George Ochenski: political party identity crises

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It’s no surprise citizens find the policies of the two major political parties are leaving them scratching their heads these days. There have been so many flip-flops the old labels of “liberals” and “conservatives” hardly seem applicable in the larger policy arenas at both the state and national level.

Take, for example, the on-going actions by the U.S. House of Representatives, now supposedly in the hands of the “conservative” majority. Only wait a minute, didn’t conservatives used to be the “law and order” party? Sure they did — but no longer.

Back during the battles for civil rights, free speech, and Vietnam War protests, it was the liberals who were howling about the FBI intentionally infiltrating organizations that actively supported those movements. And as history and the release of once-classified documents have revealed, they were quite correct about those nefarious actions under the dark leadership of the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover.

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Now, however, it’s the House conservatives who are against funding the Ukraine war and want to defund the Department of Justice and FBI because they’re providing evidence in the on-going felony prosecutions of the former president. And who is supporting funding the Ukraine war and defending the FBI and Department of Justice? It’s the Democrats.

Likewise, the misnamed “Freedom Caucus” in Congress — and in the Montana Legislature — is about anything but freedom. In the past, it was the conservative Republicans who railed against “government overreach.” Now, however, that “overreach” by conservatives has attained astounding proportions, including telling libraries what books they can’t have, what teachers can’t teach, who individuals can’t love, and what one can’t do with their own body. Each and every one of those actions by the “Freedom” Caucus is the polar opposite of enhancing personal freedoms.

Likewise, here in Montana the “conservatives” have decided their once-lauded support of “local control” is no longer applicable across a wide range of issue areas. The last session the Republican super-majority told cities, towns and counties they could no longer institute local zoning regulations — whether those were supported by their residents or not. And yep, another “freedom” to determine your city’s own future goes down the drain by the new mutant conservatives.

Or how about taxes? Hard to ignore the fact that for the last 50 years Republicans have tried every trick in the book to lower property taxes. Those tricks included numerous raids on the permanent Coal Tax Trust Fund, attempts to pass a sales tax, and various initiatives. Liberals, in the meantime, opposed those measures — usually by arguing that doing so would underfund schools and local government services.

But now, the worm has turned, and it’s the former “tax and spend” Democrats crying out for a special legislative session to reduce the state’s property tax rate since reappraisals have seen property valuations skyrocket by an average of 45% and as high as 67% in some areas.

In the latest development, a number of counties under the umbrella of the Montana Association of Counties has requested an Attorney General’s opinion saying: “Because of the high reappraisal values of homes in Beaverhead County and across the state, it has become glaringly apparent that the state school 95 mills have been incorrectly levied for many years.”

And what does the budget director for ultra-conservative Governor Greg Gianforte have to say? “We have no intention of cutting school funding. It hasn’t been done in 20 years. It doesn’t make sense to cut equalization.”

Obviously our political parties are having an identity crisis — and it’s no surprise it’s leaving citizens with a dang tough time figuring out who is for and against what these days.

George Ochenski is a longtime Helena resident, an environmental activist and Montana’s longest-running columnist.

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