• Montana Press

Into the New Year with Teeth and Claws

During the holidays, but the level of turmoil in the political arena made it hard to remember that this is supposed to be the season of peace and looking forward with anticipation to a New Year full of promise and happiness.

Instead, capping one of the ugliest Decembers in recent political history, the carol being sung by many as President Trump and his administration crash into the rocks of what appear to be endless legal problems that may ultimately lead to his resignation or removal from the White House:


“We wish you a Mueller Christmas

We wish you a Mueller Christmas

We wish you a Mueller Christmas

And Impeachment next year!”


Lack of Political Experience puts Trump in Deep Trouble


Those who have been in the political and legislative arenas for years will always tell you one immutable truth — the pendulum will swing. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons that seasoned politicians so often call for decorum and civility. They know one day, their majority will be a minority and those who mistreat the minority will find them unforgiving when they take the majority.


Trump, thanks mostly to his total lack of experience in the political and legislative world, eschewed not only civility and decorum, but brutally assailed and insulted those he saw as his political enemies. And with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, he was free from retribution — or even constraint.


Well, the November elections changed all that and now Trump finds himself facing the daunting prospect of having those he treated so poorly, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, about to take their role in the majority. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s not going to be pretty.


By mid-December Pelosi, who will be the next Speaker of the House, had a red-hot showdown with Trump over his demand for $5 billion to fund his border wall. Neither Pelosi nor her Senate counterpart, Sen. Chuck Schumer, backed down an inch. In fact, they sent Trump into a childlike rage where he claimed he would “be proud to shut down the government” if he didn’t get his way – a statement that severely rattled Republicans in Congress who were planning on blaming any shutdown on the Democrats.


Likewise, Trump insulted Rep. Adam Shiff, the California Democrat slated to chair the House Intelligence Committee, by calling him “Adam Shitt” in a tweet. But it will be Shiff who has the power to subpoena any and all of the Trump’s records, staff, and international dealings. Once again, Trump’s lack of political experience backfired on him and he’ll pay the price in the coming months.


As they say in Washington, “if you want a friend, get a dog,” but the political atmosphere in the new session of Congress is going to be so toxic even dogs would rather be somewhere else.


Meanwhile Back in Good Old Montana


While chaos engulfs Washington, D.C., the Montana legislature will come into session and Democrat Governor Steve Bullock will face Republicans majorities in both the House and Senate. The turmoil, payback, and perhaps articles of impeachment in Congress are not likely to put the Republicans in a mood to play Kumbaya with Bullock.


As this edition went to press, Republican Attorney General Tim Fox lost a Supreme Court fight against Bullock over whether the Fish and Wildlife Commission or the Land Board had final authority to approve conservation easements. The case revolved around a conservation easement approved by the Commission but rejected by the Land Board, which includes Bullock and Fox as well as Secretary of State Stapleton, Superintendent of Public Instruction Arntzen, and Insurance Commissioner Rosendale.


While the decision was cheered by conservationists, Republicans generally oppose the control of more land by government and may decide to amend the law to ensure future easements require Land Board approval. Republicans will have to muster enough votes to override a Bullock veto but those who remember the swinging political pendulum may find Land Board approval a desirable move since the Fish and Wildlife Commission members are political appointees, not elected office holders.


The major fiscal issues are likely to be a rerun of the 2017 session in which Bullock’s request for millions in bonding authority for infrastructure will require a super-majority to pass, which it didn’t quite get last session. And again, we may well expect the hyper-partisan climate in the nation’s capital to spill over to Montana’s legislative session.


Happy New Year!


Few will miss the demise of 2018 and its rancorous politics as 2019 rolls around. But as most Montanans know, political squabbles actually play a very small part in our daily lives. So lift a cup of good cheer to your fellow Montanans regardless of their political affiliation and have a very Happy New Year.


—George Ochenski