State Sen. Rick Laible (R-Darby) used his position as chair of the state’s Fire Suppression Interim Committee to pimp his personal agenda April 28—failing to mention a significant conflict of interest until being publicly shamed by a local watchdog.

The state’s fire committee, solemnly charged by the legislature to “study various aspects of wildland fire, including suppression costs and resources and state and federal management policies,” met in Hamilton as part of a cross-state tour. To educate this committee, Laible scheduled an agenda composed primarily of fire professionals and timber agency men. But he also brought in some speakers whose interests had less to do with the committee than with the Big Sky Coalition (BSC).

So then, who is the BSC? While it claims to be a “common sense environmental group,” its goals include promoting “large, landscape-scale” logging projects, “getting the cut out” on public lands and using an unprecedented suspension of NEPA—the legally mandated environmental review process—to avoid having to hear from that pesky public.

One of the scheduled speakers at the meeting was Veto “Sonny” LaSalle, Big Sky’s executive director, who is charged with implementing the vision of the board of directors. Sitting on that board is none other than committee chairman Laible. In other words, LaSalle was presenting his ideas not just to fire committee chairman Sen. Laible, but also to his boss, Laible.

This affiliation didn’t get mentioned until 5:20 p.m., during the day’s last public comment period, when Matthew Koehler, executive director for the WildWest Institute, stepped forward and scolded Laible for being disingenuous in failing to disclose his connection with the hand-picked speaker.

Previously well-composed, Laible went pale, mustering only a half-assed, “I, uh, was gonna do that today, as well.”

Today, Mr. Laible? As in: During the committee’s last ten minutes? As in: Not once during the first seven hours of the hearing? As we see it, this kind of behavior shows a total disregard for the people of Montana and the issue at hand. It reduces the fire committee to a cronyistic dog and pony show.

Montana’s biennial session requires that our legislators have lives outside of politics—that’s appropriate, even expected. But full disclosure is necessary when there’s even an appearance of a conflict or impropriety. By presenting himself as if he had no affiliation with the man he’d actually hired, Laible significantly diminished the decorum of his body and the important work we ask it to perform.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us, Senator?


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