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Capitol issues

The sculpture “Montana” atop the state Capitol in Helena towers over the life-size statue of Montana Territorial Gov. Thomas Francis Meagher astride his horse.

A report issued last week confirmed that the day after one of the most hotly debated bills of the 2019 Legislative session, some Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of Medicaid expansion received jars of Vaseline on their desks.

The recipients of the petroleum jelly were notably Republicans from the "Solutions Caucus," and both genders. 

Nearly a dozen Montana lawmakers have signed onto a complaint which details the incident. That complaint has been taken up by the Legislative Conduct panel. 

Granted, the political discussion around Medicaid has become a years-long heated conversation. 

For someone or some group to leave jars of lubricant, which was construed by some as sexually suggestive, was cowardly and bizarre. 

We're not sure if this was a form of sexual harassment because, quite frankly, we're not quite sure what the intended message was. It seems to be menacing and crude, but it's also odd and vague. 

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We agree with a report prepared for legislative leadership that while the behavior certainly was not in line with good conduct, it was probably not sexual harassment because it's impossible to say what the message meant.

We're sure that Montana Speaker of the House Greg Hertz would rather this issue simply disappear. You know, the report has been filed and now it's over, right?

However, we think the legislative leadership will not be going far enough until those who did this are held accountable. One lawmaker or a group of lawmakers trying to intimidate or harass others must be stopped immediately. If Hertz fails to find the culprit, he risks sending a message that this sort of behavior will be tolerated. If that happens, there could be a culture of one upsmanship that could bully lawmakers into silence. And, we send our legislative leaders to Helena to be heard and for robust discussion.

We urge Hertz to be transparent and thorough. We hope he finds the members of the House who did this, and let their constituents (as well as all of Montana) know who left the Vaseline on the desks. Moreover, let them answer to the press why they'd go to the trouble of leaving that many jars of Vaseline on desks. Quite frankly, the potential shame of such an action might have a bracing and chilling effect on anyone looking to repeat the incident or, heaven forbid, up the ante. 

We need to maintain the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that are still found in Helena. This one act, and the resulting investigation, only chip away at that good chemistry. We call upon the leadership to address this clearly, publicly and reiterate the expectations of the future.

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