Energy Environment Montana Politics

Son of ICYMI redux: the Magic City, campaigns, think tanks and Colstrip


Big news out of Billings

What’s good news for Robyn Driscoll, and Yellowstone County, could be bad news for the Montana Legislature. The incumbent Democratic state senator was selected to succeed Bill Kennedy on the Yellowstone County Commission and is taking her name off the ballot for the Billings senate seat.

This will make it even tougher for Democrats to gain a majority in the Montana Senate, a goal that seemed to be within reach. The Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee will pick Driscoll’s ballot replacement tonight (Thursday, August 18). I got this news from logicosity.

UPDATE: Good luck to Jen Gross, picked by Yellowstone County Democrats to replace Robyn Driscoll on the November ballot. Gross is Planned Parenthood of Montana’s manager of field operations so no stranger to statecraft.   

Billings could also get the tallest building between Minneapolis and Seattle. The proposed $120 million project, One Big Sky Center, has a 25-story skyscraper, a walking mall, a hotel and high-end apartments.

Of course the Denver and Phoenix developers want some financial assistance from city government and economic development entities, and they all seem willing. Downtown Billings is making a small resurgence. When I was a kid there in the ’60s, with the Hart Albin department stores, Penneys, Coles and numerous other retail shops, it was the city’s hub. In the last couple of decades, you could fire off a cannon on a downtown street at high noon and not hit anyone.

The Last Best News has the skinny. Since the developers have already purchased the property where they want to build, this looks serious, but there are still many, many hurdles.

Campaign tidbits

In my mail today was a lame hit piece from the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The target was my state senator, Sue Malek, a popular Democrat. The mailer gave Sue an “F” for her votes on expanding Medicare, income tax reform and school choice. There were no references given, of course, but it looked like the kind of voting decisions that her constituency would support.

It was a cookie-cutter mailer made by some right-wing marketing firm that plugs in a name, a photo, some vague bills and then gives the candidate an “F.” The card I got gives you a number to call and urge Sue Malek to “stand up against big government.” Funny thing is, the number is to the state legislative offices whose switchboard is turned off until the next session, January 2017.

Maybe you’ll get one of these lovely pieces in your mail targeting your senator or representative.

This isn’t well-spent superPAC money considering the piece ended up in my mailbox (I helped Sue on her last campaign). It’s tawdry and not that effective but does show how much dark money this PAC is willing to spend on races at the state legislative level all around the country.

It’s still the doors according to Vox. Although the big ticket campaigns all talk about their great “ground game,” they dump most of their money into TV. That’s a mistake:

By far the most effective way to turn out voters is with high-quality, face-to-face conversations that urge them to vote. How do we know? Nearly two decades of rigorous randomized experiments have proven it.

That’s also the advice given by Montana boy (sort of) Jim Messina. Messina served as former Montana Sen. Max Baucus’ chief of staff and was a key campaign strategist in Pres. Barrack Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Messina also emphasizes social media although I don’t think it has the same clout these days since there’s so damn much of it out there it’s hard to sift through all the crap to find a decent message. I wrote about Messina a year ago here.

“Think tanks” is a misnomer

The New York Times recently had a series of articles on the influence of think tanks (here, here and here). These “universities without students” as one think tank described itself, are used by politicians and the media as easy sources for everything from legislation to editorials. Problem is, there is questionable objectivity coming out of many think tanks, especially considering their funding sources like Exxon/Mobile, JPMorgan Chase, and Koch Industries.

Perhaps you’ve read some of the guest columns in Montana newspapers from Bozeman’s two think tanks: PERC (Property and Environment Research Center) and FREE (Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment). They both have the word “environment” in their titles but since their funding comes from dark money and their message is anti-tax and anti-regulation, their motives are definitely suspect.

UPDATE: MSU receives a $5.67 million grant from the Koch brothers. Two economics professors are beneficiaries. From the Bozeman Chronicle:

Vince Smith and Wendy Stock, professors in MSU’s department of agricultural economics and economics, will use the money to create a new center focusing on the impact of regulations and government policies on society, from agriculture to health care and technology.

This should fit together nicely with the two think tanks and the Montana office of Americans for Prosperity superPAC, also headquartered in Bozeman.

Colstrip quandary

What to do about Colstrip’s decrepit Units 1 & 2? Duane Ankney, Colstrip Republican senator, is suggesting millions of dollars in fees for the companies who want to decommission the plants. You certainly can’t blame him for wanting to take care of his constituents but will the bills he’s advancing through a legislative committee have any teeth?

First, there’s the Montana Public Service Commission who regulates utilities and sets rates. One commissioner, Republican Roger Koopman, said, “this is just a series of bad ideas.” From an AP story in the Billings Gazette:

A package of bills crafted by a legislative panel would hit Puget Sound Energy and Talen Energy with millions of dollars in fees for 10 years following the closure of Colstrip Units 1 and 2 in southeastern Montana. It also would raise taxes on all electricity producers in Montana to pay for $50 million in grants to communities that lose natural resource jobs.

The bill package also would require Colstrip’s owners to submit — at a fee of up to $1 million — decommissioning and remediation plans before any closure. The plans would be subject to approval, disapproval or modification by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Whether these bills make it through the legislature remains to be seen and, perhaps a better question is, are they enforceable?


If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment

Please enter an e-mail address

  • I wonder where the compassionate conservatives will be to help Colstrip of just ignore workers what happened to AMC, Montana Power Companies employees who were cruelly shafted with no transition plan.

    Also, just got LAME Americans for Prosperity attack piece against Bullock, saying Bullock’s to blame for drop in oil prices and blames him for Obamacare, etc……Another piece from Gianforte saying he’ll defend Montana from evil refugees from the Middle East….also a piece from Commando Zinke spouting his military accomplishments…..

Support Our Work!

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

Subscribe Via E-mail


What Industry Will Republicans Prop Up with Corporate Welfare Next?

Follow us on Twitter

0 /* ]]> */