Uncommon Ground: Campaigns Matter

On November 12, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

Campaigns Matter

Big-data pollsters were right: Election Day was a Republican wave. It mimicked the last midterm elections with some remarkable differences. The Montana delegation in the 114th Congress includes former Whitefish state Sen. Ryan Zinke.

Congressman-elect Zinke can serve Montana well. Having served with Zinke in the past state Legislature, I knew him to be quite moderate on many issues of importance.

In the Legislature, Zinke was instrumental in securing funding for Flathead Valley’s state parks. Zinke previously served with me on a nonprofit organization conserving the state public lands around Whitefish.

Zinke indicated that Congress must govern, to enact a plan for the biggest issues facing the nation. In the Flathead, many expect Congress’ ideological hold placed upon North Fork conservation to magically evaporate.

After being bashed by unfathomable amounts of out-of-state political cash and horrid campaign negativity, Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat was handily re-elected.

Wheat won the Flathead vote, and statewide garnered nearly 60 percent of the vote. Wheat took re-election seriously and campaigned the old-fashioned way. Wheat stuck to the issues, refrained from negativity, and talked directly to voters.

After his win, Wheat said, “What people want is real information; they don’t want all this negativity. The real key was, all of my ads were me, personally talking to people.”

Apparently, voters also appreciated the ideological ranking, which the 100,000-piece Stanford University live research mailer held; portraying Wheat as left of center. When it comes to justice, people simply want a fair shake.

The Wheat victory was a great testament to the power of campaigns over the fundamentals of a national midterm election. That’s super news given that in upcoming years, several more justices will seek re-election.

About 220,000 Montanans chose early voting as their means to cast a ballot. Absentee ballot turnout was traditionally high. But overall, 45 percent of registered voters chose not to vote. That hasn’t happened for over a decade.

Early voting was part of the law enacted during the 2005 Legislature that also gave Montanans the right to register on Election Day. Fifty-seven percent of voters rejected the Republican legislative effort to ban same-day voter registration. That sends a clear message to lawmakers who repeatedly try to make it harder to vote.

By less than a 50-vote margin, Columbia Falls’ voters chose substitute teacher Zac Perry to represent the area. Rep-elect Perry ran an excellent campaign that illustrates the changing political nature of the north valley.

Perry, a substitute high school teacher, unwittingly mimicked the campaign approach of Wheat; he spoke directly to voters and refrained from negativity. Perry took back the legislative seat previously held by Democrat Doug Cordier.

Perry’s win sends a signal to Democrats on how to campaign. The 36-year-old Perry joins Rep. Ed Lieser in the 2015 Montana Legislature.

Lieser handily defeated his Republican opponent with 55 percent of the vote. Lieser, a retired forester, has been instrumental on public lands conservation and can serve Whitefish homeowners well during this cycle’s property tax reappraisal.

Lieser garnered more votes than Zinke in downtown Whitefish and Perry did the same in downtown Columbia Falls. Justice Wheat won both downtowns by over 60 percent. All four candidates ran impressive campaigns for their districts.

Especially in the face of national trends and big money political spending, campaigns matter. Lieser, Perry, Wheat and Zinke can do great things for all Montanans. They have each earned the trust of the Flathead and Montana. Given what I personally know about these public servants, I expect great things to come. Do us proud.

Politics is the art of compromise. Too often we have lost this old-fashioned trait to hyper party politics. It’s time to acknowledge that campaigns matter and real people craft real solutions.

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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: Ten Minutes, Six Years

On November 2, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Ten Minutes, Six Years

Tuesday is Election Day. Tuesday’s ballot represents a once in six-year vote on who citizens want as the next Montana U.S. senator and Flathead County commissioner. It’s a two-year vote on races like the U.S. and state House.

Republicans are looking at polls with reassurance that their party may again rule Congress.

Recently, Montana State University Billings released a small sample poll – as it has for past decades. The MSUB poll says Republicans are winning the federal statewide races.

A big obstacle to predicting voter results is voter turnout. When Tester won in 2012, over 72 percent of registered voters in Montana voted. That’s down from the nearly three-quarters of voters who went to the polls four years prior when Barack Obama campaigned in the state.

