Llew Jones and his roster of 18 (or so) Democrat-swing voters in the Montana House of Representatives appeared with masked faces alongside their Democrat colleagues at the swearing in of the 2021 legislative session. Almost all of Jones’ conservative counterparts went without their faces covered. The scene of masks – and who was wearing them – did a fair job of showing who would side with Republicans and who would side with Democrats in yesterday’s votes and who will probably do so in the future.
Several of the more liberal Democrats in the Montana House, like Mary Ann Dunwell (D-HD67) signaled their virtue by wearing two masks instead of one in order to “save lives.” Of course, as an outspoken Democrat, Dunwell votes for snuffing out the lives of infants with callous indifference. Irony appeared to have been one of the few fatalities in COVID-19 in the Big Sky State, as the party of death and infanticide lectured their colleagues on protecting lives from across the legislative aisle.
Unfortunately, mask-representation during the first day of the legislative session wasn’t the only division that showed about 20% of Republicans siding with Democrats to make a majority. After two votes on house rules, the outcome of which is probably less significant in actuality than it was symbolically, it appears to many that Jones commands somewhere between 16 and 18 votes with 4 or so projected “wobblers” like – many presume – Sue Vinton (R-HD56) – who may go back and forth between the Democrat and Republican caucus as the mood strikes.
What this means, if accurate, is that Jones can hold the Montana House Republican majority hostage in 2020 just as he has done 15 or so years previously. What makes that fact especially tragic is that now Montana has a Republican governor and Jones’ influence may be more dangerous than ever.
Adding to the drama yesterday was the odd sight of watching Speaker Galt vote against himself (as some legislators described it), siding at the last moment with Llew Jones and against the Republican majority on the rules. Galt’s whip, Kasey Knudsen, joined him in the vote. To be very clear, Galt and Knudsen have never previously been accused of being moderates who, like Jones, cross over to vote with Democrats. This left most believing there was something else at play behind the scenes.
Most we spoke to yesterday believed that something is Governor Greg Gianforte who is not so eager as to House Republicans to continue a 15-year battle in the legislature over whether Republicans would act more like Democrats or Republicans. The messaging from the Governor’s Office seems to be – or most presume it to be – that there ought to be a truce between the two factions, which requires throwing the masked Jones a bone to munch behind his face cover, which looked to many to be eerily like a feedbag.
The conspiracy de jure seems to be that Speaker Galt is being run by Governor Gianforte like a sock-puppet, frustrating members of the conservative Republican caucus who spoke to the Gazette blistering criticisms regarding the necessity of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government. Indeed, it’s most likely that Galt was trying to strike the tone of conciliation on the first day by giving Jones what he wanted, with one observer in the galley remarking that he was “negotiating with terrorists.”
Thus far in his career, Galt’s conservatism has not been questioned. Republicans ought to presume charitably that Galt is enamored with his proximity to a new Republican governor and wants to play well with others for the sake of unity and conservatives, like Galt and Knudsen, are trying in some way to “be the adults in the room.”
But’s very likely that by caving to Jones on the first day that Galt has only strengthened him to siphon GOP votes away to the Democrats whenever he feels like it, not empowering Governor Gianforte in the long run, but neutering him.