how specific they are. One mandate that’s rarely mentioned is the Title IX provision that boys be allowed to play on girls’ sports teams and shower and dress in girls’ locker rooms. As disturbing as that is for any parent, it gets worse. Imbedded in the guidelines is a very specific provision that says that transgender boys on female teams that travel must be housed in the same hotel rooms as female members, no exceptions.
We keep hearing about the rights of transgenders, but what about the rights of the 99.7% of students who are not sexually confused? Don’t they have the right to be secure in their personal space, especially in vulnerable places like restrooms, showers and hotel rooms?
This policy is nothing short of insane, and it needs to be stopped. You can help in three ways: First, pray fervently for our state and nation. It’s evident that we’ve lost our way. Second, call your local principal, school board chairman and school superintendent and tell them that under no circumstances do you want this policy implemented. And third, please go to our website at montanafamily.org and add your name to the petition calling on Governor Steve Bullock and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau, to block this blatant attempt at federal overreach.
It’s now or never – and it’s up to us to protect our daughters and granddaughters!