Montana COVID-19 testing
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Boulder River Bridge view
Boulder River Bridge view
Combat Crochet
Combat Crochet
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Goat Fire mapped at 300 acres
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate


State says increasing number of apprentices for each journeyman cuts through red tape

BY:  - NOVEMBER 22, 2021 7:00 AM

 The Walt Sullivan Building where the Montana Department of Labor and Industry are housed (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan).


Trade unions and state officials are at odds over a proposed rule that would increase the number of apprentices who can work under a journeyman tradesman, with directors of union training programs warning that the change could pose safety risks and decrease the quality of hands-on learning in the workplace.

Current state policy says that one journeyman can train the first apprentice employed by a sponsor, but that two additional journeyman are required to train each subsequent apprentice. The new rule, currently making its way through the administrative rulemaking review process, establishes instead an apprentice-to-journeyman ratio of 2:1.

“It is nearly impossible to oversee and safely train two apprentices with one journeyman,” said Mykal Jorgensen, director of training for the Billings Pipe Trades Local 30,  in a statement released by the Montana AFL-CIO. “What failsafes would be put in place to ensure that one apprentice doesn’t electrocute themselves or start a fire while the journeyman is with the other apprentice? Having had my own apprentices in the past, I know how quickly things can happen.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte directed  Department of Labor and Industry to pursue the change, which he and Director Laurie Esau announced this week, touting it as a way to expand access to apprenticeships and economic opportunity while cutting red tape. Creating that flexibility, they contend, can help business owners in the state hire more skilled labor.

“For too long, unnecessary red tape has tied up employers looking to offer apprenticeship opportunities and build a more highly-skilled workforce,” Gov. Gianforte said in a written statement. “With this commonsense rule change, we can dramatically increase apprenticeship opportunities for hardworking Montanans to meet current and future workforce needs.”

Apprenticeships are registered and regulated programs that function as a way for would-be electricians, roofers, and workers in other trades to get paid to train under more seasoned journeymen on a job site, often leading to higher overall pay compared to those who don’t complete apprenticeships. Employers, trade unions, contracting associations and other sponsors administer the programs, depending on the nature of the apprenticeship. Around 2,600 apprentices have worked in Montana this year, according to the Governor’s Office.


This change would allow more workers in the state to complete on-the-job training without a sponsor needing to commensurately increase the number of journeymen supervising them, an idea favored by Montana business groups who say it would bring the state in alignment with its neighbors.

“The current apprentice to journeyman ratio in Montana is outdated and serves as a bottleneck to hiring and training badly needed electrical apprentices,” said Margaret Morgan, executive director of Montana Independent Electrical Contractors, in a statement. “With a positive change to the apprenticeship ratio, independent electrical contractors will be able to hire and train many more apprentices.”

But unions and union trainers fear such a change, akin to increasing a student-teacher ratio in a classroom, would decrease safety on a worksite, while only making the work-product worse. The vast majority of apprentices in the state work in construction, according to the AFL-CIO, “on job sites that can be dangerous and require specialized knowledge and hands-on experience.”

Moreover, critics of the proposed rule amendment said it would in fact allow for an even greater ratio than 2:1, due to an existing administrative rule that says an apprentice “that has completed 60 percent or more of the on-the-job training hours and 60 percent or more of the related instruction in an apprenticeship program is not counted for purposes of the apprentice-to-journeyman ratio.”

So, theoretically, if both apprentices attached to a journeyman complete the requisite training hours, two more could be brought on under the same journeyman, further stretching training resources while also bringing down the average pay rate at a workplace. A spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Industry did not specifically respond to this concern, but confirmed that the variance allowing “apprentices to work with progressively less supervision as they receive more training” is unchanged.

The rule is not final, and DLI can amend or entirely strike the proposed change based on public comment. The department will hold a hearing on the proposal on Dec. 8.


Livingston lawmaker is first Dem to leave the race

Nov 19, 2021
BY:  - NOVEMBER 17, 2021 4:16 PM

 State Rep. Laurie Bishop announces her bid for Montana’s newly formed congressional seat in Livingston on Thursday, July 1. (Courtesy Laurie Bishop for Montana)


Democratic state lawmaker Laurie Bishop announced Wednesday that she will suspend her campaign for U.S. House, instead focusing on re-election to her current state legislative seat.

Bishop, of Livingston, was the first Democrat to formally announce a bid for Montana’s newly created congressional district, which the state earned after demonstrating significant population growth in the 2020 U.S. Census, and now is the first to drop out of the race. In a letter to supporters, Bishop said she came to the decision after evaluating the congressional map that the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission finalized this month and the impact it would have on her race and the general electoral chances for Democrats.

