Montana Politics

Not Even Bohlinger Staff Agrees on the Idea of a Special Session

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Today, after I called out John Bolhinger for parachuting in to the Medicaid Expansion debate with an ill-conceived and self-promoting call for a special session, I was lambasted by Bohlinger spokesperson/advisor/web master/svengali Bob Brigham, who wrote that he had never seen anyone so badly misunderstand a political strategy. Brigham, in a series of tweets and comments about Medicaid expansion, argued that the Bohlinger plan, was the best hope to achieve expansion. He wrote:

The Special Session is the best thing that could happen for the initiative campaign and the efforts of Democrats to win back the legislature. Special Sessions really are special.

The Democratic Governor of Montana doesn’t agree. Presumably the people who’ve done the work to pursue a ballot initiative don’t agree. And most interestingly, Bob Brigham doesn’t seem to agree. Here’s what he wrote about the idea of a special session for Medicaid expansion back in May:

#MTpol: @MTHumanRights is asking for a #MTleg Special Session on Medicaid?????

There is no theory of change for Medicaid being expanded in a Special Session. None.

The only valid theory of change for expanding Medicaid in Montana is via a ballot campaign.

Pushing for a Special Session distracts from the only valid method, it harms it. Having a Special Session would be the worst thing for expanding Medicaid, it’s most probable outcome would be the Arkansas model, either passing the session or getting traction as a competing citizen’s initiative.

For the life of me I can’t understand why MHRN is pushing something with zero upside but extensive downside.

Strategery like this is why Montana can’t have nice things.

brighamspecialsession

I get that politics requires a certain willingness to engage in theatrics and even a bit of intellectual dishonesty, but this is perhaps the most egregious example of political opportunism over principle since Mitt Romney changed his mind on choice.

My point is not really to lambast Bob Brigham, but in the past few weeks, we’ve seen John Bohlinger attack most of the major Democratic political figures in the state, politicize a critical health question for 70,000 Montanans, and even make a fool of himself at a press conference where he inserted himself into the discussion when the press were asking questions about the ballot initiative.

He’s transforming himself from a respected statesman to something quite different—and I hope he’ll take a hard look at that change. It’s not good for the promotion of values and policies that matter to him, and I suspect it’s not good for him.

Come back, John. I think I’m not alone in saying I miss the guy who worked alongside Governor Schweitzer for eight years.

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.

19 Comments

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  • There was no point in calling a Special Session before the ballot strategy.

    There has been no excuse for not calling a Special Session since that was accomplished back in June.

    There’s a reason that everyone backing Medicaid expansion have been calling all fall for a Special Session. Why the Governor continues to ignore those calls and refuses to even try is beyond me. But it is not a sustainable position to not even try.

    You could stand to try a little harder two. The people feeding you are feeding spin are feeding you BS that is not based on fact. You’re making an as of yourself.

    • You’re right. I’m the one making an ass of myself. I remember just the other day when I said to myself, “Pushing for a Special Session distracts from the only valid method, it harms it. Having a Special Session would be the worst thing for expanding Medicaid” and then turned around to argue the exact opposite.

      Oh, wait.

      The only person feeding me this information is your Twitter account. As much as I suspect you’d like to scrub or spin this post, it’s going to be a pretty hard sell.

      • Don, sequence matters.

        You don’t call a special session to cave, that makes no sense.

        And you don’t call a Special Session before you have leverage.

        So you file the initiative, then call for the Special Session.

        Anything else would be nothing but strategery.

        And unfortunately, because the Governor has refused to lead, we’ve had nothing but strategery on Medicaid all year. He didn’t even bother trying during the first half of the session, then refused to lead, which caused Dems to quickly fold and fall back on Arkansas. Then there was this absurd move to call a Special Session without having changed the dynamics. Then we finally got an initiative, but the Governor refused to take the next step. So everyone in progressive politics spent all fall trying to get him to try on the issue. And then Bohlinger got the discussion on the front page, and that’s when you decided to chime in, Don? And against anyone trying for the necessary legislative passage until 2015?

        I’m proud to have been right at every stage of the Medicaid debate all year. But forget all year, let’s just look at where things stand now. There are Democrats pushing for a Special Session, and then there’s Gordon Vance speaking for the Governor in saying he has no interest in even trying. Bullock’s alone on this. Even Medicaid expansion supporters who don’t think it has any chance of passing want the Special Session to tee up the signature campaign.

        With half the states revisiting their Medicaid expansion refusals, this is part of a national trend. They’re even calling for a Special Session in Texas. The progressive move is clear, we truly *need* a Special Session. The Governor’s position is unsustainable because it makes no sense. With the initiative, Bullock has leverage to take the fight to the GOP. He needs to stop refusing to do that part of the job.

        And not only was Bohlinger successful in drawing attention to the progressive ask for a Special Session, he’s expanding the debate to talk about a new Montana Option to provide some stability in the individual market. Bohlinger is doing everything right and you’re bashing him to defend a failure on Medicaid Expansion that is clearly wrong. You have it backwards. And it is in no way a complicated issue.

        • Sometimes, it’s best to just walk it back. The smart play here would be to say you were dead wrong in May and have realized your mistake. I think to suggest there was nuance or room for maneuver in “having a Special Session would be the worst thing for expanding Medicaid” just looks silly.

          You can’t attack the governor for failing to call a special session when you yourself argued it would be the “worst thing” for expanding Medicaid. You just can’t.

          • Don, I’m not going to lie.

            The defining event for Medicaid this year was the introduction of the labor-backed initiative in June.

