I’ve taken a bit of a break from politics since the election, but I wasn’t at all prepared to be dragged back in with the news that House Republicans had appointed Derek Skees to be the chair of the House Rules Committee. I certainly wasn’t expecting them to appoint someone who’s reasonable or informed, but I have to admit that I didn’t imagine, in my most jaded and cynical moment, that they’d appoint a stark-raving lunatic and secessionist who believes that Abraham Lincoln was in the wrong during the Civil War and that one of the major threats facing a free people is the scourge of human micro-chipping.
Skees, you might recall, served a rather embarrassing term in the House of Representatives back in 2011. During this freshman term, he set himself apart from the collection of crackpots who dominated the headlines of that session by:
- proposing a bill that would allow the state of Montana to nullify federal law up to and including the restoration of legal slavery.
- proposing that students be allowed to bring firearms to schools.
- being publicly mocked by Republican Ken Peterson for presenting a mess of a bill to reduce the size of the Supreme Court.
- proposing the development of a nuclear power plant in the Flathead.
In all, Skees introduced 23 pieces of legislation, none of which made it past a committee, even though Republicans had a 68-32 majority in the House. In the annals of ineffective freshman legislators, Representative Skees ranks near the top.
In the 2017 session, the highlight of Skees’s session was trying to pass a voter ID law that was so poorly written and ill-conceived that he asked a committee to table his bill before saying it should not have been tabled. The bill, rooted in imaginary tales of voter fraud across the state that he could not substantiate, had no chance of passing constitutional muster but generated headlines once again for the unprepared and ineffective Skees.
And, again, despite large Republican majorities, all 34 of the bills he introduced or proposed died before even making it to the floor.
And if one really wants to understand the mind of Representative Skees, there probably hasn’t been a better interview of the man than this one by a student journalist in Whitefish, in which Skees claimed we should return to the gold standard “as was done by the Byzantine Empire,” imagines we can return to gas at less than $1/gallon if we open up oil drilling in the Flathead Valley, argues that oil “is not a fossil fuel,” and worries about the tyranny of the gay community.
So who better to lead one of the most important committees in the session than a bigoted fan of the John Birch Society who has to have the least impressive resume of a two-term legislator in recent Montana history?
The unique perspective and skill set Skees will bring to the Rules Committee were on full display today. As the Montana Free Press reports, Skees led the Rules Committee to adjourn without taking action on the House session rules before launching into one of his patented rants. Not understanding how representative democracy works or what “oligarchy” means, Skees called out a potential majority who believes, shockingly enough, that the House should hear and debate bills:
Skees also called the changes “horrible” and said they would sap the majority party’s power and undermine what he views as a mandate from Montana voters to follow the Republican platform. A small group of GOP lawmakers occasionally work with Democrats on certain issues, including the rule-change proposals.
Skees called the group an “oligarchy” trying to manipulate the system.
“Why [do] members of the majority caucus want to pass rules that weaken majority caucus?” Skees said. “That’s my question. That takes an insight into the motives and minds of the individuals doing it, and I can’t go there yet.”
There are certainly Republicans of good will who intend to come to Helena to represent the views of their communities, the state, and their party, but the appointment of Derek Skees to head the Rules Committee is yet another demonstration that the reactionaries are running the show, and that their priority isn’t building consensus or crafting policy, but obstructing at every turn.
Even if that means putting someone as unqualified and unhinged as Skees is in a position of power.