HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday criticized the actions by Senate Republican leaders to deny Democratic lawmakers the right to speak on the Senate floor.
Bullock, a Democrat, read a statement to a large crowd of reporters and others late Friday afternoon but took no questions afterward.
“The hyper-partisan nature of the Senate leadership is interfering with our good government,” Bullock said, referring to the Senate GOP leaders.
He encouraged Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, to reconsider every vote taken Friday.
“And I encourage the leaders in this body — not just those elected to leadership positions — to stand up and start acting in a way that would make our ancestors and our kids proud,” Bullock said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, denounced the action of Senate Democrats as unprecedented.
“They intentionally misled Montanans and the Senate about a member’s absence to stage a piece of political theater,” Wittich said in a statement, referring to Sen. Shannon Augare, D-Browning.
“Today’s political gamesmanship was designed to try to deny Montanans the right to vote on two issues that would improve the integrity of our elections. Republicans worked diligently to conduct the people’s business.”
Bullock, meanwhile, called Friday “a disappointing day for the state of Montana.”
“Since I was sworn in as your governor, I’ve sought to change the tone in this building,” he said. “In my State of the State address, I asked the Legislature to ‘act in a manner that we’re not ashamed to have our kids watching, because they are.’”
Bullock added, “I won’t let my kids watch the news tonight.”
The governor said he was saddened by what he saw in the Senate.
“It‘s worse than Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I’m not embarrassed by men and women demanding a right to speak. I’m disappointed by those who denied it.
“Today, we saw elected senators, people who have been entrusted by their neighbors to represent them, prevented from speaking, because they were trying to speak for those who are too often silenced.”
Bullock said he was upset that the Republican-controlled Senate, over Democratic members’ protests, passed Senate Bill 405. It’s a referendum that would end voter registration on Election Day, cutting it off instead at 5 p.m. on the Friday before.
“The Senate sought to eliminate the right to vote for senior citizens who may have moved into an assisted-living facility, active-duty military members who were overseas during voter registration, students who simply moved down the hall of their dormitory,” Bullock said.
Bullock said the minority has rights — “not only rights that were adopted by this Legislature, but the right to be respected.”
“Respect is a Montana value — one that should be inherent in all of us who call this place our home,” the governor said.
Wittich, meanwhile, concluded: “Montanans expect their elected officials to work with one another. I expect all members of the Senate to come together and honor our commitment to work for Montanans.”