• Reilly Neill

Chasing Bullies out of Montana and Building a Sustainability Plan for the Future

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

In 2013, I went to Helena to serve in our citizen legislature as a small business owner, a newspaper publisher, a regular citizen, just like any of you in this room. I wish everyone here could have the experience - to know what is and isn’t possible to do as a representative in the state government.

There are good people in both parties. We can be proud in this state that such people represent the interests of our communities. But there’s a catch. Many who are elected-—even some of the best people I worked with—are actually serving another power and if they don’t tow the line. They are punished by the ruling GOP elite - their seats threatened by challengers in the primaries and their bills defeated in committees. I saw this reality objectively, as a citizen but with my journalist’s eye, nearly every day in Helena. The ruling GOP elite? These representatives are in the pockets of corporations. They are bullies and they threaten every single Montanan in the state.

In my time in the legislature, I heard bad bills, good bills, like one to hold health insurance companies more responsible for keeping premiums fair, for example. Citizens and professionals would testify in committee hearings - and, of course, lobbyists. There was one type of lobbyist I termed the “dark wizard.” These lobbyists were truly magical, a throwback to the time when the Anaconda Company ran the state and most of its representatives.

Cartoon depicting the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's control of Montana in 1920. (Butte Daily Bulletin )

In 2013, a dozen people could stand and testify to the group in support of a bill but it only took one dark wizard to give testimony and the committee of Republicans who always manage the majority would kill the legislation. Like magic, the bill would die and never make it to the House floor. These were good bills, good ideas, smart and thoughtful work defeated in a snap by a GOP controlled and influenced by big, corporate dollars.

These dark wizards are real and they severely influence our state policy. When Gov. Bullock sent me his veto packet, I signed on every single one. When our House and Senate have been hijacked by these corporate-run bullies, we need strong veto power in the Governor’s office.

What else can we do? We can right now inform our citizens across the state about the influence of money and corporate power in Helena. Corporations have a place in a state as rich as Montana but it should not be the ruling majority in setting policy, especially when it comes to climate change, an issue they would rather we all just forgot existed.

But people can be educated about climate change with simple facts. Many farmers and ranchers, business owners, and citizens of Montana know something’s different. They know something’s changed but they want to believe the politics of denial.

In my campaign for governor, I’m going door to door to share facts and projections of the effects of climate change in Montana. We must address the impacts of climate change, prepare for the future going forward in our communities, and hold fossil fuel companies responsible in our economies. But we cannot do this until we have the full awareness of the people.

By sharing knowledge through my work and with friends and family, I’ve found a collective hope. Every time I witness someone have a sea change and better understand the facts and data about global warming and climate change, I feel the collective hope we can share.

I’ve launched the Montana 2035 initiative to build a sustainability plan for Montana. Montana needs a balanced approach to the future where economic, social and environmental goals are in balance with the reality of climate change. We want to preserve a vibrant, diversified economy; a healthy quality of life that is grounded in equality; and healthy natural resources.

We must fundamentally change how we produce and consume energy to combat climate change. We need to consider the energy needs of our neighboring states. Montana has the capability to build vast renewable energy systems and create a sustainable economic driver for the state. Fossil fuels have always been a finite resource and we need to transition before the need to do so is beyond our control. This should be our top priority.

We as Democrats need to elevate issues that matter, that effect people rather than elevating politicians. We need to make room in the party for dissenting voices and discussions. We cannot win in Montana with a divided force. We need unity, understanding, humility. Who will deliver this?

I want to continue to balance our budget and fund necessary programs to give our state a solid foundation, ensure women’s rights and everyone’s right to healthcare and privacy with their doctors and make sure all Montanans can afford housing in their hometowns, near their places of work.

Another important step in building a sustainable future is educating our young people. We need to make higher education more accessible to Montanans. Every graduating Montana senior needs to have the opportunity to attend college or an institute of higher learning without going deep into debt.

We need to encourage rural economic growth with diversification of our agricultural economy. Our brewing and spirits industries are thriving. Let’s encourage that growth.

We need to legalize marijuana in Montana to take advantage of tax benefits and, especially considering the risks of vaping THC, we need to have oversight on product quality and safety. Voters will support ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana in Montana and our state systems need to be prepared — from law enforcement to health and human services.

We need to ensure that our voting systems in Montana remain safe and secure and employ the highest forms of cyber security possible in our state agencies, systems and grids. This is important because the integrity of our voting systems is the integrity of our democracy. We have an amazing network of clerks and recorders and individuals volunteering and working for the state to ensure our elections are fair and we need to make sure that they are also free from corruption.

What I’m asking you here today is to consider a way forward. Consider a way we can live in a more sustainable world. Imagine a Montana with viable distribution networks for locally produced foods all over the state and even surrounding states. Imagine a Montana where our streams and rivers are as healthy as we can possibly make them in the face of coming climate changes, which will cause mass fish die offs, algae blooms, and more flooding and drought. We need to be prepared for these aspects of climate change across all of our economic sectors and every state agency. Imagine a Montana that’s prepared for these and so many other eventualities and that’s the Montana where I want to live.

The foundation of the Montana 2035 initiative will look at the “triple bottom line” concept, where economic, community and environmental goals are in balance with the reality of climate change. Our best way forward is to collectively determine the long-term future of our state with all the resources we have available and then put the plan in action.

I know Montanans can build a better state and even a better party for the Democrats if we can seek to be inclusive in everything we do. There are so many people tired of the bullies in Montana and we need to make sure those people feel welcome in our party.

The above is a transcript of an address Reilly Neill gave to the Sanders Count Democrats on October 20, 2019.

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