CC Dems Convention builds relationships

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, May 9, 2019
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Photo by Eleanor Guerrero
Senator Margie McDonald was the guest speaker at the Carbon County Democratic Convention in Red Lodge.

On Thursday, May 2, the Carbon County Democrats held their annual convention. It took place in Red Lodge at Honeys. State Senator Margie MacDonald was guest speaker. She provided an update on the last legislative session. 

There were about 35 in attendance. 

Carbon County Democratic President Kim Gillam hosted the event. Stress was upon the party being a uniting force in the state centering around common issues of health care, keeping pharmaceutical prices down, protecting Medicaid expansion which covers 95,000 Montanans. Supporting proven Pre-K education, creating jobs and Montanans’ unique determination to honor our civil liberties were other concerns common to all. 

“Who in Carbon County wants to lose their hospital?” asked McDonald. She noted that the other party does not support many of these issues despite what they say. Look to the actual votes of your local representatives, she advises. “I don’t think they (people) track the way their representatives are not upholding vital institutions that are also critical to their counties.”

McDonald found praise for Governor Steve Bullock. “He’s done a lot of things that are pretty remarkable... Reaching across the aisle to fix the pension system. He brought together all the partners. Getting to solvency again. We’re a lot better off than other states. He’s done amazing things!”

McDonald praised the idea of Democrats and Republicans both holding power such as with the current Democratic Governor and Republican Legislature. “It creates a dynamic tension and there is energy behind it.” More is accomplished than with one party in total control which is not Montana’s way.

McDonald spoke about several legislative bills' successes and failures the last Legislative Session.

The bond bill failed because she believed the seats had changed so dramatically with term limits that new legislators did not have familiarity with government bonds and were reluctant to dive in unless more informed. “There was a lot of turnover. They thought bonds were ‘scary.’” 

Finally she said, “People said we need a long term vision of how we use bonding. The state is paying off its bonds and not bonding new. There is a bi-partisan consensus now: you do need infrastructure to power the economy. To resolve it, they used Utah’s model with a bonding allowance that has caps-one based upon economic growth. They saw you need to invest in critical infrastructure to keep growing and keep the public safe.” As a result, an $80 million infrastructure bill was passed with cash and bonds to support it. “We brought back roads and bridges, water systems, waste water systems. Hopefully, we will continue to invest in infrastructure moving forward.”

They passed SB270. “Before this bill, pharmacies couldn’t disclose generic alternatives; now, they can. Little things can mean a lot.”

Regarding Pre-K terminating through the Legislature failing to support STARS beyond this year, “My heart broken. It’s a huge loss. It was a real breakdown. No money goes further in the educational system than money spent on high risk four year olds. The data is overwhelming.” She called it a “political dysfunction.” Instead of expanding to 4,000, “we lost the Pre-K slots we had. We’ll turn around and fight that fight again,” she vowed. 

She decried a housing bill that did not pass. Workforce housing is one of the tools that Billings and Red Lodge need. “Workforce housing is absolutely critical to growing our economy. The market prices are 25 percent over what workers can pay.” This was the 406 Impact Zone bill. “It uses tax credits-that came out of the Reagan Administration. It was extremely successful. Montana invests a little bit of money. It could leverage a lot of money if we put some money on the table. That’s a novel concept!” she laughed. Again she promised, “We’ll work more on it.” 

For our firefighters, they passed SB38 the Community Paramedicine Bill. It allows the paramedics more leeway and puts less pressure on them.  It was a local Fire Dept./ EMT pilot program. “There are lots of reasons we are losing our volunteers.” But she sees Cut Bank and Red Lodge both as good examples of wise use of their EMTs. The current law can’t keep someone from calling 911. If there’s an emergency call the person has to go to the hospital. With this bill, there is more capacity for the EMT volunteers to work with the patients. One example was an elderly amputee who was able to come home weeks earlier from the hospital because his local EMT under this pilot program could do wound care locally. This saves money for the public and does well for rural areas. She noted legislatively, “There was no support for this from your district.”

Regarding the Medicaid Expansion renewal she noted it will give 30,000 Montanans mental health care and addiction treatment and support for returning to the workforce. “That is huge! Most Medicaid recipients are working. They are usually low wage earners or caregivers themselves. At least 54 percent of Montana business employees are people now covered by expanded Medicaid. The bill is continuing counseling and job training. Montana’s workforce development is tied to Medicaid expansion. This program is the most successful in the country. “We have the highest number transitioning to work. These are not ‘slackers’!” she emphasized.  

McDonald said the bill did make it more onerous for people to comply with greatly increased paperwork. People often have to choose between keeping their job or doing all the time consuming paperwork required. They choose their job, then lose their job for lack of health care when an emergency or illness strikes. 

The Montana Reinsurance bill requires that the feds must approve high ticket holders (high cost insurance), that keeps the rates down. “We hope we can control rising rates in the insurance market and the growing problem of pharmaceutical transparency.”

After going through two terms as a House Representative and into the second term of her Senate seat, McDonald continues to strive for building relationships and fighting for issues that matter. It’s the only way things get done. “We have all had to build relationships,” she concluded.