A Threesome: MEIC, Talon and PSE

Have you read the  blog posted over at Intelligent Discontent. The author argues in support of Senate Bill 338 which would obligate the utilities closing units 1 and 2 in Colstrip to help the workers and their families transition. The fact of the matter is that the mess in Colstrip is not the fault of workers, never has been. The responsibility belongs to massive out-of-state utilities who put more profit ahead of environmental standards and the interests of the people who labored to make them those huge profits.  A reasonable and responsible proposal.

Senate Bill 338 also seems like a pretty basic piece of legislation that should fly through the Montana Legislature. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.

So what’s the problem and who’s in the way?  MEIC, that’s who!  The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) is lobbying hard to kill this legislation. MEIC is hoping to build a coalition of free market Republicans and corporate Democrats in order to destroy any hope for Colstrip workers. In the end and once again, workers are on the losing end of that relationship.

hedgesHow is MEIC doing this? They’re using a red herring. Anne Hedges, MEIC’s Lead Lobbyist writes, Senate Bill 338 “moves us in the direction of punishing businesses that have invested billions in the state and are ready to move to the new energy economy. The town of Colstrip needs help with transition, and that doesn’t include scaring away new business.”

MEIC’s argument is disingenuous at best and a corporate lie at worst.  And just plain confusing given its history of lawsuits.

The reason units 1 and 2 are closing is because of a successful lawsuit litigated by none other than  MEIC and the Sierra Club. It’s pretty rich that MEIC is now all of a sudden concerned about Montana’s business climate, particularly the resource extraction business. The fact of the matter is that corporate America uses these kind of scare tactics to keep their huge profits safe without taking any responsibility for their actions. It’s sad that MEIC is Talon’s mouthpiece and siding with corporations over people.

Additionally, the facts just don’t agree with the story MEIC is trying to sell. When Puget Sound Energy closed a coal plant in Washington state, they paid the community almost $50 million. Guess what? Puget Sound Energy is still operating in Washington and investing in Washington.

Don’t buy the lies and the corporate rhetoric. Senate Bill 338 is a simple bill that could be 5af3e46500b316f124a31c5889970162of tremendous help to the people of Colstrip. More than that, the community has earned the support of the utilities, even if the legislature has to be the one to hold Talon accountable.  It’s long past the time of leaving small town Montana high and dry when companies pull the shades on the head office and sneak out of town in the dark of night with groups like MEIC driving the getaway car.

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

Injured Workers For Profit

There’s trouble brewing for injured workers and even the people who serve them. Victory Insurance has set its sights on the Montana State Fund this Legislative Session. Victory Insurance prides itself as being “Montanan’s only private workers’ compensation insurance carrier.”

The State Fund, which handles a significant amount of worker compensation claims for people hurt on the job and is the insurer of last resort, has many problems. Their 50ca1d61b977b.preview-620[1]incredibly well-paid executives often put financial incentives ahead of the needs of injured Montana workers, their families and in fact, their own employees. This blog has highlighted the State Funds problem of diverting profits to exorbitant salaries and benefits of its executives, in particular President and CEO Lanny Hubbard whose hourly wage is, are you ready? A cool $146.64 every hour Hubbard sits on the third floor in his  corner office. The State Fund has even worked behind the scenes to kill presumption of illness laws that would benefit fire fighters. Al Ekblad, Executive Secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO has described the State Fund as having “an active role in attacking workers, not honoring them.”

Things could get even worse. Victory Insurance wants to privatize (or “liquidate”) the Montana State Fund. Such a move would result in employees of the State Fund no longer being state employees, forfeiting union protections, and losing pensions.  According to a letter posted on Facebook by the MPEA, all jobs would be lost. Furthermore, the State Fund’s mission would become even more profit-driven, which means even more abysmal outcomes for injured workers.

It appears that Victory Insurance has come to this session ready to play hardball. They have four lobbyists working the session and they’ve recently brought on former State Senator and congressional candidate Kim Gillan as a lobbyist. They know that targeting Democrats will be key. Interestingly, Gillan is also lobbying for Talen Energy, which is hoping to either extract a big pay day from Montana taxpayers or squelch on their commitments to workers in Colstrip.

