THE ONLOOKER: Montana experience reflects N.D. session
Montana is not North Dakota's twin, as South Dakota often is said to be. The Dakotas entered the union on the same day. Yet Montana and North Dakota are certainly sibling states. These three and Washington are quadruplets, admitted in a nine-day ...
Montana is not North Dakota's twin, as South Dakota often is said to be. The Dakotas entered the union on the same day.
Yet Montana and North Dakota are certainly sibling states. These three and Washington are quadruplets, admitted in a nine-day period in November 1889.
It was the most frenzied period of state-making in American history, not excepting the 13 colonies, which took collectively more than a year to ratify the Constitution.
Among these quadruplets, North Dakota and South Dakota resemble one another most closely. Montana and Washington are physically similar, too.
But it is North Dakota and Montana that resemble each other most closely as far as politics are concerned. The resemblance is not exact, of course, but it is notable.
This year's legislative sessions only underscored the point.
Both of these states are among a diminishing number whose legislatures meet only in odd-numbered years. Montana's constitution allows 90 days, North Dakota's only 80.
Nevertheless, the sessions adjourned within a day of each other, Montana's on April 28; North Dakota's on April 29.
This is not the only coincidence.
Both legislative assemblies had large Republican majorities.
In Montana, though, the governor is a Democrat, in North Dakota a Republican.
In North Dakota's Legislature, Democrats have been effectively marginalized.
In Montana's Legislature, they are a powerful bloc.
Montana Democrats are a part of the government, in other words. North Dakota Democrats are not.
Numbers play a role, of course.
Montana's Legislature is a bit larger, 100 House members and 50 senators compared with 94 and 47 in North Dakota.
The Republican majority is Montana's House of Representatives is 59-41. In North Dakota, it is 71-23.
In the Senate, the split is 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats in Montana, 32 Republicans and 15 Democrats in North Dakota.
Yet what observers of North Dakota politics have long expected has occurred in Montana, but not in North Dakota. That is the fracturing of a supermajority that creates an opportunity for the minority party.
In other words, Republicans form a more cohesive bloc in North Dakota than in Montana.
This leaves Democrats more isolated in North Dakota than in Montana
Why should this be?
One reason is that Montana Democrats actively sought alliances with Republicans in order to influence legislation. They succeeded, as we'll see in a moment.
In North Dakota, Democrats, perhaps because there are so few, consistently are hostile to Republicans -- just about all Republicans. They are more interested in making points than in making laws.
Evidence of this was abundant in the North Dakota session just adjourned. The oil tax debate showed this most starkly, but it was evident in other areas, too, including the failure -- once again -- of gay rights legislation.