Plucky Kids Sue Montana Over Climate Policies, THIS WHOLE COURT’S OUT OF ORDER!

In Montana, the Big Sky (when there’s not a wildfire) State, a group of 16 young people ranging in age from five to 22 are getting their day — or two weeks, more like — in court, in a first of its kind lawsuit against the state, claiming that Montana policies favoring fossil fuels have failed to provide the state constitution’s guarantee of a healthy environment “for present and future generations.” The trial in the case of Held v. State of Montanagot underway Monday, with expert testimony on the reality of climate change, as well as testimony from two of the plaintiffs on how the climate crisis has directly affected them and their families.

A lot of climate-related lawsuits have sought damages and injunctive relief against fossil fuel companies that knew damn well their products contributed to global warming; in the US, many such suits have so far been thrown out or are still working their way through early procedural stages. Happy news: An April US Supreme Court decision allowing such suits in state courts may help move a number of cases forward. Held v. Montana, filed in 2020, wasn’t affected either way, since the defendant is the state itself.

The lawsuit argues that the state’s energy policy violates the state constitution by promoting fossil fuel development and use. It also seeks to strike down a provision of the Montana Environmental Policy Act that flatly forbids the state from considering climate change when approving energy projects. Despite last minute attempts to get the state Supreme Court to throw out the case, it’s going forward this week in Lewis and Clark District Court, under Judge Kathy Seeley.


In opening arguments Monday, the Guardian reports,

Roger Sullivan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, explained that climate change is fueling drought, wildfires, extreme heat and other environmental disasters throughout Montana, taking a major toll on the young plaintiffs’ health and wellbeing. There is a “scientific consensus”, he noted, that these changes can be traced back to the burning of fossil fuels.

He described how some plaintiffs have asthma that has been worsened by abundant wildfire smoke in recent years. Some love to hunt and fish but have seen stocks deteriorate. One plaintiff works as a ski instructor – a job threatened by warm winter temperatures and decreasing snowfall. And others are members of Indigenous tribes whose cultural practices are threatened by climate crisis-linked shifts in weather patterns, he said.

Montana is responsible for more planet-heating pollution than some countries, said Sullivan. Without urgent action, these climate consequences will only get worse.

Plaintiffs. Pic by the editrix’s dear best friend Susan Evans

The state, represented by assistant Attorney General Michael D. Russell, argued that since climate change is a global problem, nothing Montana does on its own can be proven to have made any difference one way or the other, aw shucks. He also claimed that the state no longer promotes fossil fuels since the state this year repealed its 30-year-old energy policy, so there’s nothing to sue over.

“This case as it currently exists is far more boring than the plaintiffs would make it out to be,” Russell told the court. “It’s simply a challenge to a discreet provision to a purely procedural statute.”

While it’s true that one bill passed this spring repealed the old climate policy, a bunch of others very specifically promote fossil fuels, like the measure prohibiting climate considerations in permitting, and other measures that will

loosen coal-mining regulations, prohibit local governments from adopting regulations to steer their communities toward cleaner energy sources, and make it harder and more expensive for environmental groups to delay or stop projects with litigation.

One bill even prohibits local building codes from “requiring solar panels, solar panel-ready wiring or electric vehicle charger-ready wiring in new construction,” and another forbids bans on methane gas hookups, because George Washington fought to secure a future for gas stoves. What we’re saying is, that guy’s a fucking liar.

Testimony began with Mae Nan Ellingson, who was a delegate to Montana’s constitutional convention in 1972, where she had advocated for the provision guaranteeing Montanans the right to a “clean and healthful environment.” This paragraph from the Montana Free Press sure makes us like her. When she moved to Missoula to attend the University of Montana in the ’60s, Ellingson testified, air pollution was

so bad that she couldn’t see Mount Sentinel, the iconic prominence that looms over the campus. She began phoning in reports to the local radio station and joined the group Gals Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), signaling her entrée to environmental activism.

No two ways about it: The Left has way more fun with acronyms.

The court also heard from Nikki Held, the lead plaintiff in the case, who grew up on a ranch in southeast Montana and in middle school helped gather data for a

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research project surveying cross sections of Montana’s Powder River, one of the longest undammed waterways in the West, which happens to pass through her family property. That research experience, along with learning about climate change in school, led Held to study environmental science at Colorado College, where she graduated with her bachelor’s degree just a few weeks ago.

Held testified that she had seen firsthand the effects of a changing climate on her family’s ranch, including “wildfires, drought, flooding, more extreme weather events such as windstorm and hail, changes in wildlife behavior,” and pointed out that her family ranch has seen drought and declining snowfall threaten its water supply. She started to discuss how the climate crisis has left her stressed out, but the state objected since that was “speculative,” and Judge Seeley sustained the objection since Held isn’t a climate expert or a psychologist.

The court also heard from expert witness Steven Running, a professor emeritus of ecosystem and conservation science at U of M, who explained the scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by greenhouse gases, resulting in worldwide effects that include Montana, like, even if Republicans say it’s not allowed to.

“I think Montana and really everywhere else needs to, as rapidly as possible, quit burning fossil fuels,” said Running, who was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for which he won the Nobel Peace prize in 2007. “It’s quite straightforward.”

