Uncommon Ground: Back on the Job

On September 17, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Back on the Job

Every year, the farming seasons are busier than ever. The pears, apples, sea berries, and hops all need picking. The super harvest moon ushered in cold nights, snow hit the mountains, and the smell of fall is in the air.

The New York Times reported that, “Lawmakers will have as few as seven legislative days before going home for the November midterm elections.” That’s on the heels of Congress’ annual August recess that produced little in the way of political debates or town hall meetings.

Congress is dysfunctional. Congress passed a budget and a Farm Bill. Earlier, Congress had a nonsensical showdown and shut down the government because years prior a law passed that allowed some people get health insurance tax breaks.

The 113th Congress will go down in history as the least productive ever. Not much got done, and less is expected before November. Sadly, Congress is on lockdown, pending more elections.

According to a Brookings Institute ranking, freshman Republican Rep. Steve Daines voted conservative, very similar in ideology to fellow legislator and Tea Party Caucus founder Michelle Bachmann. Sen. Jon Tester voted like a centrist, the 11th most conservative Democrat in the Senate and the 58th overall.

Congress will work a bit over a week from the beginning of August until November elections. That looks like a pretty laid-back work schedule to a farmer like me. But hey, I gave up politics for farming.

Senate candidate Amanda Curtis has been barnstorming the state talking about her jobs plan and reducing student loans. Curtis has grassroots support and adds plenty of enthusiasm to midterm elections for young, women and middle-class voters.

Curtis, the 34-year-old high school math teacher, recently challenged Daines to a series of regional political debates across Montana. Daines has been reluctant to debate and likely with good reason.

Curtis and Daines offer voters a starkly different choice for the U.S. Senate. When was the last time that a young woman with student loans debated a wealthy Congressman for an open seat in the Senate?

Montanans elected the first woman member of Congress nearly a hundred years ago. Many voters are today helping Amanda Curtis get into the Senate.

Earlier, Montana Republicans put onto the November ballot a measure to end same day voter registration. Many states allow voters to register and vote on the same day. It makes sense given the constant purges of voter rolls as people move across town.

Republicans say the reason that people like Jon Tester won the 2006 elections over former Sen. Conrad Burns was because young people stood in line for hours waiting to vote.

Six years late Tester beat former Rep. Denny Rehberg for the Senate – a loss Republicans now wrongly blame on Libertarian candidates. Republicans attempted to place on the November ballot a referendum that allowed only two candidates in general elections. The Montana Supreme Court said no.

Daines also faces a Libertarian opponent in midterm elections. Roger Roots previously ran as a Libertarian in a statewide election and garnered 3.5 percent of the vote for secretary of state. Many expect Roots to beat that performance.

Ravalli County Republicans sued to stop open primary elections in Montana. Closed primaries allow parties to track voters and assure that Independents and Libertarians don’t vote in many statewide elections.

Young voters are figuring out the same thing that women voters and middle-class voters figured out a while ago. These voters see a Congress that doesn’t work much and when it does, it’s not helping.

Curtis, Daines and Roots all square off in the Senate race with voting starting next month. Congress is hardly working, which leaves plenty of time for three-way political debates across Montana.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

Uncommon Ground: A Young Woman Senator

On September 3, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

A Young Woman Senator

Montana Democrats should help U.S. Senate candidate and state Rep. Amanda Curtis with voter turnout. Not that Curtis needs much help building enthusiasm among young voters. When was the last time that a 34-year-old woman was the candidate for U.S. Senate?

Curtis, a high school math teacher from Butte, has been called many things in her rapid accent into state leadership. East Coast news pundits were quick to paint Curtis as anything from a socialist to Montana’s version of Elizabeth Warren.

The one current member of the U.S. Senate to ever talk socialism is Bernie Sanders, who recently ushered through the law that builds 27 new clinics for veterans, allows veterans in-state college tuition in any state, and lets many Montana veterans visit private healthcare clinics.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently told the Rolling Stone magazine that “rising student-loan debt is an economic emergency.” Warren says that the $1.2 billion student debt is “stopping young people from buying homes, from buying cars, from starting small businesses.”

