Victory and Defeat

Our Point of View
by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver
Summer 2015

So, how did we, MEA-MFT, do in the 2015 legislature? I mean, how did WE do?

Were we victorious, beaten into submission, or both? We have had a few weeks to think about it.

Read this. You decide.

It was amazing to see Governor Steve Bullock, minority Democrats, and a group of smart Republicans work together to pass Medicaid expansion, campaign finance reform, and the water compact. Really good stuff for all Montana.

But what about us, MEA-MFT, our members doing work that matters in every community in this state? What about us?

Well, along with our friends and colleagues in the Montana Public Education Center, we scored inflationary increases in k-12 school funding, and we scored early in the session. All good. Did this legislature establish a precedent for future legislatures to follow? Sure hope so.

We passed a state employee pay plan, albeit with a slightly delayed implementation date and late in the session. We worked hard to get it. Our thanks to every MEA-MFT member who day after day politely stood in Capitol hallways urging legislators not to forget the folks who deliver the programs and services the legislature has directed us to deliver.

And thanks to those folks who daily e-mailed legislators with the same message.

Great member commitment and energy. We hung in there until we got the job done.

And we killed bills, lots of bad, bad bills. Bills attacking organized labor. Bills attacking common core and the board of public education. Bills promiscuously inviting guns into our public schools and college campuses. Bills privatizing our public schools and directly or indirectly contributing to sectarian education in weird and unconstitutional ways.

We killed an ugly, pernicious bill empowering certain elementary school districts to secede from their historic high school districts that would have had no say whatsoever in the secession process.

And we testified against bills slicing and dicing Montana’s income taxes in ways that screamed out for the inevitable gubernatorial veto, without which Montana could easily morph into Kansas, where Tea Party politicians cut the revenue stream and are now swimming in deficit. 

But, there were losses that could haunt us for years to come.

We lost the Montana Developmental Center. Shocking privatization of a primary state responsibility. Inexplicable except in the context of a legislative session where the accused never get to cross examine their accusers and challenge their purported evidence, some of it driven by blatant conflict of interest. End result: Public sector union workers, our members, laboring away in challenging circumstances, unfairly and grossly maligned.

Yet despite our serious opposition to and disappointment with SB 411, we must regroup and move on.

After plenty of internal gnashing of teeth, we agreed to accept appointment to the MDC Transition Planning Committee (TPC). MEA-MFT Executive Director Erik Burke will represent MEA-MFT and the entire workforce at MDC.

Over the next 18 months, we will do everything we can to help the TPC produce a quality outcome for all involved: residents, their parents and guardians, unionized employees, the city of Boulder, and the state of Montana.

We lost Early Edge. Almost without a whimper. Never gained traction. MEA-MFT invested mightily in Early Edge. With a purposeful tweak or two, we will continue to support the governor’s idea. Early quality childhood education for all is the right thing to do.

We lost the one infrastructure bill that would have made a difference across our state for so many folks — including our members — who suffer direct and indirect impacts from the Bakken. But also losing are members at Warm Springs, Montana University System, and Montana Historical Society.

It’s hard to understand why we have so many Tea Party, Koch brother, Republican legislators in the Last Best Place. Legislators who would rather wallow in dark money than bond to build Montana’s economy. Rather vote NO than provide health care for our working poor. Rather condemn thousands of water users to years of costly litigation than start the state down the road to resolution. But it’s harder yet to fathom why so many Montanans elect legislators who would rather not govern in our best interests. Do we the people empower these anti-government legislators because of voter ideology, amnesia, or abject cynicism?

And we lost big yet again when SB 410 slipped almost unnoticed into law. SB 410 creates two new “tax replacement programs,” one to promote public school innovation and the other to establish an entire new industry in Montana: student scholarship organizations designed to provide public funding of private schools. Big time loss. 

Consequently, down the rabbit hole we go, someday to see if our constitution means what it says in Article 5, Section 11 (5) that states, “No appropriations shall be made for religious, charitable, industrial, educational, or benevolent purposes to any private individual, private associations, or private corporation not under the control of the state;” and Article 10, Section 6 (1) that reads, “The legislature, counties, cities, towns, school districts, and public corporations shall not make any direct or indirect appropriation or payment from any public fund or monies, or any grant of lands or other property for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

Perhaps this is what Governor Bullock and maybe SB 410 sponsor Senator Llew Jones want: A definitive Montana Supreme Court decision that forthrightly concludes that public investment in the education of our children must remain NON-sectarian. Perhaps.

So, did we win, lose, or what?