Weirdly, as Running answered questions about a report this year from the IPCC, Mark Stermitz, an attorney for the state, objected that the IPCC report was “hearsay” somehow, a complaint Seeley denied. When he cross-examined Running, Stermitz asked whether Montana can stop climate change all on its own, aha, gotcha! Running agreed that a single state can’t do that, but that Montana could indeed lead wider action:

“What has been shown in history over and over and over again is that when a significant social movement is needed, it’s often been started by one or two or three people,” Running said.

The Guardian did not note whether the state’s attorneys mocked Running by singing “Kumbaya” in falsetto, but you just know they wanted to.

The trial continues today and the rest of the week; you can even watch it online here when court is in session. Not like anything else of interest is going on.

Susan Evans

Also, don’t forget our Wonkette Book Club continues; We’re reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 climate epic The Ministry for the Future, which is about, among other things, building a legal case for keeping the planet habitable for young people, even the non-plucky ones.

[Guardian/ Montana Free Press / Guardian / Our Children’s Trust / Photo by Nikki Held, provided to Montana Free Press]

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You Got Your Abortion Bill In My Trans Ban!

There was a hell of a lot of news just yesterday about the ongoing effort to make sure women, children, and some men too don’t get any silly ideas about having bodily autonomy, so let’s dig right in, with the reminder that the GOP’s drive to ban abortion everywhere is hugely unpopular with everyone except the hardcore anti-abortion folks who now dominate the Gruesome Orc Party.

North Carolina: GOP Lege Overrides Veto, Passes 12-Week Ban


The Republican supermajority in both houses of the North Carolina Legislature voted Tuesday to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s recent veto, passing a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The veto override wouldn’t have been possible in the state House without the party switch by state Rep. Tricia Cotham, who suddenly announced in April that she had decided to become a Republican. That move cemented a two-thirds GOP majority in the House, and now we’re sure Cotham is very happy with her 30 pieces of flair from GOP donors. Back in ancient times — i.e., January of this year — Cotham cosponsored a bill that would have codified abortion rights into state law, but honestly, who remembers January any more? We have a feeling that voters may remember Cotham’s switcheroo in 2024.

Yesterday’s vote means that there are now no states south of Virginia and east of New Mexico where abortion remains legal and relatively easy to obtain. Even inside the 12-week limit, abortions in North Carolina will require a 72-hour waiting period between an initial visit and the actual provision of abortion services, even for medical abortions using mifepristone, if it remains legal. Doctors must be present when patients take the pill as well. [Politico]

National: Appeals Court Hears Abortion Pill Ban Today

The federal appeals court in New Orleans is hearing oral arguments today in the unspeakably shoddy lawsuit to reverse the FDA’s 2000 approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. The lawsuit, custom made for Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas, should have been laughed out of court from the start because the plaintiffs have no plausible standing in the case, and because the alleged “scientific” evidence that the FDA wrongly approved the drug is crap, but then, that’s the Trump judiciary we have. The case is being heard in the notoriously rightwing Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by a three-judge panel consisting of two Trump appointees and a GW Bush appointee, all of whom have histories of supporting abortion restrictions. One of the judges, Trump appointee James Ho, called abortion a “moral tragedy” in a 2018 opinion, and you just ignore the research showing that 99 percent of women who’ve had abortions continue to believe it was the right choice even several years later. They’ve all been brainwashed to rationalize their decision, you see.

In addition to the bullshit Texas case, the appeals court will also hear the case from Washington state that ruled the FDA can’t reverse its approval of mifepristone. That case has been combined with the one from Texas. In April, the Supreme Court issued a stay on enforcement of Kacsmaryk’s ruling, meaning that mifepristone will remain available at least until the Fifth Circuit rules in the case at some point following today’s arguments. Whatever the outcome, get ready for the entire shitshow of legal uncertainty to start all over again until the case eventually gets to the Supreme Court. [NBC News / AP]

Montana: Greg Gianforte Signs Abortion Restrictions Days After State Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Rights

In Montana Tuesday, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte body-slammed reproductive freedom by signing four anti-abortion bills, which included a 12-week ban on all dilation and evacuation abortions after 15 weeks. Other restrictions signed by Gianforte will add new regulations on clinics and restrict Medicaid coverage for abortions.

As the Montana Free Press reports, Gianforte’s approval of the abortion restrictions came just days after the Montana Supreme Court

upheld a nearly 25-year-old legal precedent allowing abortion access under the state Constitution’s right to privacy. That case, Weems v. State, found that advanced practice nurse practitioners with proper training can provide abortions in Montana and reaffirmed that women have a fundamental right “to seek abortion care from a qualified health care provider of her choosing, absent a clear demonstration of a medically acknowledged, bona fide health risk.”

But then, what does the state supreme court know about state law anyway? Gianforte issued a statement saying he was “proud to round out our legislative session with another suite of pro-life, pro-family bills that protect the lives of unborn babies in Montana,” and if your family includes anyone who thinks they need an abortion, then clearly it’s not a real family.

