Dismal Jobs Report Means It’s Time For Real Change In Great Falls

We should be at the Defcon 1 level of concern after hearing Brett Doney’s comments about our local economy. His analysis in this instance is very disturbing but not surprising.

Not surprising to me because I’ve been watching what I call the ‘Glass Half Empty/Half Full Switcheroo” for a long time in this town. Here’s how it works:

Politicians and the heads of taxpayer funded non-profits and government agencies all understand that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The various organizational and political poobahs have become adept at massaging statistics to meet their situational needs. When it’s election time or time for the public and/or higher-ups to be convinced how great you or your organization are, out come the ‘facts’ and figures showing how rosy and wonderful everything is. But if you’re not an incumbent or your organization needs more funding, you trot out the dim and dire numbers to convince everyone how essential you or your organization is to the survival of common interests.

Doney’s statements are disturbing for obvious reasons. A net loss of 707 jobs in our already stagnant, low-wage economy is potentially devastating. To hear such alarming stats and assessments coming from the leader of our local economic development agency makes me wonder when the usual suspects who comprise the good ol’ boys and girls network here are going to start calling for his head for such negative blasphemy.

“We’ve lost the equivalent in the last couple of years in the City more than the nation lost in the Great Recession.”

“And frankly, these numbers scare the hell out of me.”

Good heavens! If I were to make a public statement coming anywhere even close to these made by Doney, the City Commission and the downtown elite would have my head on a spike in front of the Civic Center with a placard reading, “Such will be the fate of all nay-saying nabobs of negativity who dare to question.”

The fact is that Doney’s pitch for CDBG grant funds here actually contains the brutal and inconvenient truth: things are not all sunny and rosy right here in River City. I’m afraid that because most of the power players with money and influence who are currently calling the shots in Great Falls are doing well, they assume that everybody else must be too.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that the little bubble of old Great Falls money, non-profit organizations and government entities is blissfully unaware of the struggle going on here. Doney touched on it by pointing out that there are too many citizens working two or three low wage service sector jobs to make ends meet. And this lack of higher wages combined with a stagnant population “…puts tremendous pressure on the City, on the County, on healthcare, and all of the social agencies in town.”

Great Falls has a thriving poverty industry – non-profits and government agencies that do pretty well for themselves under the mandate to help the less fortunate. It’s a good mission but the goal should be less poverty and dependence and fewer non-profit/government jobs, not more. And certainly not a local economy based on poverty which benefits the few. We are also seeing a growing child abuse, substance abuse, gambling and crime problem here, which are all exacerbated by low wages and a stagnant and limited tax base.

We need a growing population and an expanding economy with more primary, private sector employers paying higher wages. Unfortunately, Doney’s assessment makes it clear that we are moving in the opposite direction.

My personal opinion is that we’ve been doing the same thing and getting the same results for a long, long time in Great Falls. We should try something new, encourage new and different solutions from outside the box. We should invite new and different voices and try some bold action. We have a whole lot of potential in Great Falls but we need more hard and honest evaluation, and most of all we need a common vision and agreed upon goals.

Guest Opinion: Rise Above Partisanship, Legislators

The Montana Legislature meets for ninety days every two years. Please, oh please, Representative Dude and Senator Dudette, don’t make us wish it was two days every ninety years.

Be civil. Be sensible. Don’t put your party or your own political ambitions above doing what’s right.

The efficacy of your work won’t be judged by the number of bills you pass, your ideological purity, or your good intentions. Your work this session will be judged by the real impact it has on the prosperity, liberty and opportunities preserved for your constituents.

For example, it was reported that Senate President Scott Sales, Republican from Bozeman, said recently at the Montana Chamber breakfast that he would probably not vote for any infrastructure bill. I hope that any Republican who thinks that way would reconsider.

While government wasteful spending is bad, bad, bad, common sense says – no, screams – that building and repairing public infrastructure is exactly the kind of spending state and local governments should be focusing on. As long as the goal is to promote the common good and not to create more bureaucracy and make-work for favored constituencies, well planned and carefully prioritized infrastructure is exactly what our state needs.

We sorely need to create an economic climate in Montana that attracts and retains more and higher paying private sector jobs. Roads, bridges, water projects and high speed internet, etc., are essential to that end. So lets not play, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the ideologically purest of them all?” on either side of the aisle.

By the way, and here I digress a bit, Senator Sales is one of the GOP contestants in the “Who Wants To Replace Ryan Zinke?” show. A couple of others who have thrown in their Montana cowboy hats are Great Falls’ own, Republican Senator Ed Buttrey and Democrat Casey Schreiner.

Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte, Public Service Commission Vice Chair (and Great Falls High School grad) Travis Kavulla, newly elected State Auditor Matt Rosendale and Democrat Rep. Amanda Curtis are a few other names rumored to be possible entries in the Congressional race.

The state Central Committees from each party will entertain their respective list of interested candidates and select one to go on to a special election sometime in the very near future. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a U.S. Congressperson from Great Falls? Yes, Rick, it would be way cool.

Anyway, back to our Montana legislative session. Congratulations and good luck to all of those who are sacrificing to go to Helena and serve as citizen legislators. We need you all to behave with honesty, integrity and goodwill. We love our Treasure State and we don’t want to be in the economic doldrums anymore. We have yuuuuuuuge potential here and we are trusting y’all to get ‘er done in the next 90 days.

In conclusion, all of you hardworking Montana Reps and Sens shouldn’t think of yourselves as Democrats or Republicans. Instead, think of yourselves as employees under the watchful eye of your boss. Because that is exactly what you are. Now get to work.