Tuesday is a midterm election. In the last midterm of 2010, a meager 56 percent of registered voters statewide cast a ballot. That Montana Legislature saw a historic number of vetoes from the governor.

Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer said their policy, “makes some of them look bat-crap crazy.” Former Republican Rep. Walter McNutt told his colleagues to, “quit scaring our constituents and quit letting us look like a bunch of buffoons.”

If many citizens choose not to vote Tuesday, expect some wacky bills to ensue. Bills to cut Medicare, call for state secession, pay in gold bullions, and mandate counseling for women seeking a divorce from a bad situation.

In 2011, more people voted in Whitefish than before. Years later, the slate of younger, more-progressive candidates still serves the municipality well. That’s the point; exercise our right to vote and the next politicians will serve for years.

The conservative MSUB poll held one promising result, opposition to ending Election Day voter registration. Republicans have been trying to repeal this law since Tester won the U.S. Senate race back in 2006, when lines of younger voters waited hours to cast a ballot.

The MSUB poll indicated 56 percent opposed LR-126. A meager 36 percent favored the Legislature’s referendum, or LR-126 on Tuesday’s ballot. Vote no on LR-126 – the policy targets veterans, seniors and renters. Voting should remain easy and secure. It’s wrongheaded to make it harder for some citizens to exercise their right to vote.

Polls indicate that Rep. Amanda Curtis may lose her bid to become the first Montana woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. But what polls are worse at gauging is how many people will vote. Curtis can win if turnout is large like 2004, 2008, 2012, or like 1992 when Bill Clinton carried the state.

But if Tuesday’s turnout is dismal like the last midterm in 2010 or near 2006, expect renewed firebrand politics across the state and nation. Policy like dismantling women’s healthcare or paying employees in gold bullions will be in the news.

There are oddly no western Montana Senate debates. Given Curtis’ impressive televised performance last week in Billings, she secured the votes of plenty of undecided Montanans. The MSUB poll, taken before the debate, held 20 percent undecided. Newer polls will differ.

Voting is easy, takes 10 minutes, and it’s up to a six-year choice. Voters may never again have a choice to send a young high school math teacher to fix the mess left by the boys of the 113th Congress. With enough votes on Tuesday, state Rep. Amanda Curtis will be alongside Sen. Jon Tester in the 114th Congress serving middle-class 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: Voting Time

On October 15, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

 

Voting Time

Last week, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester helped veterans open the Veterans’ Center at Flathead Valley Community College. The facility helps veterans with benefits and college. Afterwards, Tester was to present the Bronze Star to the family of a World War II veteran.

Tester was at Whitefish City Beach to support Rep. Ed Lieser. Lieser has done a great job at representing the Whitefish area. Lieser, a Vietnam War veteran and a retired forester, said that he would continue as a strong advocate of local jobs, keeping public lands open, clean water, and better access to healthcare.

During the last Montana Legislature, Lieser served in the tax and natural resources committees. In the Legislative interim Lieser has been active on the Environmental Quality Council protecting our public lands.

Lieser is a stout advocate of keeping taxes low and fair, and public lands in public ownership. In the upcoming January session of the Legislature, the bigger issues will be property tax reappraisal and management of public lands. Most trust Lieser to be on the side of reason.

Public Service Commission candidate Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh was also at City Beach with Tester and Lieser. I’ve worked with Hollenbaugh in past Legislatures and found him to be one hard working individual. Hollenbaugh is solutions oriented and has an amazing ability to work with anyone toward better policy.

Hollenbaugh spoke briefly about how the current PSC has spent the past year rubber-stamping rate increases for the power industry. Hollenbaugh said that consumers see a double digit increase in rates thanks to the current PSC.

Hollenbaugh campaigns in a PSC district that includes the Flathead. The current all-Republican, five-member commission has become highly ideological and approved big rate increases onto homeowners and small businesses while snubbing power from small independents that produce cheaper power from wind.

Hollenbaugh is no rubber-stamper. Hollenbaugh is one of the good guys, not politically divisive and known to get things done. That’s good news for anyone looking for real solutions from real people.

Given the shockingly ideological decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, political surrogates can dump unlimited money into Montana to tarnish U.S. Senate candidate and Butte Rep. Amanda Curtis as something she is not.

