The Helena Independent Record publishes letters from readers in the Opinion section. Here are this week's letters.
To submit a letter to the editor, go here.
Health care for the disabled a matter of life or death
As our health care system is hotly debated in the coming months and years, it’s important to let policymakers know why it’s critical to protect the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion.
As the mother of a child with severe disabilities, I strongly support the ACA and Medicaid expansion.
Reforms like coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay longer on parents’ plans have helped many Americans and are extremely popular. But many may not understand the impact the ACA had on people with disabilities and their families, such as expanding programs that help states provide new or expanded home and community-based services that make it easier to receive specialized care that they need in their homes instead of an institution. These localized services may be harder or impossible to access under a new system like single-payer.
The ACA turned the insurance tide for people with disabilities, helping them be more independent, remain active community members, and supporting their parents, family members and other caregivers. Health care for the disabled is a life or death proposition, and I expect my elected officials to fight to protect progress made by the ACA and not repeal it or replace it with government-run systems.
Smith River too special not to safeguard
Please consider the overwhelming support by Montana citizens, mine included, who fear a repeat of so many of the degradations of our environment that mining companies have left for taxpayers to clean up over the years. What makes this mining company different from all the others? How can you be so sure that the bonds they post for the purposes of cleaning up after themselves will be sufficient?
Mining companies have historically had a terrible performance rating in our state. The Smith River has been designated as a special place in Montana's environment by its inclusion as state parkland. This very designation should alert us all to its value and the care that must be given it. The location of this mine is too sensitive to allow without considerable safeguards and I do not believe the state has given its residents the peace of mind they deserve.
Long after the jobs are lost, we Montanans have paid for the clean up costs that mining companies have failed to cover, even after we've required bonds to be posted by them for this very purpose. Has there ever been an example of taxpayers not having to help clean up after a mining company?
Please scrutinize this development further and let your public know all that you have found. 'Tis safer to err on the side of caution than to allow yet another pristine part of our landscape to suffer as so many parts of our world have for the sake of short-term gain by those who hold little regard for our environment and sacred places.
Trump needs to admit white supremacists are terrorists
Mr. Trump, I have heard you use the word terrorist many times. The recent hate crimes: the killings of American Jews in synagogues and the murders of African Americans in their churches, are acts of terrorism. The perpetrators have been young, white, American males. Not American Muslims, not Americans of color, not even undocumented immigrants. They have been white supremacists -- American white supremacists. We could call this “movement” what it is: A White Supremacist Jihad.
Mr. Trump, you have said you are not anti-Semitic, that nobody loves "the" Jews like you. You seem to support Benjamin Netanyahu unconditionally. You have moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem and stated that the West Bank should be part of Israel.
This proves your love for the Jewish People? They should re-elect you? Do you think Jewish Americans are so easily bought? That these political moves prove your "love"? I know an important part of your religious base are American evangelicals and they are cheering your Israeli politics. But I think you could show Jews just how much you love them by using your bully pulpit and calling out White Supremacists for what they are: terrorists.
Saving the life of any American, any human being, that is targeted -- especially in a house of worship, shows true concern and love. That will get all Americans attention to this homegrown insanity. And since your true agenda is always about you, and staying in power -- maybe that will garner more votes.
Bill won't bring broadband to rural Montana
There’s been a recent push in the editorial pages urging the governor to sign SB 239, which would grant a tax holiday to companies who provide internet service. As a legislator, I opposed this bill because the industry consistently misrepresented the intent of it.
The lobbyists said SB 239 would bring broadband to rural Montana. It won’t. This bill does nothing but give the telecom industry a tax break, which will eventually shift more of the property tax burden to homeowners. Here’s how:
SB 239 does not specify that tax incentives will only be going to be given to rural projects. Rather, the industry is getting a tax break on ALL its cable property. So ask yourself; with fiber optic cable costing $30,000 per mile to install, will these companies build their new infrastructure in urban areas like Bozeman or will they lay cable out to Bufallobutt out in Petroleum County?
Let’s be real. Once they get their tax break, these corporations will forget about rural Montana faster than you can say “corporate giveaway.”
Internet access is critical for growth, but rural Montana will be best served by different technology than fiber optic cable. Within a few years, satellite internet will be a fast and far, far cheaper alternative than cable for rural customers. The telecom lobbyists know that, but by playing the “Help Rural Montana” card they just might just get themselves a nice, juicy tax break. That’s their game plan.
Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, represents House District 62 in the Montana Legislature.
Reflections on Vigilante Day
Time travel is possible. Didn’t we all do it last week, sitting on curbs and camp chairs, as Helena’s teenagers summoned the past — when the town was tinder, watched by a lookout for sparks; when the lightness of hope stirred bachelors from their sleep to pan the gulch for a chance? The Vigilante Day Parade reminds us that we are neighbors in time with the Wild West. We can pace 150 years to the past and peek over the fence at the prospector’s lawless Helena. The mountains that watched them watch us. I wonder: What do those mountains see of the future?