The legislation is likely to face a legal challenge, what with the earlier state supreme court ruling. Also, as the Montana Free Press notes, the legislation

bars “dismemberment abortion,” a nonmedical term that the legislation defines in part as “the use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug, or other substance or device” to intentionally terminate pregnancies and the “insertion of grasping instruments” to remove a fetus.

The law includes exceptions for the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, and for “medical emergencies,” which of course can be a dicey determination that leads to delays of any treatment until a patient is close to death. Planned Parenthood of Montana immediately filed a motion in state court Tuesday to prevent the new law from being enforced. [Montana Free Press]

Nebraska: GOP Breaks Filibuster Of Anti-Trans Bill By Adding Abortion Ban, Because Why Not Oppress Everyone?

Finally, the GOP’s two most repulsive movements to restrict human freedom merged in Nebraska yesterday, as Republicans in the state’s unicameral Legislature sought to use a ban on abortion to break the three-month filibuster against the Republicans’ attempts to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Democratic state Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh and Megan Hunt (who has a trans son, aged 12) have been absolute BOSSES in their ongoing efforts to kill the anti-trans bill, refusing to allow any legislation at all to move forward until Republicans dropped it. And it worked for months, until yesterday.

Independent reporter Erin Reed reports that in the latest attempt to move the anti-trans bill, LB 574, Republican state Sen. Ben Hansen amended the bill with a ban on abortions after 12 weeks. (Really 10 weeks, since pregnancy by statute “begins” with the the patient’s last missed period.) In addition, his amendment hands all authority on rules related to healthcare for trans youth to the state’s Chief Medical Officer, who of course was appointed by the Republican Gov. Jim Pillen. Says Reed,

While some may label this as a compromise, it feels like a more radical turn. It underlines the unsettling truth that the battles over gender-affirming care and abortion rights are not separate, but rather two faces of the same coin, driven by the same factions, using the same justifications to limit access to vital care.

The amendment technically drops the part of LB 574 that forbids puberty blockers and hormone therapy, instead only banning gender-affirming surgical procedures for anyone under the age of 19. That seems like a compromise, since the vast majority of trans people don’t seek surgery until after they’re adults anyway.

Oh, but then there’s the catch: By transferring all authority to set rules on gender affirming care to the state’s Chief Medical Officer, the amendment simply shifts the banning of puberty blockers and hormone treatment from the Lege to that appointed bureaucrat, Dr. Timothy Tesmer, who will almost certainly eliminate the treatments — and would also be free to add other restrictions that weren’t in the original version of LB 574. Sneaky, huh?

The amended bill moved forward last night in a procedural vote that broke the filibuster by a single vote.

Sen. Cavanaugh this morning gave a powerful speech evoking the words of Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, condemning the dishonest tactics used by Republicans in forcing an end to the filibuster by combining two Republican obsessions, punishing women for having sex, and punishing trans people for existing:

“You literally have to cheat at every moment of this debate. In every possible way, you are cheating. […]

“Women will die. Children are dying. It is your fault. It is your fault! And you are allowing it to happen. You DO literally have blood on your hands, and if you vote for this you will have buckets and buckets of blood on your hands.”

After a final round of debate today, the combined measure is likely to pass — and then the fight to protect trans young people’s lives will shift to the courts. Sen. Hunt noted minutes ago on Twitter that she’s already getting death threats, but she’s not afraid. The more the bastards attack people’s rights to be themselves and to have autonomy over their own bodies, the more they will lose. She also eloquently pointed out that the Nebraska case makes clear once and for all that these are not separate issues (and for that matter, neither are the attacks on schools and libraries).

“Trans rights are directly tied to the greater fight for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy – we are all in this fight together, no one is siloed away from being impacted by the rollback of our collective rights.

“What’s happening in Nebraska is proof.”

Americans are not going to stand for this, and we all need to come together to protect our rights. Get ready for a long fight, and organize, organize, organize. We’ll close with a prayer from Rev. Molly Ivins, from her final column. She was talking about the Iraq War and George W. Bush, but it applies here, today, just as well; just substitute “women and trans kids” for “troops” and it’s right on target:

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them. […] We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, “Stop it, now!”

Amen.

[Erin in the Morning / Omaha World-Herald / Photo: Ted Eytan, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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How the nursing shortage may lead to gaps in sexual assault care | CNN


Missoula, Montana
KFF Health News
 — 

Jacqueline Towarnicki got a text as she finished her day shift at a local clinic. She had a new case, a patient covered in bruises who couldn’t remember how the injuries got there.

Towarnicki’s breath caught, a familiar feeling after four years of working night shifts as a sexual assault nurse examiner in this northwestern Montana city.

“You almost want to curse,” Towarnicki, 38, said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, no, it’s happening.’”

These nights on duty are Towarnicki’s second job. She’s on call once a week and a weekend a month. A survivor may need protection against sexually transmitted infections, medicine to avoid getting pregnant, or evidence collected to prosecute their attacker. Or all the above.

When her phone rings, it’s typically in the middle of the night. Towarnicki tiptoes down the stairs of her home to avoid waking her young son, as her half-asleep husband whispers encouragement into the dark.

Her breath is steady by the time she changes into the clothes she laid out close to her back door before going to bed. She grabs her nurse’s badge and drives to First Step Resource Center, a clinic that offers round-the-clock care for people who have been assaulted.

She wants her patients to know they’re out of danger.

“You meet people in some of their most horrifying, darkest, terrifying times,” Towarnicki said. “Being with them and then seeing who they are when they leave, you don’t get that doing any other job in health care.”

A former travel nurse who lived out of a van for years, Towarnicki is OK with the uncertainty that comes with being a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Most examiners work on-call shifts in addition to full-time jobs. They often work alone and at odd hours. They can collect evidence that could be used in court, are trained to recognize and respond to trauma, and provide care to protect their patients’ bodies from lasting effects of sexual assault.

But their numbers are few.

As many as 80% of U.S. hospitals don’t have sexual assault nurse examiners, often because they either can’t find them or can’t afford them. Nurses struggle to find time for shifts, especially when staffing shortages mean covering long hours. Sexual assault survivors may have to leave their town or even their state to see an examiner.

Gaps in sexual assault care can span hundreds of miles in rural areas. A program in Glendive, Montana — a town of nearly 5,000 residents 35 miles from the North Dakota border — stopped taking patients for examinations this spring. It didn’t have enough nurses to respond to cases.

“These are the same nurses working in the ER, where a heart attack patient could come in,” said Teresea Olson, 56, who is the town’s part-time mayor and also picked up on-call shifts. “The staff was exhausted.”

The next closest option is 75 miles away in Miles City, adding at least an hour to the travel time for patients, some of whom already had to travel hours to reach Glendive.

Nationwide, policymakers have been slow to offer training, funding, and support for the work. Some states and health facilities are trying to expand access to sexual assault response programs.

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a bill to hire a statewide sexual assault coordinator tasked with expanding training and recruiting workers. A Montana law that takes effect July 1 will create a sexual assault response network within the Montana Department of Justice. The new program aims to set standards for that care, provide in-state training, and connect examiners statewide. It will also look at telehealth to fill in gaps, following the example of hospitals in South Dakota and Colorado.

There’s no national tally of where nurses have been trained to respond to sexual assaults, meaning a survivor may not know they have to travel for treatment until they’re sitting in an emergency room or police department.

Sarah Wangerin, a nursing instructor with Montana State University and former examiner, said patients reeling from an attack may instead just go home. For some, leaving town isn’t an option.

This spring, Wangerin called county hospitals and sheriff’s offices to map where sexual assault nurse examiners operate in Montana. She found only 55. More than half of the 45 counties that responded didn’t have any examiners. Just seven counties reported they had nurses trained to respond to cases that involve children.

“We’re failing people,” Wangerin said. “We’re re-traumatizing them by not knowing what to do.”

First Step, in Missoula, is one of the few full-time sexual assault response programs in the state. It’s operated by Providence St. Patrick Hospital but is separate from the main building.

The clinic’s walls are adorned with drawings by kids and mountain landscapes. The staff doesn’t turn on the harsh overhead fluorescent lights, choosing instead to light the space with softer lamps. The lobby includes couches and a rocking chair. There are always heated blankets and snacks on hand.

Kate Harrison turns on her pager at the start of her night shift as a sexual assualt nurse examiner.

First Step stands out for having nurses who stay. Kate Harrison waited roughly a year to join the clinic and is still there three years later, in part because of the staff support.

The specially trained team works together so no one carries too heavy a load. While being on night shift means opening the clinic alone, staffers can debrief tough cases together. They attend group therapy for secondhand trauma.

Harrison is a cardiac hospital nurse during the day, a job that sometimes feels a little too stuck to a clock.

At First Step, she can shift into whatever role her patient needs for as long as they need. Once, that meant sitting for hours on a floor in the lobby of the clinic as a patient cried and talked. Another time, Harrison doubled as a DJ for a nervous patient during an exam, picking music off her cellphone.

“It’s in the middle of the night, she just had this sexual assault happen, and we were just laughing and singing to Shaggy,” Harrison said. “You have this freedom and grace to do that.”

When the solo work is overwhelming or she’s had back-to-back cases and needs a break, she knows a co-worker would be willing to help.

“This work can take you to the undercurrents and the underbelly of society sometimes,” Harrison said. “It takes a team.”

That includes co-workers like Towarnicki, who dropped her work hours at her day job after having her son to keep working as a sexual assault nurse examiner. That meant adding three years to her student loan repayment schedule. Now, pregnant with her second child, the work still feels worth it, she said.

On a recent night, Towarnicki was alone in the clinic, clicking through photos she took of her last patient. The patient opted against filing a police report but asked Towarnicki to log all the evidence just in case.

Towarnicki quietly counted out loud the number of bruises, their sizes and locations, as she took notes. She tells patients who have gaps in their memories that she can’t speculate how each mark got there or give them all the answers they deserve.

But as she sat in the blue light of her computer screen long after her patient left, it was hard to keep from ruminating.

“Totally looks like a hand mark,” Towarnicki said, suddenly loud, as she shook her head.

All the evidence and her patient’s story were sealed and locked away, just feet from a wall of thank-you cards from patients and sticky notes of encouragement among nurses.