Curtis herself has $24,000 in student loans. Curtis says that she relied on the similar Pell Grants and federal loans to get through college to become a high school math teacher. Curtis told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that “Daines wants to slash the Pell Grants and isn’t worried about the rates going up.”

Curtis presents a new math challenge for Rep. Steve Daines in midterm elections. It’s not as though early polls indicate that Curtis beats Daines. But what‘s harder to anticipate is how Curtis is electrifying the young, women, and the middle-class voter base in Montana.

Plenty of voters have likely figured out that Curtis represents their one, and only, chance to elect a 34-year-old woman to be a U.S. senator.

If national Democrats were smart, they’d help Curtis promote her online ActBlue fundraising account. Several thousand people made political contributions to Curtis on her first week on the campaign.

In a New York Times column, Gain Collins wrote that a math teacher in Congress would help. Collins wrote the campaign ad for Curtis should be, “Elect somebody who knows how to count.”

Daines recently proposed a healthcare fix with Rep. Todd Young that redefines full-time work. The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would increase, yes increase, budget deficits by $74 billion and would “reduce the number of people receiving employment-based coverage by about 1 million people.”

My own experiences in carrying the property tax reappraisal bill during the 2009 Montana Legislature reminded me that plenty of legislators don’t much like math.

The political directness of Amanda Curtis is her ability to say it like it is. The GOP was quick to mock her legislative video recordings of the last session. But what the GOP is slowly figuring out is that plenty of young, women and middle-class voters who see Curtis on video only serve to confirm that they are voting for her.

Almost every voter in Montana, heck across the nation, says that Congress is messed up. But polls say that we are likely to elect the same people that shut down the government, slash funding for Pell Grants and cut funding to public research at places like the National Institutes of Health.

The only way that an Amanda Curtis, a 34-year-old high school math teacher from Butte, ever becomes a U.S. senator is if young voters, if women voters, and if middle-class voters say that this is their time.

If you’re tired of business as usual D.C. politics and want Curtis to represent Montana in the U.S. Senate, you’d better fund her campaign today, tell your friends to fund her campaign, and you must volunteer to help Curtis become a voter turnout machine. Voting by mail begins next month.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Public Efficiency

On August 23, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Public Efficiency

It’s been an especially hot summer. Soon the dog days of summer will run the Flathead. Kids are returning to school and locals will be thinking of autumn hikes, last swims and fall recreation.

Many welcome cooler days when the constellation Orion again shines in the night sky. Some are gathering firewood and thinking about the prospects of hunting. On our farm, the garlic is in and hung in hanks to cure. The berries are ripe and fall crops are quickly maturing.

Kids are headed back to school next month. Soon thereafter the new Whitefish High School opens.

It will be thrilling to see how the new high school building functions from both the perspective of a learning atmosphere and an energy efficient building. Many like me think that students will prosper in the new public building. Whitefish has some great teachers.

Hopefully the district’s heating and cooling bills will reduce. It cost a lot to heat and cool a big public building. Prior to construction, there was some discussion about efficiency.

The Helena area’s first public building to be certified energy efficient was the U.S. Veterans Benefit Administration Building at Fort Harrison. In Kalispell, the state DNRC and DEQ public building meets energy efficiency standards.

The building was a first for the state of Montana to meeting higher energy efficiency standards. The public buildings’ lighting expenses, water usage and storm water run-off are all much below traditional usage.

It’s the reduction in heating and cooling needs of public buildings that save taxpayers’ money and reduce the demand for power. Over a 50 year life of a building, that’s a lot of both.

Both The Apgar Transit Center in West Glacier and Xanterra Parks and Resort NPS Concessioner in Gardiner reduced energy usage considerably. In Gardiner the employee housing building used both a 2.3 kW photovoltaic system to provide additional power and passive solar for some heating.