In my office in an old miner’s cabin in Reeder’s Alley, where I am an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, I spend my days reading and briefing about climate change—arguing that the federal government must take a hard look at the climate impacts of its decisions. From this perch, doing this work, the specters of the past and the future keep me company.
Watching the Vigilante Day parade with my children (ages 1 and 5) last Friday, I was similarly visited by the past and the future. I was struck by how thoroughly things have changed since 1864, when four white prospectors came on horseback to what is now Last Chance Gulch.
They passed through the spaces our houses now occupy, rode down grassy hillsides where our streets now run. The place was “a neutral zone between Indian tribes [in which] the game had taken refuge,” one of them described. They set up a prospecting camp and panned for gold in the gulch, knowing the “charm of treading the unknown and unexplored.” (Can you hear the slap and run of water?)
Indians would occasionally watch them from the opposite gulch. The prospectors’ aim was to find their own gold strike. Not succeeding at first, they detoured for six or seven weeks, then returned to the gulch. They planned to give it one “last chance” before retreating to an established strike. When nuggets of gold rang in the prospectors’ pans, the effect was magnetic.
Any men in the vicinity with gold in their hearts were drawn to the site. Soon, men swarmed the area, which became volatile. The wooden town that rose up around the prospectors repeatedly burned to the ground. There were robberies and murders—and retribution, delivered by Helena’s vigilantes on the Old Hangman’s Tree.
I think about the Indians, watching the quiet gold panning that would usher in upheaval. And I think about the prospectors, stepping into the unknown. There is something to learn from these moments, if we are humble enough to accept that our own comfortable moment is not permanent, and courageous enough to engage with—rather than look away from—an uncertain future.
As we watched the parade, my toddler asked for milk, and we looked into each others’ eyes as he drank, nestled in the crook of my arm. According to a recent peer-reviewed study, by 2100 the average temperature on Earth might be as hot as it was 50 million years ago—when there were crocodiles in the Arctic and palm trees in Alaska.
Between now and then, the years will be thick with seasons like the one at my toddler’s August birth. I remember how my water broke as we listened to the radio’s reports of the movement of a fire that had jumped the highway toward our house. We sped to the hospital through air that pulsed with the smoke of dozens more fires.
According to the Montana Bureau of Land Management, citing another peer-reviewed study, a 1 degree Celsius global average temperature increase will expand the area burned by wildfires in Montana by between 241 and 515 percent. I looked into my child’s eyes and seemed to see in his flecked irises the flames that will be reflected there over a lifetime. He watched me steadfastly, searingly, unblinkingly, as if to say: If you want to help, you can. But you must be this honest, this unflinching, this undistracted. Last chance.
Laura King is a staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who works on climate and other environmental issues.
A good legislative session for wildlife, habitat
The 2019 legislative session turned out to be a success for wildlife and habitat. We look back at a session that had more than 80 bills affecting our core issues of wildlife, habitat and access, and see many wins and a handful of losses when it comes to improving public access to public lands.
First off, our best conservation and hunting access program, Habitat Montana, came out of the session intact and fully funded. Habitat Montana uses hunting license dollars to protect important wildlife habitat through conservation easements and targeted land purchases. For over 30 years, Habitat Montana has been a vital tool to ensure that family farms and ranches stay how they are, while providing meaningful protections for prime wildlife habitat and access to those lands.
In addition, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks comes out of this session with the best budget its had in over a decade. The agency will receive the needed equipment and personnel to properly manage wildlife, including two new permanent grizzly bear management specialists, a statewide deer and elk planner, upgrades to hatcheries, a new automated licensing system to keep up with the times, and new boats, snow machines and ATVs for wardens and biologists so they can safely do field work.
The Legislature also passed the first significant increase in funding for our state parks in well over a decade. Senate Bill 24 will pump an additional $2 million per year into our state parks and recreational trails, and was passed after a broad coalition of public lands advocates, trail users, community leaders and health advocates came together.
Montana’s fair chase hunting heritage also won. SB 349 makes it illegal to use wildlife location data to hunt or harass wildlife. Senate Joint Resolution 30 lays out an interim study to look at how FWP can better manage wildlife data in the digital age.
Hunter-landowner relations received a boost with two bills that build on incentives for landowners who open their land to public hunters, including updating the 454 program that lets FWP negotiate better access with landowners in exchange for non-transferable permits and licenses, and another that gives the required base hunting license for block management participants.
We strengthened the sage grouse conservation program while providing more surety for industry, and Montana also renewed the aquatic invasive species program in order to protect our world-famous waters.
Public access to public lands had a mixed bag. SB 341, the public access land act, is designed to open opportunities to access landlocked public lands. This program will undergo rulemaking which Montana Wildlife Federation will be participating in to ensure that the program is instituted as envisioned.
Public access advocates were disappointed that the Legislature failed to pass SB 224 and SB 301. Those bills would have gone a long way toward addressing the difficult issue of when people cut off access to our public lands. It was also disappointing to see the Legislature pass House Bill 265, which re-injected politics into the decision-making process of Habitat Montana after all hunting and angling organizations opposed the bill.
