Notes of a freshman legislator

My days start at 7 a.m. with Democratic Caucus Zoom call, so I’m getting up a little before 6. This past Monday, when the alarm went off, my first thought was, “It’s really bad.” The politics of the Legislature, that is. This thought has stayed with me throughout the week. 

With all of two legislative weeks under my belt, what tipped me off? The answer is clear: Votes in committee and on the House floor.    

In Monday morning, we heard the two transgender bills in the House Judiciary committee, one of which would require transgender youth to participate in sports as the gender assigned to them at birth.  The other more-draconian bill would bar medical providers from treating transgender youth with sex-changing drugs or surgery.  The opponents’ testimony was overwhelming and compelling, stating these bills were unnecessary, that sound policies were being adopted by schools and athletic associations, and that the network of doctors and counselors work with transgender youth under an evolving but carefully considered standard of care.  Ignoring the discrimination so clearly behind these bills, the Republicans voted as a block to advance both bills to the House floor.

The Judiciary Committee’s damaging work wasn’t over. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent considering four bills designed to make it harder, much harder, for women to exercise their Constitutional right of privacy in pursuing an abortion, however difficult this choice might be. The testimony of the proponents, mostly from the religious right, was predictable.  The protests of women and their pro-choice organizations were dismissed.  And the committee vote was preordained.  Party line, 12-7, and on to the House floor.

The transgender and abortions bills are all about the GOP-led Legislature dictating what rights people should have and how they should be treated by their government. It is deeply unsettling to see how willing some legislators are to force others – innocent bystanders really – to conform with their beliefs. Never mind that established rights are involved, recognized by both the U.S. and Montana Constitutions.  Never mind that the opinions and knowledge of highly-experienced professionals are ignored.  Never mind, too, the hypocrisy of Republicans who rhetorically assert that they are the defenders of individual liberty.  Yep, it’s really bad.

The transgender bills are high-profile examples of how the tyranny of the majority is being exercised. Meanwhile, a less-consequential bill in House Natural Resources Committee illuminated the hostility that exists towards commonsense natural resource management.  Representative Neil Duram, a Republican legislator from Eureka, introduced a straightforward bill to require the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to develop a list of aquatic invasive species and to promulgate regulations to prevent their spread into Montana waters. The need for the bill was clear, and the hearing was positive with virtually no opposition. But, apparently, Rep. Duram didn’t get the memo from his fellow Republicans about FWP.  When we prepared to vote on the bill, a motion was quickly made to table it and all the Republicans were in favor. Initially, the committee Democrats, including me, were confused by why a Republican bill had gone down to defeat. It turns out that leading Republicans are simply unwilling to give FWP more responsibilities and would rather put Montana’s pristine waters at risk. 

When I decided to run for the Legislature, I knew it was likely that Republicans would be in the majority.  After Election Day, it was clear that Republicans would have larger majorities in the Legislature and that the Democratic minority was left with little leverage.  But knowing these facts in the abstract is far different than watching good arguments be dismissed, harmful bills be enacted and good bills scuttled.  It’s bad. And we’re only in Week 3.