Montana Republicans will vote this afternoon on taking disciplinary action against state Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) because she stood at her desk Monday and held a nonfunctioning microphone in the air while a crowd of supporters in the House gallery chanted “Let her speak!” The protest ended with seven protesters being arrested as state police cleared the gallery.
Monday’s protest followed last week’s refusal by House Speaker Matt Regier (R) to recognize Zephyr during debate on a bill that removed transgender people from more than 40 areas of Montana law, including protections against discrimination, and which eliminated the option for trans people to change the gender markers on any official documents like birth certificates, drivers licenses, and even death certificates.
Regier’s silencing of Zephyr was punishment for a speech she had made earlier in the week against another bill that banned gender-affirming care for trans kids. In that speech, Zephyr noted that ending treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapy would force trans youth to undergo puberty, which was “tantamount to torture” and said the House “should be ashamed.” She followed that by saying that if Republicans voted for the bill, “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
Regier has said that he will only allow Zephyr to participate in debate again during the current legislative session if she apologizes for the remarks, because decorum. Republicans in the Montana Freedom Caucus called for Zephyr’s censure, claiming the Legislature must have “civil discourse” and condemning Zephyr’s supposedly “hateful rhetoric” while deliberately misgendering Zephyr in the announcement.
So that’s how we got to Monday and the protest, in which Zephyr apparently did an insurrection by standing at her desk and holding up that microphone. Here’s video from CBS Mornings. Note the efficiency with which the one trooper — at about the 9-second mark — uses a club around the neck of one protester to just take them right down to the floor.
After the protests Monday, the Montana House cancelled its scheduled floor session Tuesday, because people had been loud and disruptive.
We haven’t yet seen any Montana Republicans claim it was exactly like January 6, 2021, or worse (minus any deaths, assaults on police, feces-smearing, or attempts to overturn an election). House GOP leadership said in a statement that the protest had been a “riot by far-left agitators,” and vowed to “stand firm in our commitment to decorum, safety, and order. We will uphold the people’s will that sent 68 Republicans to Helena,” a subtle reminder that Montana Republicans have a supermajority and will do what they want.
Regier himself held a 35-second press conference Tuesday, in which he took no questions and complained that the media hadn’t told the true truth, because he hadn’t silenced Zephyr, she had, by breaking rules and not apologizing.
“This is also a disappointing day for Montana media,” he said. “The entire story was not told. Headlines that have happened over the last week stating that the Montana House leadership or GOP has silenced anyone is false. Currently, all representatives are free to participate in House debate while following the House rules. The choice to not follow House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr has made. The only person silencing Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr. The Montana House will not be bullied.”
If only Zooey Zephyr would stop bullying the Republican supermajority with all that accurate explanation of why forcing trans kids off their medications will be torture.
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott (D) issued a statement saying Democrats will be united in opposition to any disciplinary measure, for all the good it may do:
“The Republicans are doubling down on their agenda of running roughshod over Montanans’ rights — to free expression, to peaceful protest, to equal justice under the law. Montana Democrats will hold them accountable for every step they take in escalating their anti-democratic agenda.”
Abbott also told the Helena Independent Record, “I think this is the most extreme action that I’ve seen a Speaker take against a member in the 20 years I’ve been around this building,”
It’s not clear yet whether the House Republicans intend to pursue censure or expulsion of Zephyr later today; a letter sent to Zephyr yesterday said that she had violated the “rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, or decorum of the House,” and referenced the section of the Montana state constitution giving them the power to punish members or expel them with a two-thirds majority vote.
The House Judiciary Committee, on which Zephyr sits, cancelled its scheduled meeting this morning, and the GOP leadership’s letter to Zephyr noted that the House gallery would be closed for today’s floor session, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. “Mountain Time,” or 3 p.m. Eastern. You can watch the Republicans take a billy club to democracy here at the Montana Legislature’s website, and maybe we will do a livebloog too.
Update: Erin Reed reports that the gallery will remain closed not only today, but for the remainder of the session, which is likely to last another week or so. Can’t have the public nosing around the People’s business.
In related news, the Montana Free Press reports today that David Gianforte, the son of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, has lobbied his dad to ask him to not sign anti-LGBTQ legislation, including three of the worst bills:
David, 32, sat down in the governor’s office on March 27 with a prepared statement about legislation affecting transgender Montanans and the LGBTQ+ community generally, to which David says he belongs. He wanted to talk about Senate Bill 99, a ban on gender-affirming health care for minors; Senate Bill 458, a bill to define sex as strictly binary in Montana code; and House Bill 359, a ban on drag performances in many public spaces.
David, who is nonbinary and uses both he and they pronouns, read a statement telling their father that the bills would harm their transgender friends, and called the bills “immoral, unjust, and frankly a violation of human rights.”
It’s not yet clear whether Montana Republicans will also vote on whether to expel the younger Gianforte from his family.
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