One last note on Gillan who served in the House from 1996-2004 and the 583e49eb0e951.image[1]Senate from 2004-2012.   When she termed out of both chambers she made an ill fated bid for Congress and handed the seat to Steve Daines.  The Democrat turned corporate lobbyist received endorsements from organized labor in every election cycle.  Ironically, labor has never failed to ask where a candidate stands on privatization.  The answer must be ‘opposed’ to receive an endorsement.  Like her fellow Senator Mary Caferro, Gillan only cared about her answers when she needed the boots and dollars of labor.

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

 

 

Al Capone’s Vault

unsolved_mysteries1There’s a frenzy in Helena today with the special Democratic Party Convention and then tomorrow for the Republicans.  Well, more or less anyway.  But with all this nomination business, Elsie Arntzen is hoping to catch a break since there’s no media focus on her.  Then again, what is there to focus on?  Wasn’t there some dustup about ACT reporting and then an investigation that wasn’t really an investigation?  Wasn’t that all supposed to end last week?

You would think that between the accusations made by Arntzen and her numerous missteps since that she would have wanted to release the information that CMS has uncovered to save face.  Or could it be they are still taping together shredded pieces of paper in hopes they’ll finally find that smoking gun.

Rumor has it she’s also retained the services of Geraldo Rivera after watching a rerun of img_6412his failed break in at Al Capone’s vault from 1986.  An email tip brought this picture of Rivera and a member of the CMS staff searching for evidence that will prove former OPI head Juneau falsified records.

Keep digging Elsie, but don’t keep us waiting too long.

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul every’body’s a part of.’

 

 

$3000 Tax Payer Dollars

5360fcca83b0d-image1If you listen close you can hear Senator Dee Brown’s nails on a chalkboard voice cackling about the spending of tax payer dollars.  Well, except in this case since her fellow teacher, Elsie, is spending those dollars.  So just what does $3000 buy Arntzen anyway?

Last week the Lee papers ran a story about the cost of the ‘investigation’ with their usual repetition of details.  But it does raise a few questions. Why does Arntzen need to hire a human resources consultant to review policies and procedures if OPI already has a human resources manager on staff?  And, if the OPI has access to additional human resource support through the Department of Administration why is she paying an outside firm to do the same work she could get for free from DOA?  Questions that wouldn’t need to be asked in any other scenario since it would be logical to use the knowledge of in-house resources.

Jim Kerins’ and CMS have made a living off state government dating back some twenty years now and certainly far more than a measly $3000 dollars.  Having said that, it’s rather strange that CMS would take on this project.  It’s short term, cheap and in one sense, risky.  Kerins’ has managed to thread the political needle for quite some time by taking on projects with the state that don’t result in any kind of political agenda. Until now.  This time his work will either support the allegations of an OPI leader who clearly has a political agenda or find a few misfiled documents.  A failed witch hunt.

Arntzen ran for office on what she portrayed as the sins of past Democratic leadership.  Unfortunately, when she finally walked into the buildings that house OPI for the first time she found no smoking guns or dead rats.  Instead she discovered an underfunded facility and underpaid staff.  Bear in mind, she has some responsibility in that given her voting sam_spade1record and lack of support for both public education and government agencies, to include OPI.

So Kerins’ has taken on a $3000 project that’s set to end next week on the 28th.  We’re all on the edge of our seats wondering what his investigation/review will reveal.  And at this point, Kerins’ is going to have to find something to feed Elsie.  She’s made a spectacle herself and continued missteps are something $3000 won’t cover up.  One thing Kerins’ should remember when he hands Arntzen that smoking gun, his fingerprints will be on it too.

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

 

Go West Betsy DeVos, Go West

Yesterday Superintendent Elsie Arntzen  invited the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos to visit Montana.  Nothing surprising here and nothing new at all.  To Arntzen’s credit it’s something she should be doing.  It’s good for Elsie to take a step with the right foot for once given the past couple of weeks she’s had, even though she’s only been in office a few weeks.  So why would this rise to the level of yet another post?  Click the link, read it, read it twice.  It’ll take a couple of times to sift through the poor writing.

