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Republicans are betraying rural Montana

| May 17, 2024 7:00 AM

Republicans fight with each other all the time, but it seems the one thing they can agree on is throwing rural Montana under the bus.

During the last session of the state Legislature, 130 of 150 legislators – Republicans and Democrats – passed a bill to fund conservation of public lands and repair the county roads that help hunters, anglers, hikers and campers access them. 

This bill, SB 442, would have ensured a permanent and stable source of support not just for the recreational activities that actual Montanans can afford, but for gravel and dirt roads that tens of thousands of Montanans rely on to get to school or work. It also would have helped Montana's disabled veterans and their widowed spouses by providing them with over $6 million of permanent property tax relief every year.

But Governor Gianforte vetoed that bill. Then he tried some bureaucratic trickery to make it so that the Legislature couldn’t vote to override his veto. As if that weren’t enough, he then spent the next year in court doubling down on that trickery. 

Eventually, he was forced to relent and the Legislature had its chance to override his shameful veto. That’s when he put enough partisan pressure on Republican legislators that they caved in and helped him kill a broadly popular, overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that would have sent $33 million back into our counties to protect our wild places and make rural Montana more accessible.

It’s a disgusting betrayal of everything Republicans claim to stand for. This is everything people hate about politics – politicians throwing away good legislation that makes a real impact in local communities, just to avoid taking a stand that some people may not like. And Governor Gianforte led the charge to do exactly that.

When your teeth are rattling as you drive down a potholed dirt road to get to your favorite campsite fishing hole – as the elk get scarcer in your favorite hunting spot – as you find your favorite hiking trails washed out – or as you watch more of our beautiful state get fenced off by rich folks and eaten up by sub-developments – remember that it didn’t have to be this way.

Governor Gianforte had the chance to do the right thing for Montanans. But when it came time to save our outdoor heritage and protect it for future generations, he completely failed to stand up for what’s best about the Last Best Place.

Katie Sullivan represents Missoula and serves in the Democratic Leadership of the Montana House of Representatives. Ryan Lynch represents Butte in the Montana Senate.