On the harder evenings, Towarnicki takes a moment to unwind with a pudding cup from the clinic’s snacks. Most often, she can let go of her patient’s story as she closes the clinic. Part of her healing is “seeing the light returned to people’s eyes, seeing them be able to breathe deeper,” which she said happens 19 out of 20 times.

“There is that one out of 20 where I go home and I am spinning,” Towarnicki said. In those cases, it takes hearing her son’s voice, and time to process, to pull her back. “I feel like if it’s not hard sometimes, maybe you shouldn’t be doing this work.”

It was a little after 11 p.m. as Towarnicki headed home, an early night. She knew her phone could go off again.

Eight more hours on call.

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Herschel, Grifty Walker

Herschel Walker — Hey! Stop throwing stuff at me, this is real news! — appears to have been up to some some mind-blowingly grifty shenanigans during his failed 2022 run against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) last year, according to reporting from the Daily Beast Wednesday. The Beast acquired a bunch of emails between Walker and a company owned by a longtime family friend of Walker’s, billionaire industrial mogul Dennis Washington, who made it big in molybdenum and copper mining in Montana in the ’70s and then expanded into industrialist stuff. (His novelty record, “Big In Molybdenum,” flopped, however.)

In March 2022, the Beast reports, Walker emailed an executive for one of Washington’s companies, conveniently named The Washington Corporations, to ask for money, which candidates do all the time, no big whoop. Except, as reporter Roger Sollenberger explains, candidates definitely don’t make the kind of ask Walker did, because it’s almost certainly illegal as fuck:

Walker wasn’t just asking for donations to his campaign; he was soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars for his own personal company—a company that he never disclosed on his financial statements.

Emails obtained by The Daily Beast—and verified as authentic by a person with knowledge of the exchanges—show that Walker asked Washington to wire $535,200 directly to that undisclosed company, HR Talent, LLC.

And the emails reveal that not only did Washington complete Walker’s wire requests, he was under the impression that these were, in fact, political contributions

In the best possible circumstances, legal experts told The Daily Beast, the emails suggest violations of federal fundraising rules; in the worst case, they could be an indication of more serious crimes, such as wire fraud.

The story is very careful to point out that even though he’d never run for office before, Walker was very well briefed on campaign finance rules from the time he started running in 2021. In one of the emails to Washington, Walker even explained the limits that could be given to his campaign and to his super PAC, “34N22,” so he can’t very well claim he was just a simple country millionaire former football player who’d like to be a werewolf maybe.

While we do have to talk about donation amounts and such, we won’t be going into all the financial ins and outs, because 1) that’s already in the Daily Beast story, and also 2) that would be Math.


Sollenberger adds that after Washington’s people were informed by a third party that the money that had been wired to Walker’s company couldn’t actually be used for political purposes, an executive emailed Walker to ask if the money sent to HR Talent could be redirected to the super PAC instead, but that Walker “appears to have dismissed” those worries. The story now includes an update, noting that the day after it ran,

a spokesperson for Washington said Walker had refunded the money but did not respond to questions about when that happened.

Look, everything’s fine here, we’re fine. How are you?

When Walker was preparing for the runoff election against Raphael Warnock, a November 29 email from Tim McHugh, executive VP for the Washington Corporations, notes that after McHugh had spoken with Walker on the phone about a new $100,000 contribution to the campaign that Walker had requested, McHugh was informed that

“any funds sent to the HR Talent account cannot legally be used for political purposes. Political contributions must go to either the Team Herschel or 34N22 accounts. […] We will need your assistance to get the prior contributions made to the HR Talent account in March corrected.”

Sollenberger decodes that for us:

Walker was not allowed to solicit donations for the super PAC in excess of federal limits, which this amount of money explicitly was. But that was not McHugh’s concern; he was worried about the hundreds of thousands of dollars his boss had wired to HR Talent in March.

But instead of addressing those concerns, Walker wrote back with an email detailing how Washington and his two sons, Kyle and Kevin, could donate $10,800 to his campaign, his recount effort, and his super PAC, with the remainder to go to his company, HR Talent. Yes, again, right after McHugh said hey, I hear that can’t be used for your campaign.

As Sollenberger ‘splains,

The numbers suggest that Walker had worked out a $100,000 arrangement with each Washington, with 95 percent of their contributions going to Walker’s company instead of the super PAC. But while Dennis Washington’s $5,800 campaign donations from the time do appear in FEC records, the $95,400 never hit the super PAC’s account. Kyle and Kevin Washington did not donate any money after the November emails.

Long story short: There’s a lot of hinky stuff in the emails, and campaign finance experts told Sollenberger over and over that they’d never seen anything so insanely grifty:

Saurav Ghosh, director of federal reform at Campaign Legal Center, called the arrangement “jaw-dropping.” Jordan Libowitz, communications director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said if Walker “used the campaign to funnel money into his own business, that’s one of the biggest campaign finance crimes I’ve ever heard of.” Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance lawyer and deputy executive director of Documented, remarked that the exchanges were “stunning and, to my knowledge, without parallel in recent history.”

“Campaign finance laws are designed to prevent massive under-the-table payments like those described here,” Fischer said. “While we don’t have all the facts, these emails point to highly illegal, potentially even criminal activity.”