These old-fashioned concepts add insulation, lower air infiltration, and make walls thicker. There’s better venting but you don’t have to get complicated to save a lot of long-term taxpayer money, especially considering which way energy costs are likely to go.

Recent efficiency studies of big buildings found that the energy use of a well-insulated structure is 25 percent lower than traditional construction. Over the fifty year life of a public building that translates to big saving for city taxpayers who fund ongoing maintenance, heating and cooling.

Two years ago, the White House Council on Environmental Quality indicated that “investments in energy efficiency over the last four years alone are expected to save as much as $18 billion in energy cost of the life of the projects.”

The City of Whitefish has begun the process of soliciting public input on a new City Hall. City Hall construction is overdue and many locals want a public building at the heart of town that simply functions well and looks good.

Whitefish is a great town. Over time, the town’s leadership has done well. The town thrives on tourism but old timers built a livable place with public places and an attractive entrance into town. Some complain about regulations but they keep amenities like our waterways clean and public lands open.

Whitefish’s streets are in good repair, the parks open, and the sidewalks and bike paths are plentiful. Business is good. Whitefish remains a local’s town where people actually want to live.

As city leaders design another public building, it’s frugal to consider the 50-year implications of skyrocketing energy costs. We live further up north than the tip of Maine, our summers are hot and winters long. If Whitefish must build, it may want to consider some old-fashioned conservative ideas that save energy and taxpayer money.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Nourishing People

On August 6, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Nourishing People

It’s August, a time when locals care more about taking back summer and enjoying the outdoors than the political dramas that have seemingly overwhelmed the news cycle and electorate. Many people simply ignore the political commotion and tune in to the landscape after Labor Day.

My summer has been extremely busy on the farm. Farming is a great life and I enjoy nearly every moment of the day from sunrise to sunset. Growing food has never been more important, and many consumers are keenly aware of the importance of good, nutritious food.

In what today seems like a past life, I chaired the Montana House committee on agriculture. Montanans are lucky; our climate is conducive to growing many crops across the state. Locally, it’s good to see Flathead cherries back on the scene. Soon crops such as honeycrisp apples will again sweeten the taste buds of local eaters.

Last year, a local charitable organization called Nourish the Flathead began distributing free senior coupons to elderly people seeking fresh food. This year Nourish is again active and continuing its successful endeavor.

With a generous donation from the Whitefish Community Foundation, Nourish is also helping prepare senior meals for area residents. Working with the North Valley Food Bank, Nourish volunteers are preparing tasty food delivered to hungry people.

Nourish the Flathead was originally known as the group that created the farm map of the Flathead Valley. It’s a comprehensive guide on how to get food from local farmers. Nourish evolved from dedicated farmhand volunteers to helping feed hungry families, building school gardens and helping secure farmland for young aspiring farmers. Search its website for details.

There are many positive aspects to nonprofit groups like Nourish. Given the propensity of politicians to cut funding for food programs, it’s great to see locals remaining vigilant to help assure that food is readily available to those seeking nourishment.

Most locals know Scott Brant as a cornerstone at Montana Coffee Traders. Brant has been at the roaster since day one. Brant and my friend R.C. Beall, who owns Coffee Traders, were roasting fresh coffee in the valley back in 1981. This dynamic duo clearly knows the art to roasting a good cup of Joe. Many, like me, cannot imagine how we could possibly work as hard on the farm without that fresh morning coffee.

Today Brant also makes bi-weekly food runs from the Flathead to Browning, where hunger is still rampant. Brant’s old truck is typically full of local goods like food and clothing. Many locals and groups like Nourish the Flathead, the Soroptomist, the Whitefish Methodist Church and the North Valley Food Bank are helping fill Brant’s old delivery truck.

