Moderate Breeze- the Background Behind the Member Uprising

The second installment of the Lincoln Electric member uprising.  I need to include a bit of an explanation of the Rural Electrification Act and the Rural Electrification Administration – Rural Electrification Administration (REA) provides a good description of how and why legislation was passed that gave the Electric Cooperatives a financial advantage (over the private electric companies) in providing electrical service to rural areas.  Go ahead – read it.  I’ll wait.

Essentially, the conflict boiled down to structure – a private electric company (Montana Power for example) was supervised by Montana’s Public Service Commission.  With Lincoln Electric (and the other Montana Rural Electric Cooperatives) the assumption is that the coop board members will represent the cooperative’s owners and users.  The slogan is still on the wall: “Owned by the people we serve” and we still hear the deliberate misquote “Owned by the people we screw.”  Both versions can show some support.

I knew most of the board members.  I worked with many on projects unrelated to electricity before and after.  Still, Lincoln Electric’s management only needed to convince six out of ten to go along – and they had worked together for a long time, and developed trust.  Gareth Eaton and Duke Baney weren’t so easy to convince – and it was their dissatisfaction with the explanations that led to the member uprising.  Gareth talked to his son Craig.  Duke shared his concerns with Kenny Gwynn  and Al Luciano.  The management and remainder of the board didn’t see it – but the member uprising was coming.

There’s a 1944 publication online that tells of the strengths and weaknesses of cooperatives at

  1. A cooperative business is set up by a group of individuals to obtain services for themselves at cost—not to obtain profit from rendering services to others.
  2. A cooperative business tries to render the greatest possible benefit to its members—not to make the largest possible profit.
  3. A cooperative distributes any surplus income over the cost of doing business among those who are served by it, in proportion to their use of its services—not in proportion to their investment.
  4. A cooperative is controlled by its patron members, each of whom ordinarily is allowed a single vote—not by the owners of its capital stock, if any, in proportion to the number of shares they hold.

    In other words, the chief aim of cooperative business, as contrasted with other kinds of business, is to provide goods and services to its members at cost. A cooperative does not engage in buying and selling in order to make a profit for its members. Although it may buy and sell from the general public in order to carry on its own business, this is incidental to its chief aim—serving its members.

A common problem with co-ops is that the organization is theoretically operated for the benefit of its members, but there is a tendency for co-ops to shift from that emphasis to being operated more directly for the benefit of the employees.  A glance at Lincoln Electric’s declining numbers for a quorum at the annual meeting suggests that a lack of general interest from most of the membership.  At the most recent annual meeting, the report on the website shows 101 members required for a quorum and 25 employees of the cooperative.  Those numbers show how difficult it is to “render the greatest possible benefit to its members” as a priority over rendering the greatest possible benefit to its employees.  It is a natural tendency of management to look for agreeable board members.  (Board members have been known to argue against this statement, but I have yet to be convinced by those arguments)

The big concern that led to the members revolt was that the manager was retiring, had pretty much selected his own successor, and the board supported paying him his full wages for the next two years as a consultant.  Another concern was nepotism.  The electric service was probably close to the best in the state, and office services were available to the public 5 days a week. 

Next installment:  Force 5: Fresh Breeze – small trees in leaf begin to sway


Salmon: That Time of the Year Again

The Salmon are running in the local creeks again. Salmon are a fish that spawn and hatch in one place and do their growing in another. This makes them a transporter of energy between places, in the case of many salmon between the open ocean and forest streams. Our local salmon are not ocean salmon. There are two species of salmon in Montana- the Chinook Salmon (introduced in the Fort Peck Reservour) and the Kokanee Salmon (first introduced in Flathead lake).