Libowitz even went so far as to suggest that Walker’s scheme appears to have out-Trumped Donald Trump, because while Trump used campaign donations at his own businesses over and over, there were actual goods and services being purchased at the going market rates (though perhaps on the high side of the going rate, ahem). “Here, the money isn’t being spent by the campaign on Herschel’s businesses,” Libowitz told Sollenberger. “The money never even goes to the campaign. It just goes straight to him.”

But wait, there’s more!

Ghosh, of the Campaign Legal Center, agreed that Walker appears to have violated campaign finance laws, calling the scheme “$500,000 of grift.”

“It appears to be a fake campaign solicitation, designed to just profit personally from someone. That’s brazen in a way that’s off the charts,” he said.

On top of that, Ghosh pointed out that campaign law requires candidates to report all their sources of income, so Walker’s failure to list HR Talent LLC in his financial statements appears to violate the law too. Further, Ghosh said, if Walker had misled Washington about where the money was going — as certainly seems to be the case — “Then we’re in the world of just defrauding somebody.”

“Sounds a lot like wire fraud if the money didn’t make it to the campaign or super PAC,” Ghosh said. “And the fact they tried to do it again shows they’re trying to squeeze this billionaire.”

So what happens now? That would be up to federal prosecutors, who we assume pay attention to the news. And golly, wouldn’t it be something if more on this came out, like with all the stuff on Clarence Thomas that started turning up after ProPublica did some digging?

If this does turn into an investigation, and an investigation turns into an arrest, we have two words of advice for the federal agents assigned to bring Mr. Walker in: Silver bullets.

[Daily Beast]

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Zooey Zephyr’s Taking The Bastards To Court

Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the state’s first transgender lawmaker, isn’t going to let Republicans in the Montana House of Representatives silence her. At least, not without a fight. Last week, you’ll recall, the GOP supermajority voted to censure Zephyr for speaking up too transly against bills banning gender-affirming care and writing trans people out of Montana law. Rather than expelling her like the jerks in Tennessee did to their meddlesome Democrats, the Montana House barred Zephyr from the floor and hearing rooms of the Capitol until the legislative session ends later this week, preventing her from participating in debate while allowing her to vote, remotely and silently, and to watch the same public stream of House proceedings as anyone else can on the internet. So generous!

Previously:

Montana Silences Zooey Zephyr

Montana Republicans Want In On That ‘Expel Democrats’ Thing That Worked So Well For Tennessee

Montana House Republicans Officially Punish Zooey Zephyr For Legislating While Trans

Monday, Zephyr, with help from the Montana ACLU, filed a lawsuit in state court asking for an emergency injunction returning her to the House floor for whatever days remain in the session, arguing that her First Amendment rights had been stomped on. The suit also names several of her constituents as plaintiffs, arguing that the House’s action effectively denied them and the rest of Zephyr’s 11,000 constituents representation.

The AP interviewed one of those plaintiffs, Anna Wong, who has a transgender child and said she’d voted for Zephyr in 2022 because she knew Zephyr would “speak out against the onslaught of bills targeting transgender youth.”

“Suicide amongst transgender youth is not imaginary,” Wong said. “It is not a game and it is not a political foil. It is real. It is heartbreaking. And it is the responsibility of my representative to speak out against bills promoting it.”

That’s exactly what Zephyr was getting at when she spoke against Senate Bill 99, which bans gender-affirming care for trans youth. Zephyr accurately said forcing trans kids to undergo puberty as the sex they don’t identify is “tantamount to torture” and said she hoped that those voting for the bill would “see the blood on your hands” the next time they pray during a House invocation. (Technically, the censure resolution only cited Zephyr’s refusal to leave the floor last week during a demonstration by her supporters. But c’mon, we know why she was silenced.)

While there are only a few days left in the session, the Legislature still hasn’t passed a budget, and Zephyr’s lawsuit seeks her immediate reinstatement so she can represent her constituents in debate on that and other last minute bills.

Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R), whose office will manage the defense in the lawsuit, dismissed it as “performance litigation — political activism masquerading as a lawsuit,” and said that the courts have no power to intervene, because separation of powers.

As Hayes Brown notes at MSNBC, that argument may win out, unfortunately, because the US Constitution gives the US House and Senate the power to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings,” and that generally applies to state legislatures too, because 14th Amendment. Montana’s constitution does indeed allow the Legislature to expel or punish legislators for “good cause,” with a two-thirds vote of the appropriate house.

Zephyr’s lawsuit acknowledges that, but also argues that the House GOP leaders applied the rules unfairly and capriciously, so they were

acting within the “color of the law” — technically allowed but acting against the spirit of the law and beyond the scope of its reach.

Brown notes that the argument that the House is depriving Zephyr’s constituents of representation may be more compelling than the First Amendment claim, since that’s “the most immediate harm that a court could rule on given the closing window for participation.”

But hey better a long shot than no shot at all. Zephyr has, since last week’s vote, been dutifully showing up and sitting on a bench near the entrance to the House chamber to work on her laptop, although yesterday when she arrived, she found the bench had been taken already. So she worked at a table instead, standing up for her community.

Some folks showed up early this morning and sat on the public benches near the entrance to the House, so Seat 31 has moved.