Of its several oddities is her reference to Montana as a ‘frontier’ state and having frontier-school‘frontier schools’.  Do you suppose she’s referencing some old map that shows the region as a frontier or is Elsie trying to lure DeVos out on a long train ride and then a stagecoach trip from Havre to Helena?  Perhaps DeVos will have the good fortune to shoot a few buffalo from the window of the train as it passes a grazing heard.  Or it could be that Arntzen is just trying to personify a mystique from days of old now that Montana has finally broken into the current century with indoor plumbing, electricity, cable TV, and grizzly bear free schools!

So really, Arntzen deserves a gold star for getting her letter out.  She wants to showcase her office and Montana’s ‘frontier’ schools.  Now comes the oddity from yet another email tip.

tharp

Tim Tharp, Interim Deputy Superintendent sent out an email to all staff at OPI letting them know he’d be visiting with them soon to understand how they ‘contribute’ to OPI.  Had the transition gone more smoothly over the last month this would seem like a reasonable gesture.  In reality the new administration has no clue about the day to day functions of OPI and now they need to find out just what they are doing.  Tharp intends to ask five simple questions and get to know each OPI employee in just five minutes; sort of like six minute abs.  One can only imagine the questions:  ‘What is your quest?’ ‘What is the wind velocity of an African Swallow?’ ‘If you were a tree, what kind of a tree would you be?’ ‘Hammer or nail?’ ‘X-ray vision or gills?’. How does Arntzen plan to bring Devos up to speed about education in Montana when she truly doesn’t know?  Perhaps that’s really a rhetorical question since it insinuates that DeVos knows something about education as well.  Maybe together using DeVos’ twitter pencil they can figure out the three “R’s” of education.

Fun Family Feud question:  What do Arntzen and DeVos have in common?  Survey says…A vote from Steve Daines!

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

 

OPI’s Investigation That Isn’t

First it was an investigation, then it wasn’t, now it is?  This afternoon’s email brought a tip showing that Jim Kerins and CMS have ineed been retained by Elsie Arntzen regarding student proficiency reporting.  Kerins began contacting OPI staff via email yesterday morning to introduce himself as a ‘Human Resources Consultant’ and explain the general objectives of his ‘investigation’.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-1-54-25-pm

Are you confused as to what a Human Resources company knows about student medieval-torture-granger1proficiency?  You should be.  Maybe Elsie knows something about them that the rest of us don’t. Nothing to worry about here for the OPI staff though, Kerins assures anonymity through a very complex numbering system based on personal recordings in his office or if they so choose, the Principal’s office.   And then there’s Kerins potential methods of information extraction: the rack, the iron maiden, hot coals, read one of Elsie’s speeches?

In the words of Paul Harvey, ‘Stand by for news’….

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

 

 

 

The Silence of the Whistleblower

Representative Kirk Wagoner has either found a conscience or is carrying on the work that shooting_rifle_gun__pd_Greg Gianforte proposed when he announced he’d create an office of ‘Government Accountability’.  Two of Wagoner’s seven bills this session are written to increase protections for state employees, also known as ‘whistleblower’ bills.  Seems reasonable until you take a look at his record and then the idea that there’s probably an agenda behind the two bills.

Wagoner earned an unimpressive 14% from the Montana AFL-CIO for the 2015 session.  To earn a 14% he only had to vote ‘Right’ on two bills which really doesn’t point anyone in the direction of a pro-worker representative.   For example, Wagoner voted ‘Wrong’ by voting AGAINST the state employee pay plan when the House held a blast vote to bring it out of committee.  Just twenty minutes later he voted ‘Wrong’ again when he voted FOR Representative Art Wittich’s Right to Work bill in a second House blast vote.  Hardly the indicators of a legislator who’s chief concern is the welfare of the many state employees in his district.

House Bills 202 and 208 provide for protections for state employees who believe they are on to corruption they’ve uncovered in the work place.  By no means is this meant to insinuate that it doesn’t happen.  The problem is that Wagoner was only able to produce one, yes one, former state employee who may, or may not have, lost their job after having ‘blown the whistle’.  Exhibit A,  Carol Bondy ,is currently exercising her right to challenge her firing which she believes took place with out cause.  Bondy also referenced a subordinate who was terminated but is represented by a union and filed a grievance.  It’s important to point out that Wagoner mentioned that employees represented by a union have these protections already but that a small percentage of state employees belong to a union.  No doubt the unions view their over 60% state employee membership as small considering they would much rather be representing 90%.