“Public service has always been at the heart of my decision to run for Congress, and at this moment, the most important way for me to be of service is by continuing to lead our caucus at the state level,” Bishop, who serves as Democratic caucus chair, said in a statement.

Bishop was not alone in announcing her candidacy for Congress before the actual districts were drawn. However, she was perhaps uniquely affected by the results of the process: Park County, Bishop’s home, was drawn into a more conservative eastern Montana district, while Bishop was intent on campaigning in the western district, containing Bozeman, Missoula and Butte. The map has created heartburn among some Democrats and their constituents, who have argued that the congressional map created two districts that unfairly favor Republican candidates.

The law doesn’t actually require congressional candidates to live in-district, and Bishop initially forged ahead with her campaign, though she criticized the final map.

While I respect the process of the independent Districting and Apportionment Commission, I am incredibly disappointed in their final decision,” she said in a statement last week. “The commission had the opportunity to give rural Montanans meaningful representation in Congress, and instead it played politics by separating clear communities of interest and failing to take competitiveness into account in creating this district. They silenced minority voices, including those of Native Americans, students, and rural Democrats who live in districts like mine, for the next decade.”

Supporters of the final map, including the commission’s two Republicans and the non-partisan, tie-breaking chairperson, said it was adequately competitive based on projections from recent congressional results and that it minimized splitting counties while increasing the number of tribal reservations in the western district from one to two.

Bishop will now work to win re-election in her Livingston state house district.

Her departure leaves three Democratic candidates in the primary: Monica Tranel, an Olympic rower and former Public Service Commission staff attorney; Cora Neumann, a public health professional and one-time U.S. Senate candidate; and Tom Winter, a former state legislator from Missoula. On the Republican side, candidates are former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who’s already served in the U.S. House, former state lawmaker Dr. Al Olszewski, and Kalispell pastor Mary Todd.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester touted the transportation network, broadband, and water spending included in the package, which was staunchly opposed by Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale.

Biden Tester Montana Infrastructure
President Joe Biden talks to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, after speaking alongside a bipartisan group of senators after the group reached a deal on an infrastructure package at the White House on June 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden said both sides made compromises on the nearly $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which was signed by Biden Nov. 15, 2021. Credit: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

“This bipartisan package will create good-paying jobs and maintain our economic advantage over China by investing in Montana’s roads, bridges, high-speed internet, water systems, and more,” Tester, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I worked closely with Republicans and Democrats to negotiate this bill because that’s what Montanans expect from their elected leaders — that we put our differences aside and work across the aisle on real, lasting solutions.”

A release from Tester’s office also included approving statements from a wide array of industry and advocacy groups, including the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, Rocky Mountain Tribal Leadership Council, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana AFL-CIO, Motor Carriers of Montana, Montana Wildlife Federation, American Council of Engineering Companies, Montana Farm Bureau Federation and Montana Trout Unlimited.


Montana’s stake in the infrastructure plan

Earlier this summer, Sen. Jon Tester helped craft a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan that includes billions for Montana highways, water systems and broadband. As the House prepares to take up the debate, here’s a look at what’s at stake.

According to a fact sheet distributed by the White House, the bill also includes $65 billion for high-speed broadband, $66 billion for high-speed rail funding, $65 billion for upgrading the national power grid to accommodate renewable energy generation, more than $50 billion to upgrade infrastructure to survive extreme weather caused by climate change, and $7.5 billion to build out a national network of electric vehicle chargers.

The bill passed the U.S. Senate Aug. 10 on a 69-30 vote, with support from all 50 Democratic senators and 19 Republicans. It passed the U.S. House in its final form Nov. 5 on a 228-206 vote, with support from 215 of 221 Democrats and 13 of 213 Republicans.

The two Republicans in Montana’s congressional delegation, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale, both opposed the bill, saying it would increase taxes, drive up the national debt and produce more inflation.

“From the beginning of this debate, I warned the Democrats will use the massive ‘infrastructure’ spending proposal as a stepping stone to pass their larger, reckless tax and spending spree that will push the U.S. down the path of socialism,” Daines said in a statement published after the bill was passed by the House. 

“President Biden and the Democrats’ reckless proposals will increase taxes on Montana families, workers, small businesses, and farmers and ranchers, and add to the skyrocketing inflation crisis we’re seeing today,” Daines also said. 

Rosendale acknowledged the need for infrastructure investment in rural communities, but called the bill “irresponsible” for including spending on other “liberal priorities.”

“This bill is a trojan horse filled with billions of dollars to fund Green New Deal priorities, push the Left’s social justice agenda, and invade Americans’ privacy,” his office said in a statement.

Tester’s office said in his release that he “made sure that the legislation does not raise taxes.”