Tester said that it is frustrating to see political surrogates misrepresenting the reality that the solvency of Medicare has increased 10 years under his watch.

Oddly it doesn’t much matter what candidates say or do in office, some will now twist the record with endless television ads. With millions of dollars of secret money pouring into Montana elections, the only choice left to voters is trust.

While serving in the Legislature, Curtis sponsored nine bills, two of which became law. Curtis sought to use state lottery revenues for scholarships to help students afford college. Curtis worked on energy usage disclosure in state public buildings. Curtis worked to make roads safer. And Curtis worked on a cost of living adjustment for volunteer firefighters.

Curtis sponsored the Hire Montana First Act at the request of Gov. Steve Bullock. The bill provided incentives to hire more Montanans to public works projects and certain construction facilities.

Lieser supported Curtis’ Hire Montana First Act as did Tea Party darling, Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula. All other Flathead House members opposed debate. It’s unfathomable to many voters why some oppose hiring more Montanans for local projects. But in Helena, that’s just politics.

Ballots are now in the hands of many voters. How many voters cast a ballot is the No. 1 decider in outcomes. If young voters, women voters and middle-class voters want reason or change, then cast a vote. Voting is simple and it matters greatly for up to six years to come.

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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: Unbroken Leadership

On October 1, 2014, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Unbroken Leadership

When U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis pulled out her guitar and started singing old gospel songs with her husband on the banjo, I quickly noted that this was no ordinary stateswoman. Curtis and her husband shared an old-style single microphone and frankly sounded good.

Curtis is a 35-year-old high school math teacher from Butte, which has a deep history of folk music. Butte was the epicenter of music when the National Folk Festival chose the town as its host city. Some of the best folk singers have played in Butte, and uptown is a perfect venue for a national event.

Last week, Curtis was in Whitefish and Kalispell stumping about the huge disconnect between Montana values and Washington, D.C. In Whitefish, Curtis stood in front of a backdrop of thousands of acres of public lands.

Curtis said that she, like the rest of us, won’t be able to take a vacation without our public lands. Later, Curtis released her public lands platform, which included support of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act but opposed attempts to turn over federal lands to state management that would lead to privatization, access losses, and massive costs to state taxpayers.

Curtis wrote, “Our state is full of the best places to hunt, fish, ski, boat, bike and camp.” She continued, “I’m running because Montanans pride themselves on our great outdoors, and they deserve a candidate who will fight to protect those places for future generations.”

Whitefish leaders have done a terrific job at conserving public lands around town. Thousands of acres have been permanently protected and many more are proposed to be conserved for traditional uses like timber, hunting and recreation.

But it was a ragtag team of mountain bikers who originally stood up to former Gov. Judy Martz’s administration as it proposed to trade-off Spencer Mountain to developers. Today, thanks to those bikers and other leaders, the public lands of Spencer Mountain remain a public place that bikers, equestrians, hunters and outdoor enthusiast enjoy.

I had never met Curtis prior to last week, but it was fitting to hear Curtis sing the 60-year-old songs of the Carter Family and Doc Watson days, later popularized by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. That’s not how traditional politicians behave.

Curtis offers the prospect of fresh leadership and watching her mingle with Flathead residents was good to see. Curtis is smart; she embraces people and is genuine.

In many ways Curtis reminds me of a younger Sen. Jon Tester, whom I met for the first time a decade ago as he blared a trumpet in the State Capitol to the tune, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Curtis has the type of grassroots excitement that money cannot buy, though her contributions are approaching a half million dollars.

Recently, Curtis was also endorsed by Emily’s List, a progressive national organization that promotes pro-choice women leaders. And judging at what is going on nationally, the good-old-boys club of Congress needs all the help they can get.

Too often some in Congress seek to only promote the politics of division. Congress routinely forgets that workers have paid a lifetime of work into Social Security.

Maybe Congress should try a month on minimum wage to fully appreciate the struggles of the many living from paycheck to paycheck. But asking Congress to accept a minimum wage job is ludicrous given that members are paid over $3,300 per week, regardless if members are working or not.

With early voting starting next week, many expect to see Curtis back in the Flathead. Hopefully she will bring along her instruments, single microphone and many songs of faith. People are hungry for leadership, craving a fresh and better direction for our nation.

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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: 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.