Trego School recently completed it’s annual fall fishing trip, taking advantage of salmon run. Fishing for Salmon this type of year is a slightly different process than other types of fishing: Salmon Snagging

Salmon Snagging

Salmon snagging is not like other forms of fishing. I was introduced to it as an adult, and to me fishing is the art of deception, of all those careful and clever tricks to convince a fish to bite. Fishing is fancy lures, artfully designed to mimic a tasty insect, or endless patience (it’s possible… Continue reading Salmon Snagging


The NRA Shows Montana’s Noncompetitive Elections

This time I didn’t need to bother our overworked election officials to find out how many and which of our state senators and representatives will be unopposed on November’s ballot.  I could go to and find out . . . as well as learning the candidates NRA grades.

Unopposed for the State House are:

District 1         Steve Gunderson (R)                          District 2         Neil Durham (R)

District 6         Amy Regier (R)                                   District 8         Terry Falk (R)

District 9         Tony Brockman (R)                            District 11       Tanner Smith (R)

District 14       Denley Loge (R)                                 District 16       Tyson Running Wolf (D)

District 18       Llew Jones (R)                                    District 19       Russel Miner (R)

District 27       Josh Kassmier (R)                               District 29       Douglas Flament (R)

District 32       Jonathan Windy Boy (D)                    District 34       Rhonda Knudsen (R)

District 35       Brandon Ler (R)                                  District 36       Bob Phalen (R)

District 37       Jerry Schillinger (R)                            District 39       Gary Parry (R)

District 40       Greg Oblander (R)                             District 43       Kerri Seekins-Crowe (R)

District 45       Katie Zolnikov (R)                              District 53       Nelly Nicol (R)

District 54       Terry Moore (R)                                 District 55       Lee Deming (R)

District 56       Sue Vinton (R)                                   District 66       Eric Matthews (D)

District 71       Ken Walsh (R)                                   District 75       Marta Bertoglio (R)

District 78       Gregory Frazer (R)                             District 80       Becky Beard (R)

District 81       Ron Marshall (R)

Thirty-one of Montana’s 100 state representatives have no opponent in the general election.  Since legislative districts are apportioned according to population, this essentially translates to 31% of Montanans not having a choice on their state representative in November – because subsection 7 is ignored by their county election administrators.                                

In the State Senate, the following are unopposed:

District 1         Michael Cuffe (R)                                 District 5         Mark Noland (R)

District 9         Bruce Gillespie (R)                               District 19       Kenneth Bogner (R)

District 20       Barry Usher (R)                                     District 27       Dennis Lenz (R)

District 29       Forrest Mandeville (R)

Since state senate terms are 4 years, only 25 state senators are up for election this year.  The 7 unopposed candidates translates to 28% of Montana voters not having a choice on their state senator in the upcoming election – because subsection 7 is ignored by county election administrators. At least the folks voting for a US Senator in Pennsylvania can choose between a pair of bad candidates – here in Lincoln County when the primary ballot is printed, choice vanishes.  The problem here is not bad candidates – it’s that subsection 7 is being ignored and the voter’s last option for choice is taken away by unelected administrators.  I would probably vote for Mike Cuffe and Neil Durham . . . but with the decision already locked in stone by Paula, why bother?          




The Working Class Extinction

Claremont Institute has an article called “The Looming Extinction of the Working Class.”

It begins with this paragraph: “You can’t have a democracy—at least outside of a one-party “people’s” version—without a middle class. Much of the last half millennia is the story of the bumpy rise of an expanding middle class, which successfully replaced ancient aristocratic structures, creating a remarkably innovative economic culture and a vital democratic society. But over the last four decades, this class—which includes artisans, small business people, and skilled workers—has been declining, largely as the result of economic forces but also because of political decisions to adopt policies inimical to those groups’ needs.”

I think the statement is about right – I came to the decision in early adulthood that small business ownership – particularly retail – was no place for me.  I never went so far as to describe the reason as “political decisions to adopt policies inimical to those groups’ needs” – but I won’t argue with the statement.

