“Now, more than ever, Montana needs leaders who understand that more government doesn’t mean more prosperity,” said Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings. “Montana needs leaders who know that higher taxes don’t lead to more jobs … and who understand that environmental obstructionism doesn’t put food on the table for struggling families. …
In 2009, Montana’s economy was struggling. Unemployment had nearly doubled while the quality of jobs had declined. Nationally, the mortgage crisis, bank bailouts and healthcare reform all contributed to the erosion of opportunity in the Treasure State.
While Republicans typically oppose tax increases and reject virtually all new taxes, Jeff Essmann regularly defies party principles in attempts to boost the tax burden to fund government growth. Although such legislation is typically carried by Democrats, during the 2009 legislative session Essmann proposed implementing a local option sales tax. Regarding this additional tax, the senator said “Everybody talks about property tax relief, no one does anything about it – this is my attempt to do so.” Opponents criticized the legislation as increasing taxes on not only tourists, but potentially all Montanans and the bill eventually died.
Maybe Essmann was only trying to prepare Montanans for the impending fiscal shock of their lifetimes. The senator rewrote HB 658, to mitigate the impact of Montana’s property tax reappraisals which are mandated every six years. The previously revenue neutral legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mike Jopek (D) who actually voted against the bill after Essmann and his committee dramatically modified the piece. The unpopular legislation passed on the last day of the session, eliminating the possibility of an amendatory veto and it became law without the signature of Governor Schweitzer. As a result of the bill, property taxes for many Montanans skyrocketed during this difficult financial time and Essmann conveniently placed responsibility for his own legislation on Governor Schweitzer and Revenue Director Dan Bucks. Essmann compassionately suggested that Montanans utilize reverse mortgages to cope financially, effectively placing the burden on their heirs.
Now it appears Essmann, the owner of a water vending business, is poised to announce his run at the 2012 GOP Gubernatorial nomination. Montanans- especially Republicans- need to seriously consider whether they are comfortable with the possibility, albeit a remote one; of a tax-lover like Essmann governing the state. The campaign cycle will no doubt be brutal as the race is already very crowded, already featuring a number of other declared candidates – three more from Yellowstone County alone and rumors of others soon to join.
And just when I thought I’d recovered from enduring hours of Essmann the Senator’s pompous,dry, slow speech patterns…. I cannot imagine the level of arrogance he’ll display in his attempts to convince Montanans to hire him as the state’s CEO.
Although a formidable opponent in the bragging department, Rick Hill’s campaign has been plagued by sleazy revelations about his personal life that gained national exposure. Hill’s “Mermaid-Gate” was responsible in part for Politico raising the rating of the 2012 MT Governor’s race, which is now considered the most competitive in the nation.
Corey Stapleton, a former naval officer who served as Montana’s Senate Minority Leader was recently called the “future of the Republican party” by former US Congressman Ron Marlenee. Perhaps best known for sponsoring Otter Creek coal development legislation and saving taxpayers millions by replacing the Montana Department of Revenue’s failed POINTS computer system, Stapleton has thus far managed to avoid most criticism.
Ken Miller, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2004 (who came in third in a four-way primary, ironically placing only ahead of a democrat), believes we should “reject federalism when harmful to state’s rights” and that “we should stand with AZ Governor Jan Brewer”. The TEA party favorite, Miller lacks the support of mainstream Montana Republicans.
Neil Livingstone has the most interesting resume, but is largely unknown to Montanans. Rumors have circulated that he is only using this race to increase name recognition for a 2014 run, but sources in his camp deny this. Jim O’Hara, a Chouteau County Commissioner, is an advocate of wind farms and other renewable sources of energy. He is passionate about world hunger and resource management and also lacks statewide name recognition. Keith Winkler, another Yellowstone County Republican, is largely unknown even in Billings, where he resides.