Montana Politics Steve Bullock

A Leader and A Panderer: Bullock and Rehberg on HR 1505

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Some weeks make the difference between politicians and public servants incredibly clear. The former play cynical political games that rely on divisiveness and distraction while the latter analyze policy for its implications on the lives of those they serve. This week, Representative Dennis Rehberg and Attorney General Steve Bullock made the distinction between these two types quite clear.

Responding to the Republican effort to strip environmental protections from the border of the United States, Attorney General Steve Bullock sent a letter to John Boehner and Harry Reid, articulating why HR 1505, Rehberg’s federal land grab, will not only harm law enforcement efforts but damage cooperation with and the sovereignty of Montana’s tribal governments:

As Montana’s chief law enforcement official, I am very aware of the importance of the security of our northern border. On a daily basis, sworn law enforcement officials from my agency, along with scores of their counterparts from local jurisdictions, work closely with federal agents to ensure the security of Montana’s 545-mile border with Canada.
But to be successful, this cannot be done through directives and mandates sent from Washington, D.C. Rather, law enforcement agencies–local, tribal, state and federal–work best through cooperation and collaboration from the ground up.

This proposed legislation would also reach all or parts of five of seven Indian
reservations in Montana. It should come as no surprise that proposed federal land grabs place serious strain upon the government-to-government relationship between the State of Montana and our Indian Nations. As a state we strive to work with the First Montanans in a way that respects their independence and sovereignty–values missing from this legislation.

That’s reasoned analysis of an issue not even considered by Representative Rehberg.

In contrast, our Representative, perhaps feeling the heat from his TEA Party base, offered a nonsensical amendment to the bill, one that would give local sheriffs ultimate authority over federal law enforcement:

Rehberg’s amendment would solve this turf war the correct way and the best way: let the county sheriff decide if and when DHS can enter his county to conduct its law enforcement operations. This puts the final decision under local control rather than under Washington executive control. The people elect their county sheriff to protect them. The sheriff should therefore decide what federal agencies and their employees do in his county.

While that amendment will certainly make Greg Hinkle’s heart flutter, it’s entirely at odds with the stated aim of HR 1505, which Rehberg claimed was intended to reduce inter-agency turf wars over jurisdiction. How anyone could imagine that  empowering local sheriffs to restrict federal law enforcement and border control could pass constitutional muster or reduce jurisdictional squabbles defies logic or explanation.

Caught between his desire to scrap environmental protections and Montanans who believe in federal and state cooperation, Rehberg waffled his way into an utterly incomprehensible position.

Of course, this kind of pandering is nothing new for Representative Rehberg, who supported REAL ID and the Patriot Act before opposing them.

It’s never about policy, but always about politics—and that’s the difference between leaders like Bullock and grandstanders like Rehberg.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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