Now, the legislature and a bit more.
Health and Power
I think the legislature will adjourn this week, probably Thursday or Friday. Whether healthcare or Colstrip will pass by then remains to be seen.
The whole thing with Colstrip right now is that Northwestern Energy wants the legislature to allow it to buy more generating capacity at the current Colstrip power generating plants, as well as give it access to a new power line to transmit that energy.
The PSC now will have oversight on this issue, as that language was added into the bill on Friday. This means that if Colstrip is closed down, the costs won’t be passed on to power customers like you and I without PSC oversight first, though I bet the costs will still be passed on anyways.
When it comes to healthcare expansion, we know the program will cost the state $700 million a year.
That might sound like a lot, but the state’s total budget expenditures in 2016 were $6.4 billion, meaning healthcare will only represent 11% of the state’s spending.
For comparison, in 2015 the state spent 26% of its budget on education-related expenses, over 17% on Medicaid expenses, and about 12% on transportation expenses.
Another way to look at it is that just over 2,200 people live in Colstrip and 96,000 people rely on healthcare expansion. Dems would say that those getting healthcare are more important.
Republicans might counter by saying that 718,000 people in Montana rely on Northwestern Energy to get their power, and that saving Colstrip will ensure they keep getting it, and at affordable rates.
Politics, politics, politics.
I think it’s obvious what’s going to happen next week:
- A deal will be struck between the leaders of the legislature and the governor to pass Medicaid expansion if the Colstrip bill passes.
- Amendments will be put forth to reduce Colstrip costs to consumers while ensuring the plants stay open longer.
- Work requirements will be added to healthcare expansion along with the increase state government spending and full-time workers to institute the program. Hospitals might also see a reduction in the huge amount of money they’re set to receive as well.
- Both bills will be signed by the governor on a slow-news Friday.
- Republicans will smart over poor people getting free healthcare, but they’ll live with it.
- Democrats will smart over coal power being used for several more years here, but they’ll soon forget (like they did with CoreCivic last session).
- For regular working schmucks like you and I, life will go on as if nothing has happened.
U.S. House ‘Candidates’
Tom Winter still hasn’t filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, or if he has, the FEC hasn’t completed his paperwork yet.
Kathleen Williams hasn’t filed, either.
Neither has Greg Gianforte, or Matt Rosendale.
The only one I suspect will file will be Williams.
Tom Winter doesn’t have a chance at this race with her in it, and if he does decide to run and stick it out, he’ll be unable to run again for the legislature...or any other office.
So when he inevitably loses in the primary to Williams, he’ll have to sit out for at least two years before he can run for something else (1 year if he goes for city council again).
If Winter does go for congress and loses, he’ll effectively give up his spot in line here in Missoula.
You see, there are so many Democrats here that want to serve in the legislature that the primary races in June are all that matter - Republicans rarely win a general election race here.
When Winter steps out of the rotation, he’ll signal to other up-and-comers that his legislative seat is now open and lots of people will file to run for it. There are no open Missoula senate seats for Winter to jump up to either.
Smart move? Stay where you are.
Gianforte and Rosendale have the same problems that Winter has - the filing.
If Gianforte files for governor, he can’t file for congress again. If he then loses the governor’s race, he’s out and will have to wait another two years before he can run for anything again, maybe even four. That’s a helluva gamble, and it’s a big reason why Gianforte is putting a lot of thought into this decision.
I feel confident he won’t let his intentions be known until Bullock reveals his, which should happen in another week or two.
The safe bet is for Gianforte to stay in Congress, but I’m not sure he wants to spend another four years there before he can run for something else. Also, if Fox wins the governor’s race, Gianforte running for that office in 2024 simply won’t be a viable option. He'll be 58 next year, and 66 in 2028. Running for governor at that age is doable, but is it worth it?
Some think that Gianforte would win in a gubernatorial primary against Fox, but I’m not so sure. If Gianforte does go against him, we’ll see the moderate vs. the whacko wing of the GOP go at it. I think the moderates will win, not because they disagree with the whackos so much as they fear Gianforte’s money.
With Gianforte and his money in a race, no one else really stands a chance at beating him in the primary. Republicans know this, and after four years of seeing it in action across three separate races, they’re beginning to bristle.
It’ll take all of Fox’s political acumen to pull his caucus together to defeat Gianforte and force him from Montana politics once and for all.
It’d be a battle for the ages, and I’m not sure Fox has it in him.
Fox will be 62 next year. If he does lose the gubernatorial primary, his political career in Montana is effectively over.
If Gianforte does step down, Rosendale will go for congress again, but with the added risk that this time he’ll lose his Auditor position if he loses the race. The reason is simple - you can’t file to run for two offices at the same time.
I don’t think Kathleen Williams will do any better against him than she did against Gianforte, so maybe the risk isn’t that great.
I don’t think anything in Montana will really affect the outcome of that race. What happens with the national economy could have a big impact, however. If Dems put up a winning candidate for president in 2020, Williams could get enough turnout support to push her over the top. Currently, those are big unknowns.
My advice is for Winter to stay in the legislature and Gianforte stay in Congress. There are too many unknowns to do anything else.
What is Hanna’s Act Going to Solve?
Indians in Montana often live in wretched conditions, with 34% of the population in poverty.
Sadly, most of the Indians living in poverty choose to live that way. I have a feeling this is why so many go missing...for whatever reasons - the poverty kills them in some way.
Sometimes they don’t die, they just go missing. For concerned family members, this is usually heartbreaking and the wounds last years longer than if the person had been found dead.