Daines and Rosendale also opposed the March American Rescue Plan Act, a major coronavirus relief measure that allocated billions to Montana. Relief dollars allocated to state government under that act are being spent on water projects, social service programs, economic development initiatives and a state broadband expansion initiative, among other efforts. 




Nov 16, 2021

BY:  - NOVEMBER 14, 2021 9:55 AM


 Gunfight illustration. (Illustration by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).


In his book “Gunfight,” Kalispell-based former gun industry executive Ryan Busse makes the case that the National Rifle Association is at the heart of our national political divide.  

Busse connects the NRA’s use of conspiracy and fear to drive memberships and points out that people have begun to carry AR-15s into government buildings, something the author sees as an irresponsible act of intimidation. Released in October 2021 by PublicAffairs, the memoir recounts the shift in gun culture during a 25-year period and Busse’s ultimate decision to leave his position as vice-president of sales for Kimber Manufacturing, a firearms producer.

In an interview with the Daily Montanan, Busse said he sees a growing number of people who “really would like to kill anyone they disagree with, especially dedicated public servants.” Busse referenced Missoula attorney Quentin Rhoades, who joked about shooting school superintendents during a gathering on Nov. 1 at Crosspoint Community Church in Missoula. Rhoades, who later apologized for his remark, represents “Stand Up Montana” and several local Missoula parents in a lawsuit against mask mandates in Missoula public schools.

The same week Rhoades made his comment, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale was accused of accepting large illegal campaign donations from the NRA. These two incidents exemplify the warped power guns and the gun industry have in politics today, Busse said. He believes at one time, either of these incidents would have had people aghast. 

At a book reading on Oct. 28 at Elk River Books in Livingston, Busse brought up an event from a couple days prior that was held by the conservative student group Turning Point USA. During the event, a member of the audience got up and asked, “when do we get to use the guns?” 

“I am distressed at the fact that something I think is wholesome and healthy, or should be, has been hijacked away from me, and in many ways away from our state and our country, to use as some political cudgel to radicalize people,” Busse said in a later interview with the Daily Montanan. 

Throughout this book, Busse talks about his love of guns and firearm craftsmanship. In particular, he relishes the moment when Kimber designed its 1911 pistol. However, his passion for guns is put at odds with his disillusionment with gun culture during the more than two decades he spent prospering at Kimber, founded in Clackamas, Oregon, and now headquartered in Troy, Alabama.

As Busse became more aware of the motivations behind gun sales, notably the spike in gun purchases after the Columbine High School massacre, he questioned the ethical implications and the role of his industry. 

“The fact that gun sales spiked after shootings or in periods of tumult in the country — I really detested that,” Busse said.

Hate, fear, conspiracy theories, and distrust of the other are all things people will read about in the book and are elements that exploded during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter rallies, Busse said. Those factors drive voting now on the right side of the political spectrum and happen to be the same ones that drive sales of guns, he said.

In the memoir, Busse chronicles how the NRA’s politics changed after the 1994 crime bill. During Bill Clinton’s administration, the NRA criticized lawmakers who voted for the crime bill, but did not demonize them, Busse wrote. To prevent passage of anything similar to the crime bill, the NRA took an absolutist political stance against any gun laws. It began rating politicians, which made dissenting from the organization dangerous if lawmakers relied on its support. 

Almost 20 years after the crime bill, the Sandy Hook massacre, when a gunman armed with a Bushmaster XM-15 E2S Shorty killed 20 children and six adults, would test the strength of the NRA’s resolve against any new gun measures. 

U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey put forward an amendment to strengthen background checks on private gun purchases in an attempt to close the loophole allowing people to buy a gun without a background check at gun shows. Pressure from the NRA helped to ensure the amendment would fail. 

After the massacre, the NRA coined its new rallying cry: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Montana Sports Shooting Association President Gary Marbut believes this is a fundamental truth to why people must have guns to defend themselves, he said in an interview with the Daily Montanan. Marbut founded MSSA and is a firearms expert and self-defense instructor, as well as an advocate for gun owners and hunters in the state. 

A growing number of people want to protect themselves, Marbut said. Incidents in which a person is murdered can be over in under 60 seconds, he said. The police aren’t going to be able to do more than “string the yellow tape,” Marbut said. 

Defunding the police works for him, he said: “I don’t know why I personally need the police.”

This legislative session, Marbut, a frequent presence at the Capitol, supported House Bill 102, which allows people to conceal carry on campus and other places without a permit. The NRA also lobbied in Montana this session. HB102 was signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, though a district court judge stopped its implementation while the court resolves legal challenges. 