The article describes the influence of the Netherlands in developing the bourgeois class and the republican form of government:

“Across Europe, the old medieval order was undermined by a diminishing threat of invasion, more efficient agricultural practices, a demographic rebound, and the revival of commerce and urban culture, particularly around the Mediterranean and the Baltic.[11]

But it was in the Netherlands where the bourgeois class flourished most. At a time when property ownership was limited to a few, Netherlanders expanded their territory by draining swamps and building dikes, establishing new farms and businesses. Improvements in agricultural methods led to an early commercialization of the countryside and fueled a wider economic boom. As the economic historian Jan de Vries observed, “capitalism grew out of the soil in Holland.”[12]

After expelling their Spanish Habsburg rulers in the seventeenth century, the Dutch built the world’s most powerful maritime empire, with a fleet larger than all the rest of Europe’s combined. Amsterdam’s large port bustled with a rich trade in foodstuffs, hemp, hops, and dye plants. The opportunistic Dutch expanded their commercial activity in part by pioneering technological changes decades ahead of their competitors.[13]

But arguably their greatest achievement lay in creating a republic free from aristocratic or clerical domination.[14] The growing ranks of proprietors set down “the geographical roots of republican liberty,” notes historian Simon Schama.[15] Dutch culture was family-centered, inventive, sober, frugal, and tolerant.[16] Although it was majority Calvinist, the country boasted large colonies of Catholics, Jews, and other outsiders, including Muslims; indeed, roughly one-third of Amsterdam’s population in 1650 was foreign-born, though European.”

Further in, the article goes into our more recent history: “Between 1940 and 1950, the incomes of the bottom 40 percent of American workers surged by roughly 40 percent, while the gains in the top quintile were a modest 8 percent and the top 5 percent saw their incomes drop slightly.[33] Between 2005 and 2014, the percentage of families with flat or decreasing real incomes rose to over 60 percent in the twenty-five most advanced economies.”

Under the heading “Why the Middle Class Declined we find: “these remarkable achievments of liberal capitalism are now distinctly threatened. This is likely not a “conspiracy” but the collective result of private actions driven by rational decision-making.

Until the 1990s, fields that were growing and promised higher profits invited newcomers, as one would expect.[36] Since then, there has been a marked decrease in the percentage of all small firms in both the United States and Europe as larger firms continue to increase their share of the pie.[37] Technology has played a critical role by facilitating global commerce and, increasingly, driving business from the Main Streets and local companies to massive firms with the ability to adjust to changing conditions.[38] . . . Roughly one hundred and ten thousand restaurants have shut down during the lockdowns, and some two hundred thousand more businesses overall have simply shut down.[40] It is no surprise that barely 16 percent of small business owners, according to one recent survey, think the federal government is performing well for them.[41] As executive compensation reached the stratosphere at the big tech and finance firms, the Harvard Business Review notes that small businesses—the bulwark of the yeoman class—face “an existential threat” to their existence.[42] The pandemic shift clearly favored big companies, who could deploy far greater resources make the necessary transition to the new reality. Big Pharma companies have reined in lucrative profits with vaccine revenue.[43] CEO compensation reached record levels this year; investment bankers on Wall Street enjoyed record bonuses; and the giant tech firms now boast a market capitalization greater than the bloated federal budget.[44] The biggest tech firms achieved new record valuations and ever-increasing domination. As millions struggle to fill their gas tanks and pay their rent, sales of business jets to the rising ranks of billionaires have soared to new heights.[45]

As the article move on to the effects of “the clerisy” – the group the author identifies as responsible for the end of the working class – we note that author Joel Kotkin doesn’t feel that the extinction of the middle class is inevitable – but he looks at it as a social trend – not a conspiracy theory.  It’s worth reading.


Bridging the Gap Between Public School and Home School

There’s often a conflict between public school educators and home schooling parents. Parents that choose to home school are invested in education, they want the best for their kids- but their often invested in a version of education that looks somewhat different (or looks beyond) the typical public school classroom.

Certainly, it’s an easy area for conflict. The choice to home school after public schooling is often the result of conflict with a school district. And, a teacher is inclined to believe that the way they are teaching, their classroom instruction, is the best way of educating a child (if they didn’t- they’d be doing it differently, after all). So a teacher can hear an implied criticism in a parent’s decision to home school. Hurt feelings abound, even without the exchange of hurtful words.

Which is why in what should be a conversation between reasonable adults, all educators, all people who care very deeply about children and their education, conflict arises needlessly. A defensive school district says “No, you can’t come on our field trips.” Or “No, you can’t come for just one class.” And isn’t making that decision based on educating children, but in response to hurt feelings, to the sense of criticism they feel from a parent’s choice.

But a home school family still pays taxes to fund the local school. And they should still be part of the client base the school considers. School districts have a bad habit of treating school enrollment as a “all or nothing, my way or the high way” situation, when it shouldn’t be.

The best education available to a child may include both individual instruction in math, from a parent who once taught the subject, and art classes from a qualified art teacher at the public school. Education should never be one-size-fits-all, because children are not one-size-fits-all. Who better to know that, and to make the choices, than a child’s parents.

Hybridizing the home school/public school model offers the best of both worlds. I’m happy to say that our local school district is finally on board. This year, the district is accepting part-time enrollments, with a block schedule that makes that feasible even for families that are far off the beaten path. Hopefully our district will continue to view parents as partners in the educational process.


Light Breeze . . . Vane sets to wind, sock begins to fill

I’ve been asked several times to put the story of the 1988 member uprising that replaced the Lincoln Electric Board on paper.  I suppose it should be written down – few electric cooperatives have had successful member uprisings, and, of the most active members of CREAM (Concerned REA Members), only Craig Eaton and I are still around to tell the tale.  Kenny Gwynn, Al Luciano, Duke Baney have long since passed on, but this is their story just as well.

And I am not going to identify the inside source.  Promised to keep the secret over 30 years ago, and the promise is still good.  Not going to tell you if our source – the other side used the word snitch – is male or female, alive or dead. 

I wasn’t involved at the beginning.  We started watching the board meetings in June or July, when Craig had commented on nepotism in LEC hiring.  The June 27, 1988 issue of the Mountain Ear headlines “Lincoln Electric Has New Nepotism Policy.”  “The new policy prohibits hiring of relatives (of management and supervisory employees) of the third degree and closer.”  July 25 included, “The board discussed proposed policy #700.  Policy #700 will require the public to be on the agenda before being heard.  The policy seems to be in response to Craig Eaton’s appearance before the board last May.”  September 5 headlined “REA Manager to Retire” and described how the manager would stay in Eureka for two years after retirement, as a consultant, with no managerial responsibilities or duties, receiving his regular salary as fixed in June 11, 1989.

In retrospect, it’s obvious things were heating up, and we were reporting them.  In the September 19 issue, I commented that I had 3 months off because of a broken back.  On September 26th we wrote:

“We’ve been attending Lincoln Electric co-op meetings for about 3 months now–since Craig Eaton told of nepotism in REA hiring. 
By and large, we hadn’t seen a need to cover these meetings before.  I turn the switch, and my lights, computer, whatever go on.  Trego has better electric service than anywhere else I’ve lived or worked–and considering the places I’ve packed a computer into as a consultant, that says a lot.
Unfortunately, several of the trustees, along with Craig Eaton, have brought us to the realization that you can’t judge every aspect of your electric co-op by pulling a light switch in the morning.
There’s a story to be told, and some accusations to be investigated.  We’ll be running a series of articles on the REA covering the accusations and making our own conclusions.  The Mountain Ear is too small a publication to cover all this in a single issue, and advertising is the tail that wags the dog–we can’t afford the single issue approach.
Besides, with this much controversy, we’ll get even better readership during the next couple of months.   


Documents from Darris

I got a handful of documents from Darris Flanagan the other day – one was an ego booster . . . a copy of an article from 1980 in the Montana Farmer Stockman, telling about the gravity sprinkler systems we’d been setting up as we built new siphons for Glen Lake Irrigation District.  It had a picture of me, pointing out a gushing leak on the Sinclair Siphon.  I was younger then.  The quotes from Dick Brinton brought memories back of an old friend.  If I had an “I love me wall” I’d think about posting it.

Another was notes taken by Shirley Farley from a visit with my mother.  There was some information that was new to me, and some that was foggy.  The notes on Trego School might be a bit confusing, but they’re what we have:

“Herrig was the teacher in 1924 and for several other years.”  (I assume this was the wife of Ant Flat’s first Ranger, Fred Herrig)  Leola was an Ingram.  She married Phil Delager and then Walt Ritter. (Leola was Trego’s school clerk in the sixties)

Mr. Belmont taught in the new white school across the road from the present school ball field.

The lunch room cooks rotated shifts for 2 weeks.  They received no pay, but their children did not have to pay for their hot lunches.

There were 5 schools in Trego:

            First: Brown Log across from present ball field.

            Second:  White in same location.

            Third: White across the road from the first two – where present ball field is located.

            The first 3 schools burned.  The third one burned in 1945.

            Fourth: White school in the same location as the one that burned in 1945.  Abandoned when tunnel was built.

Fifth: Present school on top of hill behind teacherage.  Location selected by Loretta Johnson Todd.

She took notes on the old families:

Dexter Schemerhorn built a small cabin on a stream by the Fortine Place.  He was one of the first settlers.  (Now following that story might lead into Eureka’s politics)

Also the Homiers were among the first settlers.  There were 3 Homier brothers: Trifle, Eli and Frank.  It is believed they came from Quebec.  Eli married a girl named Anne who had previously been married to Isaac White.  Ann and Isaac had a son named George who lived in Trego until he moved his family to Helena in 1959 so he could be near the VA hospital at Fort Harrison for diabetic care. 

Trifley had a daughter named Lorraine.  She married Joe LaBelle.  Two brothers live in Libby.

(As we were getting the house built by the pond, in 2015, one of the drivers delivering material explained his family had been early residents of Trego.  He introduced himself as O’Mier, and since I’d met George Homier when I was really young, I knew the H was silent.  During the 20th century, the family appears to have gone from French-Canadian to Irish.)

Thanks, Darris – occasionally fragments of stories can provide more data


Air Quality: Unhealthy

Looking at the air quality index is showing numbers in the red- over 150 and thus considered unhealthy. In fact, as I look, there’s an air quality alert issued by the national weather service (on behalf of Montana DEQ apparently).

Unhealthy, not just for sensitive groups, means that everyone ought to be limiting strenuous outdoor activity, and those in sensitive groups (kids, the elderly, those with respiratory illnesses, etc.) should avoid it entirely.

Why reduce activity? Because the amount of particles you’re taking into your lungs is dependent on a few factors: Amount of particles in the air, Length of Exposure, Rate of Breathing

Thus, longer and more strenuous activity increases the exposure to potential toxins in the air. Wildfire smoke is a potent mix of toxins: carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and particles. The particles are actually some of the more dangerous components- the smallest of them can actually travel from the lungs directly into the bloodstream.

Where is all the smoke coming from anyway? Check out the Fire and Smoke Map. It doesn’t just show the air quality reports, it also shows smoke plumes and active fires. Interested in more particulars about the air quality- Today’s Air is a good source, though most weather sites seem to be providing that information now as well.

Reusing photos from 2020- because, really, it’s good to remember we’ve seen this before (and also, I’m still proud of how it came out). The smoke sure rolls in fast!

200 Years of Batteries

The first battery was developed slightly over 200 years ago; Electricity was poorly understood when Alessandro Volta created the voltaic pile from alternating disks of zinc and silver. A facsimile can be done at home, using coins and salt water, though the purity of the metal in the coins makes the experiment somewhat more difficult than it once was.

The first commercial batteries followed, mostly after Michael Faraday developed the laws of electrochemistry in the 1830’s. Some thirty years after that, the first rechargeable battery was developed, a lead-acid battery.

For context, the first battery preceded the light bulb by almost eighty years. It preceded the automobile by slightly more than eighty years.