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Special session is an opportunity for electioneering and not much more

by FRANK GARNER
| February 18, 2022 7:00 AM

A small group of politicians are asking other legislators to sign a letter requesting an expensive Special Session. I oppose this wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on a session that lacks merit and on what seems little more than a taxpayer funded campaign tour. Here is why I am opposed.

First, there is the scheme to hurriedly redraw the Public Service Commission (PSC) districts rather than wait a mere 10 months for the 2023 legislature to do so in full session. State Sen. Duane Ankney, a 16-year legislative veteran, current chair of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and the legislator most familiar with the PSC said it best in his statewide editorial.

“A hastily called special session will do more harm than good, especially as there are legislators that will work to extend the session to include their pet topic,” he wrote. “This will waste tax dollars and stick the public with 10 more years of questionable PSC policy decisions. The current call for a special session is the final act of individuals who repeatedly chose to ignore their statutory obligations. As such, I adamantly oppose the call.”

I agree.

The second part of the Special Session call is a request to concoct and fund a special “Election Oversight Committee.” This is more taxpayer funded political theatre.

The 2021 legislature took election integrity seriously, jumping ahead of most states by passing seven key pieces of election legislation. HB 176 (Greef) ended same day voter registration. HB 429 (Jones) removed executive authority to suspend election laws. HB 530 (McKamey) requires the secretary of state to assess election security and adopt needed rules. HB 651 (Bertogilo) requires paid ballot gatherers to register with the state. SB 93 (Vance) allows poll watchers to be located at all places where mail ballots are deposited. SB 169 (Cuffe) tightens requirements for registration and voting.

And finally, SB 170 (Kary) requires annual maintenance of registration lists.

The 2022 primary and general elections will operate under these new laws. In addition, Montana already has a State Administration and Veterans Affairs Committee charged with reviewing and monitoring the operations of the secretary of state and elections.

As a supporter of the conservative values of election integrity and fiscal responsibility, there is little to be gained by adding another expensive committee.

This call for a Special Session has more to do with political theatre and trying to gain some election advantage than pursuing policies that benefit our state. Savvy political operatives understand that earned media helps win elections, and what better way to get on television or in the paper than through a taxpayer funded Special Session.

This veteran legislator will not support our special session tool being turned into a taxpayer funded campaign event. I will vote to let taxpayers keep this money in their pockets and continue to focus on issues like improving public safety, work force shortages and on having less government in your lives — not more.

The author is the Republican state representative for District 7, which includes parts of Kalispell.