I’m up and ready to work. Plus, I hear stand desks are all the rage these days.

But who were those ladies who made a point of arriving early to occupy the bench where Zephyr had been sitting? Ha ha it was a very funny trick by the wives of several prominent Republicans in the state Lege, including Jolene Regier, the mother of Speaker Matt Regier and wife of Senator Keith Regier. Wasn’t that clever of them? It’s inspiring to see how every aspect of governing in Republican-run states is now given over to trolling the libs!

That is very humorous! Their husbands and sons kept Zephyr off the floor, and then the clever lady tricksters kept her off the bench, haha! Today, supporters of Zephyr made sure to be on the benches as soon as the Capitol doors opened, to save her a spot.

But also this morning, some unidentified opponent of trans rights took a less harmless approach to trying to silence Zephyr, calling the police in an attempt to send a SWAT team to the home of Zephyr’s partner, journalist Erin Reed. Such SWATting attempts have resulted in at least two deaths — one from a police shooting, one from a heart attack — and many incidents in which police arrived at someone’s door ready to use deadly force against a nonexistent threat.

Reed tweeted that the SWATting attempt against her failed, largely because “I’ve worked closely with the police in my community anticipating this,” so there’s one more tip for the journalist toolbox: If you write about issues that make the far-Right insane, let the police know they may get false reports of a hostage situation or other nonexistent crime at your home.

Update/clarification: The SWATting attempt may very well have come from outside Montana, because as indy reporter Alejandra Caraballo said on the Twitters, the dangerous hate troll site Kiwi Farms, which targets trans people and reporters for harassment in hopes that they’ll kill themselves or die in a SWATting, added Reed to its page shortly before the attempted SWATting. They’re pure evil.

This shit can’t be tolerated. Zooey Zephyr isn’t about to let herself be silenced, and neither should any of us who care about equality and freedom. Let your electeds, especially your Republican electeds, know that trans rights matter to you, and that if they think beating up on trans people will win them votes, it’ll also get them very loud opposition, to say nothing of how they may end up in the history books on the same page as the Bull Connors and the George Wallaces.

And if you have some spare Ameros for Zooey Zephyr’s 2024 reelection campaign, keep that in mind too. Montana needs her voice — and hey, she could use some company in the Montana House too.

[AP / MSNBC / Zephyr et al v. Montana]

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Montana Republicans Want In On That ‘Expel Democrats’ Thing That Worked So Well For Tennessee

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.

youtu.be

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.

[Montana Free Press / Helena Independent Record / Montana Free Press]

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Montana Silences Zooey Zephyr

The Montana Legislature this week took up a raft of legislation aimed at eliminating trans people. One bill would write transgender people out of the state’s legal code, requiring that birth certificates, drivers licenses, and even death certificates list only a person’s sex at birth. Another would allow public school teachers to deliberately misgender trans students, with no provision for parents to instruct schools to use the child’s preferred pronouns. A third would amend an anti-porn bill to ban “acts of transgenderism” from any website that doesn’t require age verification, treating most LGBTQ sites as if they were porn.

Finally, both houses passed a final version of Senate Bill 99, which not only bans gender-affirming medical care for minors but also will require trans minors to immediately stop taking their medication, forcing them to begin detransitioning. (At least, unlike in Missouri, adults will be able to continue their medical care. For now.) That’s to “protect” them by forcing them to experience puberty as the sex with which they don’t identify. The bill provides for both civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution against any healthcare provider who “harms” a trans youth by giving them the care recommended by virtually all medical and mental health professional organizations in the US.

PREVIOUSLY: What IS Gender Affirming Health Care For Kids Anyway, Because Texas Is Super F*cking Lying About It Right?

Missouri Attorney General Singlehandedly Bans Care For Trans Adults Too, No Law Required

SB 99 passed both houses once, but Gov. Greg Gianforte sent it back with amendments that, among other things, got rid of the word “procedures” to ensure that all medical treatment was banned — get it, because your medication isn’t a “procedure” — and more extensively defined “sex” more comprehensively around reproductive organs, declaring, “In human beings, there are exactly two sexes, male and female, with two corresponding types of gametes,” do not pass GO, do not collect a tiara if you have a dong. The amended bill passed Wednesday and went to Gianforte for his signature, once more over the protests of pediatricians and other medical professionals who warned again that trans kids will be harmed.

That, after all, was the point.


Blood On Their Hands

It was, finally, too much for first-term state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, Montana’s first trans legislator, who gave a blistering condemnation of the bill, as well as the cover letter Gianforte sent the House regarding his requested amendments. Please watch this speech, since it may well be the last time the Republican supermajority allowed Rep. Zephyr to speak in defense of the trans community.

youtu.be

Zephyr rejected Gianforte’s assertion that SB 99 would “protect” Montana children, saying that forcing puberty on a trans young person amounts to torture. She also rejected his notion that the bill still allows “psychotherapy to treat young Montanans struggling with their gender identity.” But without the transitional medical care that’s actually the proper treatment for gender dysphoria — puberty blockers, with the option of hormone treatment later (most people delay surgery until after they’re 18 anyway) — Zephyr correctly pointed out that the only “psychotherapy” that remains would be “conversion therapy, which is torture.”

