- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Aug. 26, on a flier released by a gubernatorial candidate’s campaign:

Gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte has taken Montana politics in an ugly direction.

His campaign recently released a flier that depicts his opponent, incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock, with a menacing caricature of an Arab terrorist, including masked face and assault rifle.


The other side of the flier shows Gianforte touting the now-familiar themes from the presidential primaries: banning immigrants from certain countries and stopping “unvetted” refugees from coming to Montana communities - issues governors have absolutely no authority over.

This kind of rhetoric has thoroughly polluted our national political dialogue. Now Gianforte is bringing it here.

Though his campaign claims the timing was coincidental, the flier came out the same week a Congolese family was resettled in Missoula - a family that had been vetted for three years before being admitted to the United States, the same vetting process other refugees granted asylum in the U.S. must undergo.

But never mind that. Welcome to the politics of fear.

The attacks of 9/11 accomplished what their perpetrators certainly had in mind. They terrorized an entire generation of Americans - many beyond a reasonable response. Since then, some political opportunists have made a science out of exploiting those fears.

This ad is a nakedly shameless example of this. Through the image of a Muslim jihadi, it sends the not-so-subtle message that immigrants are not welcome here - at least not immigrants with skin darker than ours and with Middle Eastern accents. We must do better. We most demand more from those who seek to lead us.

Let’s be clear: Immigration is a serious issue that demands serious attention. Let’s have those discussions.

But in doing so, let’s not forget our compassion. Let’s not lose sight of what has made our country great.

In Montana, we are all far, far more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than die at the hands of a jihadi. And yet we jump behind the wheel of our car daily with little more than a shrug to this real danger.

Let’s keep the threat of terrorism and the issue of refugee resettlement in perspective. And let’s reject the exploitation of unwarranted fear.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2bNi4Kq


Billings Gazette, Aug. 28, on costs to battle Western wildfires:

The late August sun is a smoky red ball, reminding Montanans of the fires that have destroyed homes and curtailed business in the West this summer. It’s so dry in parts of Montana, Wyoming, California and other Western states that big fires are likely to burn until autumn snow falls. If lightning storms and wind persist, the fires will be bigger and more numerous.

The destruction is costly, and so is the firefighting. One year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on the rising cost of fire operations and how it affected the Forest Service’s other work. The numbers indicate that the Forest Service ought to be called the “fire service” because that’s how the agency spent most of its budget. The USDA summed up the problem of “the depletion of non-fire programs to pay for the ever-increasing costs of fire.” This has resulted in:

-Less money for restoration work that would help prevent catastrophic fires.

-Less protection of watersheds and cultural resources.

-Reduced upkeep of programs and infrastructure that support thousands of recreation jobs and billions of dollars economic growth in rural communities.

-Reduced support for the range of multiple uses, benefits and ecosystem services.

-Less research and technical assistance.

Firefighting staff has increased from 5,700 in 1998 to more than 12,000 in 2015. Meanwhile, the non-firefighting forest workers have been reduced by 39 percent - from 18,000 employees in 1998 to fewer than 11,000 last year.

Every non-firefighting program has been slashed. Forest road-building has been reduced 46 percent. Deferred maintenance funding was cut 95 percent despite a backlog of more than $5.1 billion in dam repairs, roads, sewer and water system improvements.

Lack of funding for everything but fires has prevented the agency from doing things that would save money in the long term. Energy efficiency projects have been deferred. Funding hasn’t been available for partnership programs that generate private matching funds.

The report concluded with the solution that Congress has been delaying for years: Change the way we pay for wildfire fighting. Treat wildfires as the natural disasters they are.

In June, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., spoke on behalf of draft legislation called the Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act. The first thing it would do, according to a Daines news release, is “end the unsustainable practice of fire borrowing by enabling a transfer of limited funds to the Forest Service and the Department of Interior through a budget cap adjustment when all appropriated suppressions funding (100 percent of the 10-year average) has been exhausted.”