Of course there’s more to a story like this so here are some dots to try to connect.

Bondy may or may not have passed information on to Representative Tom Bernett and others around the time of the Medicade expansion efforts in the 2105 session.

Tom Bernett was the subject of a 2012 campaign complaint alleging he had illegallyth5 coordinated with American Traditions Partnership.

Bondy is being represented by James Brown. James Brown represented American Traditions Partnership in 2012.

The activities of American Traditions Partnership in 2012 were the basis of SB 289 to reform Montana’s campaign finance laws.  Wagoner, of course,  voted against that bill.

Or maybe none of those dots connect and it’s all just coincidence.

Wagoner’s sudden concern for state employees is a complete departure from his past record and alliances.  It’s unfortunate that a handful of Democrats have been duped into believing his efforts are sincere when in reality this is nothing more than a shot at the Governor and his administration.  It would seem high time for the D’s in the House and Senate to circle the wagons and protect their own.

Finally, there’s an oddity here.  During the 2015 session Wagoner championed gun silencer bills.  In 2017 he’s carrying whistleblower bills.  Can’t wait to see his 2019 theme, if we are all so lucky to be graced once more with his presence.

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

 

The Doña Quixote of the 65th Legislative Assembly

don-quijote-de-la-mancha-1024x678There is a knight errant who stalks the halls of the 65th Legislative Assembly wielding a handful of bills that legislative pundits have labeled dead on arrival.  Four of her bills have already been tabled in committee lending credence to the claims made by the doubters of Representative Mary Ann Dunwell (HD 84).  In the vaunted chambers of the “Peoples’ House,” it does not take long to get the impression that Representative Dunwell is the Doña Quixote of the legislature tilting at windmills others give a wide birth: HB 215 revise oil and gas tax laws – tabled in committee; HB 169 raise the minimum wage in Montana – tabled in committee; HB 275 expanded safety standards for workplace health and safety for public employees – tabled in committee; HB 210 revise liquor laws clarifying distance requirements with respect to schools – tabled in committee.  And then there were two.

Doña Quixote has not given up on her last two bills. HB 309 revises housing laws for disabled and criminally convicted individuals.  Doesn’t sound like a real barn burner for the Republican majority but I’m sure the left of left, you know those who helped shut down the Montana Development Center in Boulder last session, love it and it does sound noble.  But let’s be honest it is the proverbial snowball pitched into the realm of the original Great Satan.  And then there was one.

don-quixoteHB 341 has all the earmarks of a special interest bill considering the Doña Dunwell is a state employee.  As such, revising the travel expenses and per diem for state employees seems somewhat self-serving, but let’s peel that back a bit like an onion.  The current rate for in-state and out-of-state travel were set by HB 74 carried by Representative Gay Ann Masolo in 1997. 1997!   Five bucks for breakfast six for lunch and twelve for dinner and if you go beyond the borders of Montana hang onto your hat…eleven for breakfast twelve for lunch and a whopping twenty-three for dinner.  BRING ON THE FEAST!  Are your eyes watering yet?  And then there were none.

Let’s not be too hasty about brushing aside our Doña Quixote. Representative Dunwell might seem a bit naïve bringing bills of this stripe to the legislature especially when her party is the minority, but neither does she deserve derision from those in both parties, but what is particularly galling is snickering from the House of Labor who seemed to have forgotten what it’s like to rise up “in dubious battle.”  Oh don’t get me wrong they haven’t lost the ability to act the martyr but over the last four decades they have forgotten that martyrs suffer in their dying for the cause.  I can already hear the howls from The Gibraltar, “get thee behind me you collective bargaining denier!”   In the meantime, Representative Dunwell, Doña Quixote, fights the fight against incredible odds, aware or not, that the jaded on both sides of the aisle silently curse themselves for their lack of courage in dubious battle.

T-Bone Slim – “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”

Remember Representative Arntzen?

The first month of Superintendent Of Public Instruction Arntzen has been odd and disappointing, to say the least.  But really, if you know and pay attention to who Elsie is, did you expect anything less?