            It was the filing of the initiative that allowed a Special Session. It was silly not to call for a Special Session after that, which is why progressives have grown increasingly frustrated with the Governor’s lack of interest in even trying.

            There’s a plan now. Use the leverage from the initiative in a Special Session. If that doesn’t work, it will at least have provided the orgin story for Plan B, going to the ballot. But the urgency is on Plan A, as it has been for months.

    • “#MTpol: @MTHumanRights is asking for a #MTleg Special Session on Medicaid?????

      There is no theory of change for Medicaid being expanded in a Special Session. None.

      The only valid theory of change for expanding Medicaid in Montana is via a ballot campaign.

      Pushing for a Special Session distracts from the only valid method, it harms it. Having a Special Session would be the worst thing for expanding Medicaid, it’s most probable outcome would be the Arkansas model, either passing the session or getting traction as a competing citizen’s initiative.

      For the life of me I can’t understand why MHRN is pushing something with zero upside but extensive downside.
      Strategery like this is why Montana can’t have nice things.”

  • A special session cuts both ways, as it allows GOP and tea people some options to revisit, and attack Dems from the flank. The FACT the GOP and Tea Party
    chose to crap on working folks – many who live in rural Montana but vote
    against their self-interest because of ill-placed fear – cannot be forgotten and
    what Dems need to remind the voters.

  • It will take a a 3/5ths vote again to get the bill out of committee. 39 D’s + the 15 or so House R’s is not enough.

    Bullock knows that the bill would die, once again, in the House. Bullock also knows that there might be a few items added to his agenda if he does call a special session that he does not want to deal with again. HB12 and HB218 come to mind.

    The Initiative is the way to go. The people will approve it by 70-75%. The Legislature in ’15 will pass it on 56/44 vote.

  • For all of us truly fiscal people out there who believe investing in a better future, a special session is a good waste of Tax dollars, when the majority of us know the Extreme Right would scream like pigs at a feeding trough…… Or make something ridiculously unworkable, that is really important for 70,000 people.

    Affordable health care is not a Joke, and a clown car circus of teabaggers politicos shouldn’t be allowed to have a say, on keeping Montanans healthy.

    We have seen this scene before, a special session would only make a laughing stock of our state,, televised throughout the nation as teabagger after teabagger takes the microphone and tells us how they have spoken to god, and they personally know what the forefathers really envisioned. even though they haven’t read a real history book since high school. Crazy propaganda would ensue from the mouths of extreme nutcases, while not a fact was involved in their argument.

    Done with that Bob! The Ballot initiative is the only way to get it through, it is the nuclear option the people of this state need now!

    Id rather leave it the good people of Montana hands and let them vote, than have another unclean Koch buyout stand in front of a microphone screaming he is a patriot.

    You gonna wrap yourself in the flag and continue Bob, or is it time to face facts and admit your trying like hell to paint all Montanans into a RW corner as well.

  • #MTpol: @MTHumanRights is asking for a #MTleg Special Session on Medicaid?????
    There is no theory of change for Medicaid being expanded in a Special Session. None.
    The only valid theory of change for expanding Medicaid in Montana is via a ballot campaign.
    Pushing for a Special Session distracts from the only valid method, it harms it. Having a Special Session would be the worst thing for expanding Medicaid, it’s most probable outcome would be the Arkansas model, either passing the session or getting traction as a competing citizen’s initiative.
    For the life of me I can’t understand why MHRN is pushing something with zero upside but extensive downside.
    Strategery like this is why Montana can’t have nice things.

    • #MTpol: @MTHumanRights is asking for a #MTleg Special Session on Medicaid?????

      There is no theory of change for Medicaid being expanded in a Special Session. None.

      The only valid theory of change for expanding Medicaid in Montana is via a ballot campaign.

      Pushing for a Special Session distracts from the only valid method, it harms it. Having a Special Session would be the worst thing for expanding Medicaid, it’s most probable outcome would be the Arkansas model, either passing the session or getting traction as a competing citizen’s initiative.

      For the life of me I can’t understand why MHRN is pushing something with zero upside but extensive downside.

      Strategery like this is why Montana can’t have nice things.

  • This is all very confusing, as DP and BB seem to be talking by one another, either/or rather than each feeding the ore.

    An initiative is chancy – if it fails, what do you have? I worked for Clean Water and Minimum Wage, collecting a couple of thousand signatures and qualifying every precinct in my district in Billings. At that time each initiative had majority support in the polls. In the closing weeks, money came in and bought TV time, and effective subliminal messaging in those ads turned he public against the initiatives. Both were easily defeated. Advertising works, and could easily undo Medicaid expansion too? It’s not a force for reason, but rather manipulation via symbols and images.

    That not a shining time for either Montana intellectual quotient or shining Montana values. The public impulse was there, but ad agencies undid it with imagery and

    Imagine how different the legislative session might have turned out if the governor had used his powers to pressure a few key legislators on those close votes. But your party usually gives us unsalted potato chips, chili without spice, as leaders. The problem … Democrats are ineffective leaders and the reason is simple – those who gravitate to leadership are usually picked by power brokers.

  • Medicaid Expansion is just a part of Obamacare, and there is no enthusiasm from either party to promote Obamacare. Especially as we watch it fail. Even the Democrats who used to support it are running for cover.

    • Attention Billings Dad it is not failing! So far in states like Red Kenetucky over 50 thousand have enrolled, and they are mostly young people…. Obamacare is well on its way to a resounding success!

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