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Love Lost

Why Montana’s romance with Martz is on the rocks

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It is no surprise that the latest polls indicate Gov. Judy Martz is setting new lows in approval ratings. Only 23 percent of Montanans think Martz is doing even a passable job, while a whopping 74 percent say they would vote to replace her if elections were held today. These numbers are shocking, especially when juxtaposed with the overall political affinity of the state’s voters, since they show that even her own Republican Party members have had it with Martz. What’s missing here, however, is the connection between policies, party politics and personalities… and therein lies the rub.

Gov. Martz has publicly stated that she is not responsible for many of the problems facing the state today. In her words, she “inherited” them. Fair enough, all new governors “inherit” the leftovers from previous administrations. What’s missing in Judy’s blame game is the name of the man from whom she inherited the problems—former governor and now top Republican political operative Marc Racicot. What’s also missing is the name of the party that has been in charge of Montana for so long. And ultimately what’s missing is a fully justified accounting of how the Racicot and Republican policies have resulted in our tidal wave of current quandaries.

Racicot, during his stint as governor, enjoyed the polar opposite of Martz’s approval ratings. Polls repeatedly showed Racicot was hugely popular with Montanans. No surprise, really. Racicot is a tremendously personable individual. When you talked with him, it always felt like your concerns had his total attention and commitment. He was handsome, articulate in a wordy, lawyerly sort of way, and made a million promises to make Montana better. Plus, he was considered a “moderate” Republican.

Unfortunately, most people made the all-too-common mistake of confusing Racicot’s engaging personality with his policies. We are now paying big time for that mistake as we live through the disintegrating conditions attendant to the real Racicot Legacy. While Racicot told us he would control government costs and growth, in reality he was spending profligately on burgeoning bureaucracies. His much-flaunted “executive branch reorganization,” which was supposed to deliver “a more efficient and effective” government can now be seen, in retrospect, as a political ruse. Instead, Racicot’s reorganization failure resulted in less efficient and more expensive government. Now Montanans get to pick up the tab while the guy who was responsible flies around the country making similar promises nationwide and a considerable amount of dough to boot.

The same goes for electricity deregulation. When Racicot and his pals in the former Montana Power Company decided to pop the de-reg bill in the closing weeks of the 1997 legislative session, critics howled over the potentially disastrous effects such a radical move could precipitate. But ever the salesman, Racicot and a phalanx of power company lobbyists herded the measure through a Republican-controlled Legislature without in-depth review, debate, or consideration of what such a measure might entail for Montana’s future.

Five years later, the ugly truth has been revealed: Our hydroelectric facilities now belong to an out-of-state mega-corporation, Montana Power Company’s stock has lost 99 percent of its former value, and Montanans have watched their power bills climb while their MPC retirement portfolios evaporated.

But Racicot didn’t do it by himself anymore than Martz is doing it by herself. What we are really witnessing here is the disastrous result of single-party control of the state. With Republicans in overwhelming control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, the checks and balances that are an integral part of conscientious governing have simply ceased to exist. What the Repubs wanted, the Repubs got. From generous tax breaks for their corporate buddies to the shameful dismantling of Montana’s once-great environmental laws, Racicot and the GOP drove the Montana bus right off the cliff… and we went along, willingly or not, for the quick ride and very hard landing.

Now comes Martz, not just the industry “lapdog” she promised to be, but also a handy whipping boy for the numerous ills assailing our fair state. In truth, Martz did “inherit” an intrinsically unstable, unbalanced, structurally unsound tax and spending policy from the former administration. Also in truth, since she was part of that administration as Racicot’s lieutenant governor, she “inherited” it from herself and really has no one else to blame.

If Judy Martz was the leader she claims to be, she would have moved aggressively to change those policies before their disastrous outcome became manifest. But Martz is no great leader. You could put her entire experience in working with the highly complex structures of state government in a thimble. Unfortunately for us, there is no way Martz can possibly think her way out of this—she just doesn’t have the horsepower.

So what can we do?

Interestingly, the recent polls also show that Montanans are beginning to lose their affinity for the Republican Party, which is a very good move in the right direction. We must make the connection that we are living the results of one-party rule. Judy Martz is just a manifestation of the bullheaded “my way or the highway” leadership that has controlled Montana’s lawmaking and budgetary fate for most of the last decade. Blaming Judy and targeting her for our angst is easy, but it is not the answer.

What we can do is go to the polls, vote to take back our dams, and return at least one house of the Legislature to the Democrats. To be sure, the Demos don’t have all the answers—in fact, it is probably their lack of vision that has been responsible for the party’s minority status for so long. But making the connection between Republican policies and our current condition is critical. We have the chance to regain control of our own power and bring much needed debate and balance back to our legislative, taxation, energy, and budgetary policies. If we don’t do it, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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