The office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction touches literally hundreds of thousands of lives in Montana: students, teachers, administrators, parents, custodians, tax payers, advocates, lunch room greg-gianforte-elsie-arntzen_eric-whitney1ladies, grandparents and school secretaries to name a few.  You would think that anyone interested in the job would have both the concern and character for the job.  Then you would need to take a closer look at Elsie Arntzen to find the truth: she’s not fit for the job on either of those levels. A voting record speaks volumes and former Representative, and now, Superintendent Arntzen has volumes of votes.  Beyond the typical educational policy advocacy groups such as MEA-MFT who have made no bones about publishing that deplorable record, the Billings Gazette  clearly pointed out that Arntzen has already had the opportunity to positively affect public education when they endorsed Melissa Romano.  Those are undeniable facts.

During the 2007 legislative session, Arntzen found herself splashed across the daily papers in Montana after having been a passenger with then Representative Scott Baggio when he was arrested for driving under the influence.  Two ironies played out in this arrest: the pure and pious Elsie was a member of the Yellowstone County DUI Taskforce and Baggio was driving a vehicle owned by Harry Klock, a former bar owner.  Both Arntzen and Klock claimed to have no idea that Boggio was ready to blow a whopping .14 into the breathalyzer.  Understandable, it’s tough to recognize a drunk driver when you’re probably drunk yourself.  Again, all tangible facts. 

Now for the less ‘tangibles’.  Within days of the embarrassing arrest which left the then would be OPI chief guilty by association, her mother showed up in Helena and stayed for the rest of the legislative session.  Momma’s entrance on the stage of debauchery was the end of baby girls’ nights out with her new found friend Boggio. It was rumored and hushly spoken in the Capital halls that the kindred republicans had a bit more at play than bumping up on a curb within eyesight of the Helena Police.  Arntzen managed to stay out of trouble for the rest of that session and her mother kept a tight grip. 

The 2009 legislative session brought a new Red Lodge legislator who didn’t favor Arntzen’s type so all was safe.  It was confusing then to see Arntzen’s husbandlittlebig11 show up each Friday and escort the apparently ‘fallen flower’ off the house floor and whisk her away for the weekend and avoid any flashing lights.  Rumors never cease though.  Uncomfortable exchanges continued and those who found themselves to be the object of Arntzen’s attention passed along stories of hugs from Arntzen that lasted just a little too long and eye contact that made them want to run home and shower with a fresh bar of LAVA.  People don’t always see things as they may be, it’s entirely possible Arntzen is just a nice, loving and caring school teacher.  Then again….

TGTJ

‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

 

An Orgasmic Beginning

North America’s Building Trades Unions met with President Donald J. Trump the other day and the Union Bosses came away from the experience feeling the love.  That same day President Trump signed an executive order putting the final nail in the coffin of the Trans Pacific trump-union-leaders-11Partnership to the delight of union leaders across the country.  Trump promised that together they were going to put a lot of people back to work.  He followed that up a day later with executive actions to resuscitate the Keystone XL Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline.  Could it be the “Great Satan” rank and file union members were warned about is actually a New Deal Rooseveltian in Republican clothing?  But wait!

Let’s not forget that he also issued an order for a broad hiring freeze on all federal government jobs.  Trump called it a stopgap measure to control the growth of government until his budget director can come up with a plan to reduce the federal workforce.  This drew a swift criticism from the American Federation of Government Employees as well as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  He extends an open hand to one part of the house of labor and a closed fist to the other.  Let’s not forget that union density in the United States is greatest in the public sector or that just about every private sector union has bargaining units in the public sector.

In the meantime, we have a Republican congress that has already lined up to shut down a major part of the Democratic Party’s war chest.  Even though President Trump gets to chose a Supreme Court nominee, his pick has to get the nod from Congress.  Let’s not forget that not too long ago public sector unions dodged a bullet with the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the resulting 4-4 split on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  The next SCOTUS case against public employee unions and charging fair share is already in the queue just waiting a ninth justice to break the tie.  If you think that ain’t gonna happen then you better turn in your medical marijuana card.

Now this reads a lot like an us versus them in the labor movement, divide and conquer, but yet private and public sector unions understand they need one another to survive or if they don’t then they should read some recent history about what happened in Wisconsin.  Getting “Walkered” by the right seems like a given in this political environment.  Before the Trades get twitter-pated with the new administration they need to remember the old fable about the scorpion and the frog…the scorpion just couldn’t help it because it was in his nature.

T-Bone Slim – “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”