Still, Montana’s hunters, anglers and recreational users can look back at the 2019 Legislature and see a lot of wins. It’s what happens when Montanans work together on the key conservation issues that are important to all of us.
Bill Geer is president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.
Is Bullock the kind of presidential candidate Democrats want?
Gov. Bullock wrote to me in October 2016 regarding his efforts to promote a $1.2 billion carbon capture project for Colstrip.
Here is a quote from that letter: "What came out of those discussions is my blueprint for Montana's Energy Future which includes ... a future for coal and coal-fired electricity ...." And this guy intends to run for president as a Democrat?
Billions of (mostly taxpayer) dollars have been spent on carbon capture projects with little to no success. They will not capture all the carbon and will decrease the efficiency of the plant. This increases the price of electricity that is generated from coal which is already more costly than electricity produced by other, far cleaner means.
I once collaborated with a vice president of GE-Hitachi, a major international company, on how best to present a carbon-free solution for Colstrip to Bullock. Try as I might to get in to see him, Bullock ducked every opportunity to meet and discuss the proposal. So, it became obvious that the governor was committed to the coal lobby's flawed and costly solution for Colstrip and was unwilling to entertain other ideas.
So, to repeat, is this the kind of candidate Democrats want for president?
Holly Luck's vision lives on through youth foundation
When Holly Luck passed in February this year, Helena lost a person of vision, integrity, and service. Her work at the local, state, and national levels always focused on creating solutions for everyone, but especially for those of less good fortune.
One of Holly's many accomplishments was serving as a founding board member of the Kay McKenna Youth Foundation in honor of her close friend, former Helena Mayor Kay McKenna.
KMYF sponsors a free recreational and wellness summer program that last summer saw over 3,700 visits by Helena area children in three city parks.
A special thank you to Holly's family and her many friends who have given memorials in her name to the KMYF which will help sponsor this summer's Kay's Kids program for its 22nd year. Thanks to Holly's spirit and the generous Helena community.
Errol Schlenker, president
Kay McKenna Youth Foundation
Mental illness is complicated
Two articles in the Thursday, May 2, 2019, issue of the IR demonstrated the complexity of treatment for individuals living with serious mental illnesses or mental health conditions. Judge Kathy Seeley is to be commended for her decision to have Lloyd Barrus medicated with antipsychotic drugs, by force if necessary. The sadness is in the fact that our laws and policies would not mandate treatment for Mr. Barrus before he became a “danger to himself or others” which resulted in the deaths of two individuals.
In “Reader’s Alley,” Dr. Len Lantz discussed the problems with appropriate treatment for our youth. There are good mental health providers in our community, there are just not enough of them and they can be difficult to access. The mental illness treatment systems for both children and adults is broken. Every week we receive calls from families with a psychiatric emergency. The system is complicated.
Dr. Gary Mihelish, President
Save Montana's bees
Living in Montana is a constant reminder we are in the middle of a diverse and ecologically beautiful place. One thread that weaves through all these is the impact that bees and pollinators have on the beautiful parts of our state.
A study found that more than half of all native bee populations are in decline. We need to do all we can to protect their diminishing environments. Beekeepers report losing an average of 30% of honeybee colonies each winter, far outside the sustainable rate. Without pollinators, these important threads will be lost. Montana ranks second in the U.S. for its honey and pollination industry, an it is an important factor in our economy.
Bees and their health affect all of us and our food supply. We rely on bees to pollinate our food, yet we’re using bee-killing pesticides to grow our crops. I hope that all Montanans, including Gov. Steve Bullock, will hear this call to action to help ban the use of known bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides on a statewide level.
Let’s have Montana be on the forefront of this decisive action to safeguard our food and biodiversity, and ban the use of these pesticides.
Wrapping up another successful gymnastics season
To the Helena community:
Capital City Gymnastics of the Helena Athletic Club is wrapping up another season and there are many contributors we’d like to acknowledge. Although the team of 41 gymnasts ages 6-18 years competed in 10 meets, there is one that especially stands out — the Montana State Gymnastics Championships.
The staff, coaches, athletes and families of HAC hosted the state meet, welcoming nearly 600 athletes, officials and coaches to Helena.
Many local businesses and individuals took part part in the meet's success, and we would like to recognize their outstanding and generous support: Van’s Thriftway, West Mont Flower & Trading Company, Qwik Signs, Steffano's, John Baucus Jr. and Capital High School wood shop, Action Print, Party Bug Balloonatics, John and Sam Schmeltzer, Dr. Arynn Darfler (Heuiser Physical Therapy), Dr. Jeff Shirley (Ascension Physical Therapy), Grant Hanson (photos by Grant) and Kieran Boyle.
We'd also like to offer another "shout out" to our tireless HAC gym families, amazing staff members and many others who assisted in the planning, preparation and completion of the event.
The event qualified 25 to Regionals — seven from Helena — while five Montana gymnasts then advanced to national-level meets next month.
We are humbled to have assumed such a role in our community and among fellow programs in our region, we look forward to many more successful seasons, and we appreciate the involvement and contributions to our local youth.
Beau and Laura Snellman
Helena Athletic Club