• Montana Press

Mid-term Election Post Mortem: Hang on Tight, it’s Going Be a Wild Ride!


Not since the election following Nixon’s impeachment/resignation over Watergate has the Republican Party lost so many seats in Congress. The balance of power has shifted dramatically and the radical Trump presidency is now facing not only a divided House and Senate, but the payback from those he regularly insulted and degraded who will, come January, be chairing investigative committees in the House.


But even before the Blue Wave of very bad news hits the GOP and the Trump administration, it’s “Mueller Time” as the tsunami of indictments inundates the White House while Congress tries to ram through Republican priorities in what promises to be a very nasty lame duck session.


Meanwhile, Montana is headed into the 2019 Legislative Session in January with its own significant divisions between Governor Steve Bullock and the Republican legislative majorities. Given that Bullock is now a lame duck, Republicans have already said they’re gunning for the governor’s office and are not likely to kumbaya with the out-going Democrat.


So hang on, fellow Montanans, it’s definitely going to be a wild ride nationally and here at home.


Chaos in the Capital


George Conway, the conservative lawyer and husband of Trump’s senior counselor Kelly-Anne Conway recently described the Trump administration as “a shit show in a dumpster fire.” While that may make people laugh – especially the majority of Americans who do not approve of Trump’s presidential performance – it’s worth remembering that his wife is known for claiming the Trump administration has “alternative facts” when questioned by reporters.


Maybe Hubby George’s assessment can be explained away in like fashion, but from all the available evidence, it appears that not only can’t Trump get along with our long-time international allies, he can’t even get along with what is supposed to be his own political party.


Rather unbelievably, for a president who has the incredible advantage of his party holding majorities in both chambers of Congress, Trump has declared that it would be a “good time for a shutdown” of the government if he doesn’t get funding for his border wall in the lame duck session.


But Congressional Republicans, who formerly championed fiscal conservatism, have already thrown the nation into nearly a trillion-dollar deficit with the 10-year tax breaks they already passed and which disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Considering most of the lame duck session is going to be spent dealing with critical budget bills, the indications at this time are that Trump’s wall isn’t going to be funded – or at least not to the $5 billion he’s demanding – which will likely engender yet another Trump tantrum.


Trump’s temper aside, what’s likely to happen is we can expect a pile of riders to be slapped on the must-pass spending bills. Passing laws by rider is absolutely the worst way to legislate, however, since the public whom they are supposed to be representing are almost entirely excluded from the back-room deal cutting. Unfortunately, and despite the fact that he promised not to do so in his first campaign for the Senate, look for Montana’s own Jon Tester to be one of those trying to slip his riders into law with the most likely candidate the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act.


Closer to Home


Governor Steve Bullock has already rolled out his budget proposal for the 2019 session and it largely looks like a replay of failed initiatives and taxes from the 2017 session. Although state revenues are projected to increase modestly, Bullock’s spending proposals far outpace the new revenues.


What that means is the general fund is going to have to generate revenue from new or expanded taxes if it’s going to meet Bullock’s planned expenditures. Unfortunately many of the tax proposals were already rejected by the Republican legislature two years ago and they’re not likely to find support this time around.


In fact, it’s doubtful Republicans are going to do much at all to make Bullock look good since it’s no secret that he has ambitions for higher office and one of the reasons his 2019 budget proposal looks like his 2017 proposals is because he’s been on the road in Iowa and New Hampshire promoting himself as a potential 2020 presidential candidate. Toss in the fact that his former budget director has been replaced with the former head of the Department of Environmental Quality who has never prepared a statewide budget and that pretty much explains Bullock’s not-so-instant budget replay.


Stormy Seas Ahead


Put it all together, in D.C. and here in Montana, and there’s stormy seas ahead mateys! While the populace is more than ready to set aside political warfare for some semblance of good governance, it sure doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at either the state or national level in the coming months.


—George Ochenski

.George Ochenski is a Montana columnist whose opinions have appeared in the Missoula Independent and The Missoulian. He contributes an original monthly column to the Montana Press.