People like Brant and groups like Nourish the Flathead would not be able to provide the services to hungry citizens without the help of locals who donate time, food, cash or clothes. It is humbling to see my fellow citizens work hard to serve others. It is this kind of goodness that many find most rewarding.

Much of life is about service. Many people do a small part to make sure that fellow residents are not hungry or cold. Sadly, many politicians have forgotten this basic need of society. Thankfully, local people are stepping forward to again fill the vacuum.

Most of us are lucky and blessed to have much food. If you have extra food or some lingering coins in your wallet, consider donating to groups like Nourish or people like Brant. There is little more important than assuring that our fellow citizens eat well.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

 

 

Public Lands are Your Lands

With families and visitors in town, there are many people enjoying the great Montana outdoors. The Flathead Valley is a tourist destination and it’s easy to understand why businesses are supportive of public places.

We are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful areas of the nation. The water is still clean, the air pure and the public lands are mostly open and accessible.

A decade ago, former Gov. Judy Martz’ administration was in Whitefish touting a new approach to state public lands around Whitefish. Its goal included selling the most prized public assets that the people of the state own. By constitution these state public lands are held in trust for the people.

Luckily the people of Whitefish – led by current city councilor and then former mayor Andy Feury – had a different approach that included conservation, education and recreation. Since then many miles of public trails were built, development was removed from thousands of acres of public lands and public schools benefited from millions of dollars of new revenue.

Back in 2005, former state Sen. Dan Weinberg sponsored legislation that paved the way for a successful endeavor to conserve our greatest public assets around Whitefish Lake. Weinberg heard the economic needs of the area and locals who overwhelmingly favored preserving the great outdoors.

Today, retired forester and current Rep. Ed Lieser offers fresh leadership and stewardship for public places in the Beaver Lake, Spencer Mountain and Haskill Basin. With the leadership of people like Lieser, the Whitefish economy benefits greatly from public lands access.

It’s not hard to give thanks to leaders who worked hard over the decade to assure that the next generation benefits from the outdoors. But without a doubt, none of this conservation, recreation or education of public lands would have occurred without former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Schweitzer held steadfast to the belief that public lands are held in trust for the people. His conservation ethic protected not only places such as the North Fork but also kept nearly 13,000 acres of public lands in the north valley in public hands.

Luckily for local Montanans, leaders like Weinberg, Feury, Lieser and Schweitzer believed in keeping our greatest assets public. These four did not stand alone, as the majority of a community supported their efforts.

Even my relatives who swarmed into town recognize the glorious importance of public places such as Glacier National Park. These kinds of public places are the crown jewels of our nation. They must forever be held in the public trust to provide economic benefit for the entire valley and state.

Businesses such as Whitefish Mountain Resort would clearly be unable to properly operate if it were not for the generous federal leases that are available from the Flathead National Forest. From simple berry picking to abundant forestry and recreation, our public lands are the economic driver in the Flathead Valley.

It strikes many as odd and shortsighted that some ideological politicians are again pushing the tired mantra of selling off public lands. Luckily for Montana, Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock are providing clear leadership to assure that public lands remain in public hands.

Recently Tester and Bullock wrote, “Montana was just named the most fiscally responsible state in the country; and jeopardizing our future prosperity in order to satisfy a narrow interest group that would prefer to see strip malls and condos along ridgelines and streams just doesn’t make sense.”

Most Montanans will undoubtedly agree that we need leaders who work together and preserve our way of life. Our public lands, our access to stream and lakes as well as good timber management, and our constitutionally protected right to hunt and fish are values that we cherish dearly and must pass along to the next generation.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish.   Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee.   He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Roberts’ Court

On July 9, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Roberts’ Court

It’s hard to imagine that a pair of rulings last month from the U.S. Supreme Court won’t have an impact on upcoming elections. Voters are likely to take notice of the Chief Justice John Roberts’ courtroom ideology.

The Roberts court ruled – notably from its own 250-foot buffer zone – that certain 35-foot buffer zones protecting women’s clinics from harassment were unconstitutional. The court then said that some corporations have the religious freedom to ban contraceptives from workers’ health insurance.

Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh disliked the decisions. Of the latter ruling, Tester said that, “The Supreme Court got it wrong.” Walsh said, “Today’s ruling means women could pay hundreds of dollars more per month because their bosses get to determine the type of health care they receive.”

Nominated by former President George W. Bush, Roberts has set the agenda since 2005. Over that time the court has returned startling decisions affecting the nation.

The Roberts’ court promoted the notion that money is speech and corporations have the right of personhood as it pertains to politics. These kinds of ruling put secret money to work during campaign season. It rejected reforms of regulated campaign finance laws from the era of former President Richard Nixon.

The Roberts’ court also removed the ban on political contributions, which helped limit corruption. Roberts wrote the opinion that removed the $123,200 cap an individual could contribute to all federal candidates, political action groups and parties.

Some Republicans like the Roberts’ court decisions. It’s become quite apparent that the Roberts’ court has activist intentions. It appears as if it wants to ideologically change the politics of the nation and cater to corporate personhood with religious rights.

The justices of the Supreme Court serve life terms. Four of the justices are well over the age of 70. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is over 80, while Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia are all quickly approaching that milestone.

It’s not hard to imagine that the next and 114th Congress will confirm another Supreme Court Justice to replace a retiring member. What candidate is nominated and confirmed depends largely on the political makeup of the Senate.

If Republicans boot Walsh from the long-held Democratic Senate seat, the next justice would undoubtable be more ideologically conservative. But furthering any ideology that promotes more secret money in politics and corporate rights over women’s rights is not good for the middle class.

Democrats should wise up, midterm elections matter. Voter turnout is a key determining factor of who wins races like the Montana Senate. If young voters refuse to cast a ballot, the next Supreme Court Justice will certainly be more ideologically conservative that the five men who ruled that woman workers have no rights to contraceptive insurance coverage from some corporate bosses.

It’s easy to be apathetic about politics. Voter perception of the three federal branches of government is low, with the Supreme Court polling at a meager 30 percent confidence. In politics the middle class values of decency, honesty and hard work have taken the backseat to an ever more corporate and ideological agenda.

The ideological men of the high court appear emboldened. It’s easy to see that court decisions will move ever more ideologically right unless voters say enough.

Elections matter. Democrats should care less about polls and D.C. consultants, and put boots on the ground in Montana to assure that base and young voters turnout. In midterm elections, the single largest decider on who wins is voter turnout.

Young or women voters may stay at home, disenfranchised and disengaged from politics. But ignoring the ballot assures a justice system even more ideologically conservative than the Roberts court. And so far, it hasn’t much sided with everyday Montanans.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish.   Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee.   He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Ninth Grade Math

On June 25, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Ninth Grade Math

During the waning days of the 2009 Montana Legislature, I felt defeated. I knew in my heart and gut that because of the Legislature’s boneheaded property tax reappraisal approach, the pocket books of older citizens like Gladys, Agnes and June would be hit hard.

The last reappraisal mirrored the market boom years of 2002 to mid-2008, and nowhere were property speculators more active than the Flathead. When the subsequent market took a nosedive from Wall Street’s betting many homeowners felt values were underwater.

Maybe it was all those math classes I took in college, but I found the reams of information provided by the Montana Department of Revenue quite compelling. The formula told you that without proper mitigation, homeowners would be stung with higher taxes. Any ninth grade math student should have seen it coming.

Most Republicans did not believe me or the volumes of data. Then, like now, over simplistic political rhetoric rules the vote. Many wanted to transform the bills into vehicles to provide tax bennies to special interest groups.

Even today there are no lobbyists in Helena who solely represent the interest of people living in their homes. Mistakenly I thought that was the job of a legislator.

Since the GOP’s committees would not permit a tax cap approach, the Montana House embraced a simple philosophy: be fair to all but cater to the elderly, the poor, the disabled veterans and homeowners who would experience extraordinary escalations in value.