No one knows why Indian women go missing at a much higher rate than other women. I suspect many are sold into the U.S. slave trade.
We currently have 403,000 slaves in this country. We don’t know how many are sex slaves, but 5,600 suspected cases were reported in 2016.
When it comes to the young missing Indian girls - like Jermain Charlo, who’s been missing from Missoula for 10 months - I think they’re forced into the sex trade.
Someone kidnapped her late at night when she was walking and sold her into slavery. Could even have been someone she knew, someone she trusted.
That’s why we have Hanna’s Act making its way through the legislature, to try and find these missing women, and prevent others from suffering the same fate.
Still, there are ulterior motives here. Democrats in the legislature really want to get Hanna’s Act passed because they think it’ll help Indians.
Democrats focus on helping Indians because they think if they do so, Indians will vote for them. It’s why Dems only visit the reservations around election time.
Sadly, the only people that can help Indians are Indians themselves.
Personally, I think it’s because the Indian community has so many problems and they just keep living with these problems instead of trying to fix them.
Most of the fixes required would in turn require Indians to change how they live, and most of them simply don’t want to do this.
I’m talking about drugs and alcohol and poverty.
Many times Indians will blame others for these problems, but they should really blame themselves. Sometimes they even use their race, trying to get sympathy.
Pal, I don’t give a shit what your race is - I’m gonna call you out if you can’t get your shit together.
- No one is making you drink
- No one is making you take meth
- No one is stopping you from getting a job
You’re doing this.
It’s because of those three main issues - drugs and alcohol and joblessness - that Indians have so many problems, and that in turn leads to them going missing.
Sometimes it’s just them trying to run away from their problems, like the 14-year-old girl that ran away last night in Polson before being found this morning. No one knows yet what happened to the 15-year-old girl that ran away on Wednesday.
A good place to start would be with the girl’s family...if she has any that are in her life in a positive way.
Maybe they know why she went missing. Perhaps they’re the reason why.
I suspect she’ll go missing long-term like so many others have, 2,700 in the U.S. and Canada.
And trust me - some bill with $205,000 in funding here in Montana isn’t going to get those 2,700 missing Indians back, nor is it going to prevent others from going missing.
The only thing that will prevent other missing Indians is if the Indian community takes a hard look at itself, stops blaming others for their problems, and makes the necessary changes to become productive members in 21st-century society.
Family bonds will strengthen, school performance will improve, employment will go up, and so will quality of life.
But I don’t think this will happen.
What I do think will happen is that Indians will keep blaming everyone else but themselves for their problems. Then they’ll wonder why their problems don’t go away.
Anyone that brings this up has a good chance of being called a racist.
Meanwhile Indians will keep disappearing.
The legislature seems like it’ll pass a bill making it a crime to share embarrassing photos of seniors. I’m fine with this, but I’d like them to also ban using mugshot photos for profit, as our newspapers do each and every month even though not a single one of those individuals was convicted of a crime.
It’s funny - Lee Enterprises will plaster your photo up and embarrass you when you’re innocent, but when our judicial system has run its course and you are finally convicted of the crime that got you that mugshot, Lee Enterprises will neither run the photo or even a story about the case.
For our newspapers in Montana, the stories and the people and the final outcomes aren’t important. Just profits.
And the profits aren’t what they used to be.
Currently Lee has 42 daily newspapers across 50 markets in 20 states, with another 300 specialty publications. A year ago that would have been 301, but Lee closed down the Missoula Independent. Workers found out when their keys would no longer work in the locks.
If we add up all the revenue those 342 publications bring Lee, we find out it’s $536 million, or $1.56 million per paper.
The last twelve months of revenue ending December 2018 was $536.4 million, compared with the earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization revenue (EBITDA) was $128.4 million.
That’s a big difference, $408 million to be exact.
The largest paper in the country, the New York Times, has an EBITDA of $231.5 million off of net revenues of $1.73 billion.
By comparing those two companies in the same industry, we can see quite clearly that the newspaper business is not that profitable.
Oh, you make profits...but the lion’s share of them are eaten up by non-operating costs like interest, taxes and depreciation.
Here in Montana, local advertising makes up 44% of Lee’s profits, while subscriptions account for another 36%. Digital advertising only accounts for 33% of total advertising revenue.
These falling ad revenues are a big reason why Kathy Best, the editor of the Missoulian, just left.
“Newsrooms have been hollowed out by the loss of print advertising revenue, and digital advertising isn’t making up for it,” Best said.
When revenues aren’t matching costs, you have the problems we see now with Lee: costs are cut, which diminishes quality content.
This despite 29 million unique visitors to their various news websites, which represents a 17% increase over the previous year. In fact, digital-only subscribers to Lee Enterprises papers have gone up 60% over the past year but they’re still losing money when compared with the old model of print advertising.
All of this has led to a 5.3% decrease in operating revenue for Lee so far this year. The main culprits were a 4% drop in subscriptions coupled with a 2% drop in advertising revenues.
The powers-that-be are noticing.
“Against this backdrop, Lee Enterprises is under attack from Carlo Cannell and his Wyoming-based Cannell Capital. He is urging shareholders to vote against incumbent board members, including chairman Mary Junck.
His complaints are familiar: Lee dramatically overpaid for the Post-Dispatch, Junck has earned more than $40 million of compensation since 2002 despite the company’s free fall, and the current board of directors has a friends-and-family vibe.”
You’ll find more in this article from February.
I suspect we’ll see more workers leave Lee Enterprises newspapers in Montana over the coming year. The company already cut staff by 9% over the past year.