But the real fire of Zephyr’s comments was reserved for the state Legislature and for the fraud of SB 99 itself, with its attempt to legislate all humans into a gender binary, an idea as ridiculous, Zephyr said, as legislating that the Earth is flat. As for the claim that “life altering” medical treatment must be delayed until adulthood, Zephyr said,

“If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture. This body should be ashamed.”

House Majority Leader Sue Vinton (R) objected to that, saying that her caucus “will not be shamed.”

Nevertheless, Zephyr persisted.

“Then the only thing I will say is that if you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”

Vinton and nearly all the other Republicans stood to object, and Vinton said that Zephyr’s comments were “inappropriate, disrespectful and uncalled for.”

Freedom’s Just Another Word For Shut Up And Sit Down

Within hours, the “Montana Freedom Caucus” tweeted out a call for Zephyr to be censured, claiming that the Legislature is a place for “civil discourse” while deliberately misgendering Zephyr in both the tweet and the attached press release, and lying that her comments had been “threatening.” We suppose that actually recognizing the blood on their hands might scare them, though.

Zephyr also tweeted a letter from an ER doctor who recently wrote to her that a colleague had treated a suicidal transgender teen who said that they mostly wanted to die because the were constantly being told that their very existence was wrong. The teen

“referenced the current legislative session and told my partner, ‘My state doesn’t want me.’ Please consider that statement and let it sink in. This young teen is so distressed by the laws that you all have been discussing and passing, that they were driven to want to kill themselves.”

Zephyr prefaced the letter by saying, “When I said there is blood on their hands, I meant it.”

This Isn’t Legislating, This Is Genocide

Then yesterday, the House finished debate on SB 458, which enshrines in state law that binary definition of “sex” as either male or female, and nothing else. The law — which is probably unconstitutional, as if that matters anymore — effectively writes trans people out of 41 sections of Montana law. For instance, it specifies that the state’s law against discrimination now means that “a person may not be subjected to discrimination because of sex, as defined in 1-1-201, race, creed, religion, age, physical or mental disability, color, or national origin.” That section, of course, is the bit saying “there are exactly two sexes, male and female,” etc.

Another clause notes that the state’s “fair campaign practices” code means that candidates will pledge to “not make any appeal to prejudice based on race, sex, as defined in 1-1-201, creed, or national origin” — in other words, campaigning on prejudice against trans folks is apparently 100 percent ethical in Montana.

Housing and job discrimination against trans people? Completely legal now. And birth and death certificates and drivers licenses can only list the person’s sex at birth. You’ll be permanently misgendered even in the grave.

You get the idea.

We’re Republicans, We Can Do What We Want

As Zephyr stood to voice her objections to the bill, House Speaker Matt Regier (R), refused to recognize her, which prompted a formal objection from Minority Leader Kim Abbott (D) and other Democrats. Regier said that as speaker, he decides who will speak and who won’t, and that’s that: “It is up to me to maintain decorum here on the House floor, to protect the dignity and integrity, and any representative I don’t feel can do that will not be recognized.”

The Democratic objection led to a meeting of the Rules Committee, where after some debate, the Republicans voted that Regier does indeed have the power to decide who can participate in debate, or not. But before that, the Rs tossed in an incidental threat to also silence Native American Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy (D), for warning that the Legislature was headed down a slippery slope to fascism, how dare she.

Regier later told reporters that unless Zephyr properly apologizes for her rude behavior, she won’t be allowed to speak again for the remainder of the 2023 legislative session, which is likely to run for another two weeks or so.

Zephyr made clear that she has nothing to apologize for, because these bills are going to kill trans kids, just as hatred has already killed trans people:

“I have lost friends to suicide this year,” she said. “I field the calls from multiple families who dealt with suicide attempts, with trans youth who have fled the state, people who have been attacked on the side of the road, because of legislation like this. I spoke with clarity and precision about the harm these bills do. And they say they want an apology, but what they really want is silence as they take away the rights of trans and queer Montanans.”

The Montana Democratic Party and the Montana American Indian Caucus both issued statements condemning the silencing of Zephyr, as well as the Montana Freedom Caucus for misgendering her. The latter statement also praised Zephyr for “speaking up for the Montana trans, nonbinary, and Two-Spirit community,” and condemned the legislature’s passage of laws that “spread disinformation and fear, prevent them from receiving life-saving health care, ban their self-expression, and erase them from all public life.”

Fascist Creeps And Creeping Fascism

Montana’s silencing of Zooey Zephyr is proof that Republicans haven’t learned anything at all from the backlash to Tennessee Republicans’ attempt to silence two Black Democrats who spoke up (without permission, egad!) against gun violence.

Or maybe the Montana GOP did learn something. The House speaker silenced her even though there was no censure resolution at all. Just to add to the farce, the Montana “Freedom” Caucus celebrated Zephyr’s silencing with another press release that flat out lied, claiming that the Legislature had “officially” voted to censure Zephyr. Of course, no such vote happened, just the Rules Committee vote affirming that Regier can silence anyone he wants.

Not like anyone will be allowed to call that a lie in the House. Wouldn’t be civil.

[Erin in the Morning / Daily Montanan / Montana Free Press]

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