Sunday, May 26, 2024

Special session calls are political grandstanding at its worst

Should Montanans expect their legislators to be political show ponies, angling for the limelight and guided solely by personal self-interest and political calculation?

Or should they be workhorses who serve their communities and thoughtfully and deliberately solve complex issues?

That’s what repeated calls for a special session come down to – too many political show ponies.

Designed with the state's best interests in mind, Montana's legislature meets 90 days every other year. Our system is built for citizen legislators who serve their communities – not for career politicians who serve themselves. 

Lawmakers take care of pressing issues during those 90 days every two years. Ninety days is plenty of time for serious lawmakers to do the serious work.

Legislators may call for a special legislative session, but it’s generally reserved for an emergency – not for political grandstanding. In the last 16 years, there’s been only one special session – to address an immediate budget crisis.

Let’s be clear – special sessions aren’t cheap and come at the expense of Montana taxpayers. A three-day special session would cost Montana taxpayers more than $200,000, nearly $175,000 of which would go to legislators.

How did we get to a place where three costly special sessions have been proposed in under a week?

In May 2023, 10 Republican senators and all Democrat senators shut down the Senate early and left town before finishing their work. Since then, there have been seven attempts to reconvene in Helena for political shows. Ironically, many who voted to leave early now push for a return.

Yet here we are, facing three calls for a special session on different topics in under a week. No emergency justifies this. It’s nothing more than a few political show ponies blatantly grabbing for political limelight during a campaign. 

It’s pure politics at its worst.

We understand the crisis at the southern border touches every Montanan, either through illegal immigration or with cartels profiting off pushing drugs across the open border. 

It’s only gotten worse under President Biden. Our immigration problems, whether across the country or here in Montana, rest with Biden. Biden stripped away what President Trump put in place to secure our border. 

Biden could reverse course, but he hasn’t and won’t. The best way to secure our border is to vote out Joe Biden.

A brief, but expensive, special session will not solve the problem, thus calls for a special session are nonsensical in terms of beneficial outcomes.

Furthermore, we’ve seen no real plan from those calling for a special session. No proposed legislation. No course of action.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. The same lack of a plan, lack of legislation, and lack of an actionable course from those calling for a special session are why they failed to address this issue when they could have in 2023. 

The southern border was in crisis in 2023, but they failed to do anything.

So what changed? What’s different now? The answer is simple. It’s 2024, and political show ponies are playing political games in the middle of political campaign. 

Calls for special sessions are designed to mislead voters and are nothing more than political campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime.

Dysfunction, grandstanding and wasteful, self-serving spending are part of what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. We don’t need that in Montana.

Real solutions require real work. In just six months, the legislature will reconvene. Let's commit to substantive work then.

As senior legislators done because of term limits, we could choose to come to Helena, collect extra taxpayer-funded checks for a political pony show, and indulge in one last steak dinner and drinks paid for by lobbyists. We, however, choose principle over political pomp, and we’ll vote "no" to these special sessions that are nothing more than unnecessary, costly, taxpayer-funded political carnivals.

Rep. Tom Welch, R-Dillon; Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, R-Power; Rep. Fred Anderson, R-Great Falls; and Sen. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan.