In this primary election season, critics say we need to stop local government representatives such as the Mayor of Sidney and the County Commissioners from “running to Helena.” Would this serve the people or neglect our interests? Let’s consider a handful of examples from the last few years.
In 2001 several revenues were diverted from local governments to the state. To make up for that, state budgeting has an item for a local government share. This compensation is threatened every session. In the 2019 Legislature, an illegal, secret meeting of a legislative committee was convened without notice by legislators from western Montana to rob millions from the local government share and give it to the State Office of Public Defender to shore up the state’s bankrupt mismanagement of that program. The Montana Association of Counties caught wind of the secret meeting and fielded hundreds of local government representatives who packed the meeting room to protect the local government share. Neither our legislative Representative nor our Senator spoke or even attended. Commissioner Shane Gorder and others from Richland County spoke to defend Fairview, Savage, Lambert, Sidney, and Richland County. They were successful, only because they were there.
If we “put a stop to running to Helena,” we will be defenseless against legislative robberies like that. Critics must face the fact that Helena is the state capital, and many things happen there that vitally affect us here. We cannot defend ourselves by just sitting on our rears in Sidney. The same thing happens with the oil and gas severance tax. Every legislative session, someone in the west tries to rob us of our share.
In six years of rulemaking before the Department of Environmental Quality, there were efforts to make Richland County a dumping ground for North Dakota’s worst radioactive waste. North Dakota allows disposal only up to 50 picocuries, but Montana was set to allow 200. That would have made us a magnet for the hottest loads. Commissioner Gorder testified before the Department, and all three Commissioners including Mitchell and Young worked in the legislative Environmental Quality Council to equalize Montana’s level with surrounding states to defend us from dumping of the worst radioactive waste that neighboring states won’t accept. The same dynamic affects many local interests touching everything from aviation funding for the Sidney-Richland Airport to bridge and road funding for Richland County roads to agricultural covenants for Richland County subdivisions. In all these examples and many more, local leaders like Mayor Rick Norby and Commissioners Gorder, Mitchell, and Young have kept us on a level playing field by “running to Helena.” Some of the critics have come from outside of Montana and do not seem to understand basic, 8th grade Montana civics. They talk like they do not know that neglecting state government neglects the people of Richland County.