The Senate had a vastly different outlook, and time proved them wrong. Many local Republicans proceeded to travel across the county explaining that they would fix their mess if reelected. No fixes materialized.

The next reappraisal is up. The average market is flat from 2008 levels and region wide we recovered much loss since the Great Recession. But many homeowners will still see change.

Expect oil boom counties to experience extraordinary market valuation increases. The 5 million acres of agricultural lands in Montana should brace itself for the market conditions given how crops like wheat and alfalfa that did particularly well in proceeding years.

Most traditional homeowners in the Flathead will likely not see much change. Lake property will likely see increases. Most of these tax outliers felt the brunt of the last process. Given that most lake owners no longer live in their homes, it is quite simple to cap taxes. An approach I favor, but strongly opposed by many.

For local taxing jurisdictions, any base losses will simply be settled by higher mill levies. At half the rate of inflation over three years, it seems benign. But given how new construction is calculated and the billions of valuation wealth in the valley’s tax base, bills may increase. Really, when was the last time a homeowner saw their tax bills go down?

I am a firm believer that those who build our community, who invested all their lives to assure that people like us have good educations and great quality of live, should never be taxed out of their homes.

The next Legislature will not do what I recommend. They will not do what you recommend either. They will play geopolitics with select cities’ mill caps, and cater to lobbyist who will feed them more steaks and liquor than thought humanly possible to stomach.

The Legislature must stop meddling about, listen to the department’s data, and then lawmakers should cap taxes for people who live in their homes. That’s the same benefit offered to farm land and forest land.

Many politicians will tell you that taxes are complicated, like calculus. Tax formulas are like ninth grade math. Pay attention, someone always gets a break at the end of the Legislature. I hope it is people who live in their homes.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish.   Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee.   He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: 21 Percent Over 16 Years

On June 11, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

21 Percent Over 16 Years

President Barack Obama’s historic decision to act on carbon emissions will undoubtedly emit years of ideological political rhetoric. The proposal is several hundred pages but calls for a state-based solution to reducing 2005 carbon emissions by 30 percent from coal plants over the next 16 years.

Congress ignores carbon pollution but routinely doles out hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds for weather-related mitigation like super-storm disaster relief, fierce forest fires and selective crop insurance.

Whether an individual feels that the president’s proposal goes too far, or not far enough, it’s about time that someone elected acted. From the winter’s Polar Vortex to vanishing glaciers in the park to native trout losses to timber killing beetles to freakish hailstorms pummeling croplands, action is warranted.

Back when acid rain decimated the Northeastern states, Congress and the president mandated that scrubbers be used on Midwest coal plant’s smoke stacks to capture polluting gasses.

Gov. Steve Bullock said that he would review the emissions rule so the state can provide “a made-in Montana solution.” States have several years to come up with a plan, but Montana is already generating plenty more energy from renewable sources.

In 2005, Gov. Brian Schweitzer led and convinced the Montana Legislature to adopt a Renewable Energy Portfolio. Under Schweitzer’s plan, Montana is well under way to provide 15 percent of the state’s energy from renewable source by 2015.

Planning for a 21 percent reduction in carbon from Montana over the next 16 years seems simple, but rich power interests and cowardly politicians will whine loudly.

In 2007 Schweitzer signed “clean and green” legislation that provides tax incentives for energy derived from new sources of power like wind, solar and geothermal. Given the wave of wind power that spins across the state, Schweitzer’s proposals are a success.

Schweitzer’s success was challenged by the 2011 tea-party controlled Legislature, which oddly attempted to increase taxes for renewable energy production. Ideological legislators also proposed policy statements that said global warming was good for business.

Legislatures ultimately came to grips with the fact that Montana is a net power exporter relying upon the power portfolios of neighboring and importing states, which require a mix of renewable power.

