This Montana winter has been a lot like the 2023 Montana Legislature: they’ve both long worn out their welcome.
Sine Die Optimism
"To borrow a witticism often attributed to the great Will Rogers, us taxpayers should be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for."
As usual by the end of the legislative session, nobody is happy. With just 90 short days for Montana’s citizen Legislature to take care of business before breaking for two years, there are countless important, impassioned debates that get left without a resolution. Tempers have flared, bills have been killed and there are a lot of sour grapes.
But the government’s sour grapes aren’t a bug in our system, it’s a feature of what makes Montana so great. To borrow a witticism often attributed to the great Will Rogers, us taxpayers should be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.
Montana is one of just four states left in the country where citizen lawmakers can only make laws that impact our lives, liberty and property once every two years. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. While there have been good arguments for the benefits of moving to an annual legislative session, our current part-time system does generally seem to keep the worst of today’s toxic national politics at bay.
Too many people nowadays have made politics their entire identity, impacting everything from the brands of beer they buy to the friends they choose to keep. Folks are living glued to their phones arguing with strangers online about the latest trending political outrage of the day. As a result of this obsession, one in five people nationally say politics has hurt friendships and family relationships. One in four college applicants avoid entire states for political reasons. Similar to what the Legislature experiences late in the session, the result of this 24/7 politics is that very few Americans are feeling happy with the direction of the country.
You don’t see as much a fixation with politics yet in Montana, and we owe some of that to our part-time citizen Legislature. While things might get heated late in the legislative session, with lawmaking paused for two years there’s simply less fuel to stoke enough outrage to sustain the caliber of political junkies seen in other states. Through the very design of our government, Montanans have made an unconscious choice that the government’s politics won’t be our entire collective identity.
The reach of politics in Montana also has some built-in geographic limits. When I left Helena and ventured out into the mountains last weekend to spend some time glassing for a spring bear, politics was nowhere to be found. Indeed, there’s a lot of places left in Montana where cellphone service is scarce and the media frenzies, mean tweets and committee drama of the politics in Helena or DC hardly get noticed. These areas far from the business of the capitol are where the live and let live spirit of the frontier is still alive and well.
Montana’s wide-open spaces, generous elbow room and abundant public lands have a lot to offer for an individual in need of some real peace and quiet. Our traditions of hunting, hiking, fishing and recreating in our state’s great outdoors cater to a different type of junkie and do wonders for the soul. When Montana’s Legislature ends and our lawmakers must return home for two years, they too will get the benefit of this natural therapy.
If you are a regular reader of my columns, you know that I’m a passionate advocate for government reform and believe in the benefits of active civic engagement.
But I do believe there is virtue in moderation, in politics especially.
This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers.