Notes from the Field / What the Helena 2021

What the Helena – Week 9 [Guest Edition!]

March 10, 2021
*March 7, 2021*

It’s transmittal break and damn are we thankful for the chance to take a breath. Our legislative team has been taking some much needed time for R&R and we hope you are too! It’s been a wild few weeks and our legislators will be hitting the ground running again tomorrow.

We’re incredibly honored and excited to feature two guest columnists this week, Rep. Alice Buckley of Bozeman and Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter from Billings. Read their reflections and thoughts below — these legislators are a damn inspiration.

And don’t forget — we’ve postponed our townhall with these two and it’s sure to be an event you don’t wanna miss. Date coming soon! 

Rep. Alice Buckley | HD 63 – Bozeman

Hi, friends! First of all, thank you so much for paying attention, for being present in the middle of a challenging legislative session, and for being hopeful during bad times. The experience of being in the Capitol can feel both isolating and disheartening and getting to sit down and write down some thoughts to all of you is the opposite of that. It is energizing and comforting to be in the company of folks across the state who also give a shit about our community, our state, and our future.

One of the best parts of transmittal break has been getting to take a step back and process the first half of the legislative session. There’s a lot to share but I want to articulate something that fills me up to the brim: I feel immensely proud of our Democratic caucus. Since Day 1 of the legislature, our little band of 33 has made it clear that we’re in Helena to show up for Montanans. We’ve focused on policies that actually make a difference for young folks, kiddos, working families, and job creation. Against the odds, we’ve pushed a lot of these bills through.

We’ve also been standing up and speaking out against the tidal wave of legislation Republicans have brought that are aimed at marginalizing and discriminating against women, trans folks, disabled, low-income, and BIPOC. [Side bar: where are the jobs bills our Republican legislature and Governor promised?] Losing on a lot of these bills 67-33 feels a bit like getting kicked in the teeth every day but we still continue to show up, speak up, and do what we can to protect and expand opportunity for folks across the state. We’ve even had some wins in the middle of it all.

We are all less mentally well, worse for wear, sleep deprived and less patient and kind than we want to be, but we’re doing it. We’re here for you, we’re here for our communities, and we’re here for the state. Hang in there with us!

Finally, I know a lot of you are interested in how to get involved in the session and what the best, most effective ways of engaging with the issues we all care about look like. First of all, keep paying attention! It’s exhausting to stay present, engaged, and focused with the onslaught of bad legislation, particularly when so much of it has sweeping, restricting impacts on us and those we care about. Email, call, or text legislators, and focus on those on the committee hearing specific legislation.

Most importantly, let’s build up our collective resilience to dig into community organizing, participate in public service (and that means teaching! Planting trees! Running for office! Creating art! Loving your humans!), and imagine a more just, equitable and livable future.

Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter | HD 49 – Billings

I have never been so happy for a break. I am currently typing this from my dining room table enjoying listening to my cats lobby me for their dinner.

I brought two bills this session, both of which died swift and unceremonious deaths last week. 🙁 One was a renter’s rights bill and the other was a Robin Hood tax bill. It would have raised taxes for the rich to give more money to the working poor by raising our state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). I am sad that my bills were killed in committee but I don’t think that this will be the last we will hear of raising the EITC.

Most of my session has been spent figuring out how our state’s budget works. This session I am serving on Appropriations where I help put together the budget for the state. I have spent a lot of my time this session figuring out how to help good things funded and making sure that bad things either die or are less bad.

Before Transmittal, my mornings were spent in meetings with a small group of Senators and House members working on our part of the budget. In the afternoon, we heard bills going through the process that needed money for the policy to work.

So far we’ve found ways to fund compensation for those who are wrongfully convicted (HB 92 – Kelker). I spent most of my session working to get this bad boy out of Approps and on it’s way to the Senate. There’s still work to do on the bill but I am glad it’s on it’s way. We also funded good things such as art museums and cultural centers, special education for K-12 students, and upgrading our state’s emergency communications technology. (a.k.a. making sure 911 works). There are still things I wish we could have killed, such as bills that would disenfranchise voters, a bill legalizing the death penalty and some other bad criminal justice bills that put more people behind bars for longer.

Thank you for all of the work calling and emailing your reps and senators and telling us what you care about. There are some really, really bad things that have died because of the immense amount of public pressure. Keep up the awesome work as we head into the next half of the session. We still have the chance to make sure more very bad ideas do not see the business end of the Governor’s ballpoint pen!

Thanks to these incredible legislators for sharing their reflections with us. And thank you to all of our legislators who are fighting for a more equitable Montana. See you next week!

PS — craving more WTH? We feel you. Check out our special episode of the podcast this week featuring folks from Gallatin County’s Sunrise Movement.