Many expect more recycled nonsense in the 2015 Legislature, which will need to implement some of the economic solutions for Montana and the generations of people who seek a plan for more stable weather.

It’s in Montana’s economic interest to come up with a state-based plan to mitigate the effects of over polluting the atmosphere with carbon. Some energy providers already seek cheaper forms of power from local sources.

The Flathead Electric Co-op partnered with the county landfill to capture the gas from trash to generate power. The Co-op partnered up with Stoltze Land and Lumber to produce bio-energy from timber waste, and coordinates with the city of Whitefish on hydropower from the Haskill Basin watershed.

Some ignore the weather, but even a farmer like me can tell that patterns are changing. From bigger and unexpected early season hail storms to a late or early springtime to precipitation that simply may never fall, the pattern is chaos.

But while some bury their heads in the sand, the National Farmers Union president said, “Agriculture stands ready to be an important part of the solution to our climate challenges. I encourage Congress and the administration to engage the agricultural community in reducing carbon pollution by creating voluntary incentive for sequestering carbon and implementing conservation strategies that preserve our limited soil and water resource.”

Working farmer and Sen. Jon Tester initially called the President’s effort a “responsible proposal.” Our generation is hopeful that more of today’s leaders responsibly act on a big economic and environmental challenge facing the planet.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish.   Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee.   He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Primary Brouhaha

On May 14, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Primary Brouhaha

Early voting began last week to pick the party candidates for the fall’s general election. Come June 3, Democrats are as likely to nominate Sen. John Walsh and John Lewis to top the ballot as Republicans are to nominate Rep. Steve Daines and former state Sen. Ryan Zinke.

Primary elections are rightly open to all voters; just select a ballot. Gratefully, Montana does not register voters by party. Independents’ votes count.

Fewer voters are choosing to participate in June’s primary elections. At times, as few as a quarter of all eligible voters pick the candidates who advance to November’s general ballot. That’s not a lot of voters choosing the party candidates.

Statewide there are a couple dozen Legislative primary elections where a tea party-style candidate is pitted against a more Main Street Republican. In the Flathead more extreme candidates often win primary elections as moderates and independents simply don’t vote.

Democrats face younger and more progressive voters not turning out in primaries while moderate voters like teachers, firefighters, and rail workers often cast ballots.

The husband and wife tea party team of former state Rep. Derek Skees and political newcomer Ronalee Skees are running against notably more moderate Republican candidates like former Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner and PSC candidate John Campbell from Kalispell.

Republicans also choose between House Speaker Mark Blasdell and former Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher in the state Senate. In last year’s Montana Legislature, Speaker Blasdell squashed bills that used federal funds to pay for Medicaid expansion. That affected thousands of eligible people in places like Kalispell, Bigfork and Whitefish.

The federal funds would have paid for hospital services for sick people. Rural hospitals struggle paying for critical services provided to sick people who do not have private health insurance. Federal Medicaid funds help hospitals.

Fisher recently said that Republicans should have supported a limited expansion of Medicaid. Only one Flathead Republican, state Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, supported a Montana-made solution for Medicaid. In the last Legislature, Tutvedt and Rep. Ed Lieser tried to allow thousands of people living in the Flathead simply to go to the doctors.

Citizens are currently putting the Medicaid healthcare question on the fall’s ballot. With the healthcare of 70,000 Montanans at risk, it’s hard to understand why so many Flathead Republican legislators are opposed to Medicaid and the federal money that helps local people and hospitals.

Half the states in the nation accept federal Medicaid expansion funds. These federal dollars create local jobs like nurses and care providers in rural places like Kalispell and Whitefish.

With last session’s Republican Senate leadership running for election in the House chamber this election cycle, it’s likely that Tutvedt will be returned to leadership. Hopefully voters choose legislators willing to work with Tutvedt and Lieser to help rural hospitals get basic healthcare to local people.

Across the state Republican primary voters will choose between a Tea Party-style candidate and the fix-it practicality offered by competing Main Street Republicans.