In Busse’s book, he categorizes two different kinds of gun owners. The group Busse sees himself in are those from a hunting and ranching background who see guns as part of their heritage. The other group are those who worship weapons of war and can’t wait to spill blood in a civil war. In his book, the author describes how in the mid-2000s the NRA and the National Shooting Sport Foundation began pushing the line “there could be no daylight between sporting guns and an AR-15.” Everyone should stand together.

Marbut doesn’t believe the two groups are so different or distinct from one another. A lot of overlap exists between the “Elmer Fudds,” who believe all they need is their grouse shotgun and a pistol, and the “hardcore people,” who own fully automatic rifles, Marbut said. 

When people use AR-15s to demonstrate at government buildings, Marbut said it isn’t any different from using a person’s right to free speech. 

“It’s irrational to fear the mere presence of guns,” Marbut said. 

Busse disagrees. When guns are used as a tool of intimidation, it should not be “tolerated, normalized or ignored.” 

“There is no civility when one party is standing over the other with a loaded gun,” Busse wrote in the final pages of his book. 

He said he hopes responsible gun owners who feel their voices are getting drowned out by radicals will read this book and know they aren’t alone. Already, Busse said he has received letters from just those kinds of people telling him they read his book and are ready to have a conversation about our national gun policies. 

“I believe the vast majority of gun owners find this sort of radicalized crap we all see or read about on the news as very detestable,” Busse said. “I hope those people stand up and we can make a difference.”

Western Montana progressive makes second U.S. House bid

Nov 5, 2021

 Former Democratic state lawmaker Tom Winter is running for U.S. House (Courtesy Tom Winter for Congress)


Former state lawmaker Tom Winter announced his bid for Montana’s new congressional seat on Wednesday, confirming suspicions that an already three-way Democratic primary was slated to get even more complicated.

Winter, 35, is the fourth Democrat to throw his hat in the ring for what will likely be a newly-created district in the western portion of the state — the exact boundaries won’t be clear until Montana redistricters take a vote later this month. Winter said he was waiting for the district lines to become more or less set before he announced his candidacy.

“Politicians in Montana need to understand that things are not going well,” he said, pointing to a housing affordability crisis, climate change and a political institution he feels is undermined by wealthy interests. “Nobody thinks they are.”

Winter, who left the Legislature after one term as a representative to run in the 2020 Democratic primary for what was then Montana’s only congressional district — a primary he lost, and a decision that angered some in the party — said he’s taking a populist, progressive approach, centering on issues of economic justice and worker rights.

His list of platforms includes boosting taxes on the super-wealthy and large corporations, reducing the tax burden on earned-income by the middle and lower class, universal healthcare, childcare and paid family leave, and supporting organized labor.

“Actively speaking to a populist, economic message is not a campaign ploy, it’s the right thing to do,” he said, adding later: “Any party that just serves the rich and corporations is gonna lose.”

He said it’s a message he’s proven can transcend party lines, pointing to his win in a Republican-controlled Missoula legislative district in 2018. No matter the shape of the congressional district that the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission draws, it’s likely to pose an uphill battle for Democrats, though how steep is hard to say.

Winter is now based in the Flathead, at least for the time being. He’s a director at WorldCell, a broadband and telecommunications company.

“Many of the people we were able to activate were first-time voters who felt they were not part of the process,” Winter said of that race. “Suspicion of government and institutions runs deep.”

Although he said he feels voters are in search of a “unifying” politics, he acknowledged that some of that suspicion of government has manifested in violent ideologies and threats to state and local officials.

“That’s a problem that we need to work through,” he said. “But that is not the vast majority of people. It is the fault of people in government when the population doesn’t trust us.”

Several Democrats have already declared their candidacy, most before the shape of the district they’re running for was even remotely clear. These are: current state representative Laurie Bishop, of Livingston; Monica Tranel, an attorney and former Olympic rower who in 2020 ran for the Public Service Commission; and Cora Neumann, a public health professional who briefly ran for the U.S. Senate. The DAC must submit its final congressional map by November 14.

Neumann has so far raised the most money, with $470,000 in receipts as of October 1. Tranel has raised $244,000 and Bishop around $117,000. On the Republican side, former Congressman and Trump-era Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is the frontrunner at least in fundraising, with $794,000 raised by the end of September, followed by former lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Dr. Al Olszewski with some $300,000.

In what will likely be the more conservative eastern district, incumbent Congressman Matt Rosendale is fending off a challenge from Jack Ballard, a writer and Democrat from Red Lodge.

Winter is originally from around Kansas City, and said he moved to Montana in his early 20s, followed soon by his family. Together, they opened a home healthcare business, which Winter said he quit upon his entrance to politics.

“The idea that Montana has not only accepted us but that we have been able to be a part of this community and be a meaningful part of it is not something that every place would act like,” he said.