Politics at its core is a dog-eat-dog, winner-take-all game, where elections have tangible, far-reaching and serious consequences. And those consequences become more apparent each time we reach the end of a legislative session.
In Montana, Republicans control the House and Senate by comfortable margins. The Executive Branch is controlled by Democrat Governor Steve Bullock, and at the federal level, Republicans control Congress and the Presidency. Each branch has real powers, and those powers were on display this week leading some to cheer and others to cry, “foul!”
Yesterday, the Montana House killed the proposed 30 million dollar increase in the state’s tobacco tax. The Governor requested the tax increase, in part, to fund an increase in wages for caregivers of elderly and disabled Medicaid patients. Republicans shored up the hole in the budget, some say by magically increasing the state’s revenue estimate. It may be a gimmick, and it may not. Only time will tell. But it led to wailing and gnashing of teeth by Democrats on the House Tax Committee. What they see as unfair, the Republicans see as holding true to campaign promises to hold the line on taxes and spending. Republicans claim they’re being responsible in a tight fiscal year. Democrats say Republicans are ignoring people in need. So who is right? In truth, it doesn’t matter. The voters will sort that out in the next election cycle. For now, we’re reminded that politics is a winner-take-all-game, and Republicans are in the driver’s seat.
But that’s not the end of the story. Remember, Democrats control the Governor’s office, and yesterday the Governor vetoed the first of many bills that run contrary to his political philosophy. In this case, it was Senate Bill 97, which would ban the application of foreign law in our state courts when that law violates a fundamental right guaranteed by the Montana or United States Constitution. Opponents call it the “Sharia Law Bill,” and said it was a direct attack on Muslims. Governor Bullock said the law would upend our legal system and debase what we stand for as Montanans and Americans. Those in favor of the bill said it’s absolutely necessary to stop the encroachment of foreign law into our legal system by liberal judges with a misplaced allegiance.
So what’s the truth? It doesn’t matter. The voters will sort that out in the next election cycle. See a pattern? For now, Democrats control the Governor’s office, and Governor Bullock has indicated that more vetoes are on the way. Remember, this is a winner-take-all game.
Which brings us to today’s upcoming vote in the U.S. Senate to confirm Neil Gorsuch to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. After failing to get enough Democrats to vote to end a Democrat-led filibuster, the Republican majority voted to exercise the so-called “nuclear” option. They used their majority to strip the rule that allows filibusters on Supreme Court nominees, which practically guarantees that Gorsuch will join the Court. Democrats howled in protest, saying this will fundamentally change the way the Senate has operated for over a hundred years. Are they right? It doesn’t matter. You get the point. Politics is a winner-take-all game. In any political setting, rules are in place to protect the minority, but in the end, the majority rules. As I’ve said before, elections have consequences, and it all starts in the voting booth.