Next session, Tutvedt would work with other moderates like Sen. Llew Jones who sponsored the better school funding bill. Jones is also one of the couple dozen Republicans facing primary races across the state from Tea Party-style challengers.

In 2006, Blasdell beat former Rep. Bernie Olson in a Republican primary. Olson had the session prior angered GOP leadership by helping pass a state budget that funded public education at more reasonable levels.

In 2015, it will be the more moderate politicians like Tutvedt and Lieser who will get stuff done in Helena. The next Legislature faces big issues like property tax reappraisal, Medicaid expansion and early childhood education.

If moderate voters are interested in pragmatic fixes to complex state policy, it’s smart to cast a primary ballot on June 3.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish.   Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee.   He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Turnout Matters

On April 30, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Turnout Matters

Like spring planting, new elections are here. A lot of people are simply fed up with political nonsense. Politicians aren’t often focused on practical or simple policies to better the everyday lives of people.

Gridlock is the politician’s tool to effectively protect those fortunate enough to currently benefit from status quo laws and policies. Ugliness in political campaigns assures that fewer people pay attention and more or better candidates stay off the ballot. Less voter focus on policy benefits select interests.

On recess during the session Sen. Jon Tester was planting lentils, peas and barley on his farm, while Sen. John Walsh was holding education roundtables meeting with local leaders at our great state colleges.

Walsh has been listening to students. Montana rightly froze tuition at four-year schools, but average students still graduate with nearly $30,000 of debt for public education. Walsh says his plan will save students thousands of dollars by capping loan interest rates at 4 percent forever.

In the June 3 primaries many college students will vote for Walsh’s pocketbook policies. Student loan debt is catastrophically high. But it’s likely that students will choose apathy and join other nonvoters who do not participate during midterm elections.

In the 2010 midterm elections, a wave of tea partiers rode the national low voter turnout wave to Helena and Washington, D.C. Progressive and moderate politicians were tossed out by the bucket load.

The subsequent Montana Legislature was pegged by the Democratic governor as bat crap crazy, and by a veteran Republican member as scaring hometown constituents and making legislators look like a bunch of baboons.

Clearly, Montanans did not want such extreme legislation, nor did the governor as he vetoed a historic amount of socially derisive and simply bad bills. Voters routinely pay the high cost for not voting with a subsequent rash of extreme legislation.

With low voter turnout, the U.S. Senate will fall into the political control of tea partiers like those serving in the House who shut down the government. The impending rush of corporate-written bills won’t help the middle class much. Voters nationwide may suddenly ask former Gov. Brian Schweitzer to loan his Montana-registered veto branding iron to the president.

That will make great political theater, but the Sen. Ted Cruz-style politics will push to transform Medicare into vouchers and substantially increase the age of retirement. Seniors, who vote more than students, aren’t likely to put up with much more political nonsense.

Locally the Flathead Valley Community College board of trustee election is next week. Early ballots have been mailed and polls are open May 6. Next Tuesday voters will choose the direction of the college as well as K-12 education.

By measurements like the nursing program, the early childhood learning program, or the new farming programs, FVCC is doing a good job and meeting the demand of local learners and businesses.

Up for reelection are incumbent trustees John Phelps and Tom Harding. Harding has been a trustee since 1990; Phelps seeks a third term and was both a student of the college and later taught classes.

Firmly interwoven in the Flathead Valley, the community college is growing to meet the needs of the area. The community college has provided many good alternatives in the recent years and offers affordable options to the staggering private cost of public education.

Voters would be smart to participate in the FVCC and K-12 elections. Low voter turnout routinely foretells next years’ extreme or ideological politics and policies.

FVCC is the local hub of higher learning in the valley. They do a great job. How the college or local K-12 schools move forward over the coming years has everything to do with how many voter turnout to elect our leaders next Tuesday, May 6.

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-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish.   Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee.   He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.