HELENA — During committee votes on the Legislature’s major budget bill last week, something happened that always happens: The majority party — i.e., the Republicans — voted down most of the minority party’s attempts to amend the bill.
Yet Democrats on the panel — minority Democrats, mind you — acted as though it was an outrage of Herculean proportions that their ideas were rejected by the principle of majority rule.
These Democrats, who need the votes of at least some members of the majority to get anything passed at the Legislature, then proceeded to publicly heap scorn and self-righteous anger down on the heads of the only people who can help achieve the minority’s objectives.
A curious strategy, yes? Perhaps members of the minority would do well to remember the words penned several decades ago by political experts Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: You can’t always get what you want.
And, at the Legislature, if you’re in the minority, you rarely ever get what you want — and certainly not by telling the majority what a bunch of heartless idiots they are.
Democrats apparently realized their tactical blunder the next day, as nearly every one of the House Appropriations Committee members who popped off on Monday evening ate crow on Tuesday, apologizing at that day’s meeting.
“I’ve enjoyed working with everyone, and I don’t want to paint anyone in a negative light,” said Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula.
It remains to be seen if the damage is done, however.
Until last week, the story on the state budget bill at the 2013 Legislature was one of bipartisan cooperation, with Republicans and Democrats drafting a measure that largely honored the requests of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Budget subcommittees, controlled by majority Republicans, didn’t give Bullock everything he asked for, but they hardly carved up his budget like a Christmas turkey.
It appeared HB2 would reach the House floor and that a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans could iron out a few remaining differences and then pass the $9 billion bill.
Rep. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said last Thursday he’s not so sure that can happen now.
“I think we had a pretty good chance of taking care of that on the floor, and that just dissolved,” he said.
“We had 50 days worth of work where we did it together. I just saw that work unravel, and that’s what upset me more than anything.”
Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh of Helena, the Democratic vice-chair of the committee, said Democrats got angry Monday because GOP members simply voted down almost all of their amendments, without offering any compromise.
“The only counter-offer was 'no,’” he said.
As any veteran of the legislative process should know, that’s often life in the minority: When the votes come down, you lose.
At the same time, it appears plenty of Republicans in the Montana Legislature would like to wish away the fact that Bullock is a Democrat who won his election, as they trash many parts of his agenda and pass bill after bill they must know he opposes.
So, what happened to those promises of bipartisan cooperation we heard the first week of the session? Nothing, really, for those promises are always somewhat hollow.
Majority rules at the Legislature and Republicans have the majority — but Democratic Gov. Bullock waits on the second floor of the Capitol, as a check and balance.
This same dynamic played out a week ago in the House Judiciary Committee, when a distraught Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, asked how the GOP majority on the panel could vote down her bill on cyber-stalking, when it had no opponents at its hearing and a host of backers, from prosecutors to police to school board members.
“This is extremely frustrating,” she said. “We’re here to serve the people of Montana. I don’t think your constituents back home necessarily oppose this legislation.”
That brought a response from the panel’s chairman, Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns of Laurel, who said the majority party appointed members on the committee that reflect the party’s core values and philosophies.
“A lot of these votes are based on our personal convictions, our allegiances to our oath of office,” he said. “This is a tough game. It’s a tough game. It’s why we’re here. Let’s proceed.”
Mike Dennison is a reporter for the Gazette State Bureau in Helena.