Commentary: One State Can Make a Difference

Farmer on a tractor, tilling field

Late last month, Montana ended its participation in the extended federal unemployment benefits program. No surprise this event was little noted in the national press, since Montana’s decision to exit the program had a direct effect on fewer than 20,000 people (the total unemployed population of Montana). Yet Montana’s decision had an enormous effect on the country as a whole.

Particularly for those inside the Beltway, it is easy to focus on Washington, D.C. as the only place where policymaking matters. And with an administration desperate to centralize power as it prints ever-growing piles of money with which it hopes to bribe or threaten states and localities, such an attitude is understandable. Recent developments in states like Montana far outside the beltway, however, show how national political innovations can be driven by states with smaller populations far from the beltway swamp and present conservatives with a path for political success. 

While elections in Montana often are driven by local and idiosyncratic issues as well as personal relationships (understandable in a state with some of America’s least populated state house and senate districts), Montana is and has long been a very red state. The only Democratic presidential candidate since 1948 to win a majority here was Lyndon B. Johnson in his 1964 landslide win over Barry Goldwater. It is much easier to convince and move 1 million people in Montana than 332 million Americans. And yet by moving 1 million Montanans (or 800,000 South Dakotans) or 1.8 million Idahoans, the Right can often exercise an outsized influence on the national debate. 

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Commentary: Montana Governor Strips Mask Fanatics of Their Power

Monanta Gov. Greg Gianforte

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana delivered mask fanatics a hefty, but essential, blow last week when he signed House Bill 257 into law, stripping the few remaining left-leaning health departments in the state of their ability to use their clout and control to dominate the population through unquestioned mask enforcement. The bill declares that counties can no longer require businesses to enforce health mandates, such as mask-wearing or capacity limits and restrictions, or pursue other whimsical edicts or decrees, such as cancel farmer’s markets, prohibit school parades, ban families of spectators at high-school athletic events.

While most Montana counties and towns (including Billings, the largest city in the state with a population of approximately 110,000) removed their mask mandates several weeks, if not months, ago, the university-dominated cities of Missoula and Bozeman, as well as the small, politically mixed capital city of Helena, seemed to be only tightening the screws on chronic mask-wearing. They repeatedly hid, changed, or lied about the markers and metrics for mask mandates’ removal, inexplicably shifting from one theoretical possibility or scenario to another. In the meantime, COVID-19 vaccinations have increased to the point where testing sites and vaccination camps are virtually empty, hospitalizations have plummeted to nonexistent, and deaths from the virus have fallen to the level somewhere between venomous snake bites and automotive fatalities. Yet paradoxically, the healthier and the more strengthened the state, and the more that it has recovered from the numbing side effects of the shameful lockdowns, the further away the remaining mask-obsessed health departments have pushed the date of mask abolition.

Without House Bill 257, the remaining communities would have stayed perennially under the twisted, tight-fisted influence of a handful of marginally knowledgeable, power-intoxicated, unelected bureaucrats who were playing the “follow the Fauci” model of single-minded governance. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. In fact, it would not be hard to imagine a scenario in which one government employee with a mask fetish would continue to bully the populace, terrorizing the summer camps into outside mask-wearing through the hottest days of August or perpetuating mask requirements for children straight into the fall of 2021 or beyond.

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