Last week in Billings, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., reaffirmed his support for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Both he and Daines are co-sponsors of the act, which would “pay for catastrophic wildfires through separate emergency funding, allowing the Forest Service to devote more resources to proactive forest management like trail maintenance and timber harvest.”

Tester noted that wildfire costs consumed 52 percent of the Forest Service budget last year, compared with 16 percent 20 years ago.

If S.235, which both of our U.S. senators are co-sponsoring, had been enacted and funded last year, the Forest Service would have $1.4 billion more to fight wildfires this year. But it didn’t pass, so the Forest Service will again have to rob all its other operations to pay for the fiery disasters this year.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act has 21 co-sponsors, including senators from Colorado, California, Idaho, Hawaii, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In introducing the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said its purpose is to “ensure that federal agencies have the resources and funding they need to not only fight the wildfires that erupt yearly in our nation’s forests, but to effectively manage forests to prevent future infernos.”

Montana’s senators are in a good position to promote this bipartisan solution. Among many proposals for forest management involving timber harvest, recreation and conservation, nothing else is going to work well if the budget continues to be diverted to wildfire.

Lawmakers must stop the “fire borrowing” before another wildfire season begins. We call on Daines and Tester to work together to unite other Western senators and pass wildfire disaster legislation this year.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2bIPqtd


The Missoulian, Aug. 28, on Missoula school construction projects:

The first day of the school year is always new and exciting, but this year, Missoula County Public Schools students, staff and neighborhoods will experience their newest, most exciting school year yet.

That’s because a massive bond passed by Missoula voters last November is financing significant new construction projects throughout the district, from new roofs to entire new schools. Voters in the elementary and middle school district approved $88 million in bonds while the high school district’s $70 million bond squeaked through by less than 200 votes.

MCPS immediately set to work, selling the majority of the bonds while interest rates remained low and allowing construction to begin without delay. Construction crews have labored all summer to complete as much work as possible before the first day of school tomorrow, however the last nail won’t be pounded in for another six years, according to MCPS executive director of business and operations Pat McHugh.

In the meantime, Missoulians should exercise a little extra patience and understanding for those students, teachers and staff doing their best to work around the construction. We can all help ensure the safety of these children and educators by being aware that different school zones may have different traffic needs from previous years, and planning our commutes accordingly.

And, while we can all be proud to live in a town that has prioritized education and our children’s future in such a big way, we should also pay close attention as the results of that support begin to materialize. This is the time to ensure that the reality of the district’s efforts meets the community’s vision.

No fewer than 14 different projects have been launched within MCPS so far this year, with the lion’s share of money spent on planning and design. By the end of July, total bids had reached nearly $32 million, while only about $675,000 had gone to actual construction.

Much of that construction involved putting new roofs on five schools: Lewis and Clark Elementary, Meadow Hill and Washington middle schools, and Big Sky and Hellgate high schools. Those roofing projects were begun right away in anticipation of increasing construction costs.

The stadium at Big Sky is getting new turf and a new track, hopefully ready by October. Meanwhile, major construction has also begun on the Chief Charlo, Jefferson, Paxson and Rattlesnake elementary campuses, as well as at Seeley-Swan High School.

Franklin and Lowell are being demolished, and the new buildings won’t be ready until the start of school in August 2017. In the meantime, their students will attend Jefferson and Mount Jumbo, respectively.

Just last week, the MCPS Board of Trustees approved a new 8-acre location for Cold Springs Elementary School near the intersection of Lower Miller Creek and Maloney Ranch roads.

Unsurprisingly, some project costs are already starting to exceed budget projections. Trustees learned back in mid-July that the Hellgate project was 3.6 percent over budget due to newly discovered maintenance issues. That said, it’s likely that savings on some projects will help make up for cost overruns on others.

It’s important for the larger community - not just neighbors, not just taxpayers - to hold MCPS accountable for every dollar spent on each and every project. Now’s the time to watch these projects closely, ask questions, express concerns - and expect answers. The Missoulian newspaper, of course, will be doing the same.

This is Missoula’s opportunity to see what we’re getting for our tax dollars, to make sure we’re getting the most for our money - and for our children’s future.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2bZLmqu

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