Community

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.   

Community

Ballot Problems- Again

It’s not every day that Lincoln County makes the news outside of our state. Our recent primary election did just that due to an error in ballot size, resulting in a hand-count that delayed results.

Montana gained a new seat in the house of representatives- and the race to determine the republican nominee for that new seat was a tight one. Tight enough that Ryan Zinke and Al Olszewski had to wait until Lincoln County’s results were counted in order to know who had one (Zinke).

This isn’t exactly the first time we’ve had trouble with the ballots in Lincoln County, though admittedly the last time didn’t leave such widespread headlines. Last year Trego residents incorrectly received ballots for the Eureka Elementary School Board Election, which complicated the counting a bit. Before that, during the last presidential election, an entire box of ballots was left in north county and not counted until days later (County Clerk Robin Benson, running unopposed for reappointment this November, described this as impeccable). Of course, we have been replacing our election administrator, so the trend belongs to the county and not the person. Still, this doesn’t exactly inspire faith for November.

I’ve been complaining about the number of elections by acclamation in our county, but I think I have a new request. In addition to actually having an election, I’d like to have one where only the results made headlines. Hopefully November’s election runs more smoothly.

Community

Fewer Democrats than Hinsdale County

I’m looking at my primary ballots.  Montana has an extremely civilized method of conducting primary elections without forcing people to register with one questionable party or the other.  It’s nice – in South Dakota, the most fervent Democrat I knew had been registered as a Republican for 40 years, just so he could vote in the primaries.  Here, in the privacy of my own home, I can pick the party I want, send it in, and never have to publicly endorse either party.

My Democratic Party ballot includes the names of only three democrats – Monica Tranel, Tom Winter, and Cora Neumann.  They are democrats – Tranel lives in Missoula, Winter in Polson, and Neumann in Bozo.  In short, there are no Lincoln County democrats on the ballot in Lincoln County.  And I don’t have any particular preference for the other 3 – though wikipedia says Monica was an Olympic rower.  I’m not sure that overcomes the achievement of becoming an attorney.  I can think of a couple good reasons to keep attorneys out of the places where laws are made.  Similar arguments go for the clergy.

I’ve checked the telephone book, and found no evidence of Alferd Packer in Lincoln County – but if memory serves (and it does) the 1883 sentencing quote seems relevant: “Alferd Packer, stand up you son of a bitch.  There were seven democrats in Hinsdale County, and you, you voracious man-eating son of a bitch, you ate five of them.  I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead.  You republican cannibal.  I would sentence you to hell itself but the statutes do not permit it.”  (You can check Alferd Packer out on line – I’m writing from memory because I’d rather print the legend – the actual sentence may have been a bit milder)  Here’s Alferd’s picture:

So I look at the empty democratic primary ballot, with the thought that it is difficult to have a two-party system if one party doesn’t show up.  What societal trends have occurred that the metaphysical ghost of Alferd Packer has his imprint on our ballots?  Heck – Alferd left 2 democrats in Hinsdale County – the closest democrat on our ballot is in Polson. 

The ballots show only a single choice in partisan candidates for local political offices.  If I want to make that choice, I can vote for either Brian Teske or Stuart Crismore to fill the blank spot as county commissioner from Libby.  Doubtless, both fine men.  Have to be.  It’s the only spot on the ballot where we actually have an election.  The other candidates will move unopposed into the offices in November.

We need to stop Alferd Packer’s ghost.  Encourage your local democrats to come out of the closet.  I can remember one brave democrat at the county fair, trying to sell me a raffle ticket, with the argument, “Your side has been in power and caused all these problems. You should at least kick a dollar into helping us.”  I asked “Who are the libertarians who have been in power?” and he left.  I’m thinking that I should have kicked a couple dollars in just to encourage the dems to come out into the open – that blank ballot does show the death of a two-party system . . . and history gives me plenty of examples of single party systems.

Let’s be kind to our local democrats, and see if we can stop the ghost of Alferd Packer from roving around Lincoln County.

Community

Why Can’t We Have An Election?

I just got my primary ballot and noticed the extreme lack of candidates. On both ballots there are plenty of positions with one candidate or no candidate at all. If you can only vote for one candidate, is it an election?

The following are running unopposed:

  • Michael Cuffe for State Senator
  • Niel A. Duram for State Representative
  • Jim Hammons for County Commissioner
  • Robin Benson for Clerk and Recorder/Auditor/Assessor/Surveyor
  • Darren Short for Sheriff
  • Steven Schnackenberg for Coroner
  • Marcia Boris for County Attorney
  • Taralee McFadden for County Superintendent of Schools
  • Sedaris Carlberg for County Treasurer
  • Mathew Cuffe for District Court Judge
  • Jay C Sheffield for Justice of the Peace

There is no candidate for public administrator. The only races with multiple candidates will be for United States Representative, for County Commissioner (district 1), for Supreme Court Justice #1, and for Supreme Court Justice #2.

In short, there were multiple candidates to vote for in only 25% of the races.

When was the last election?

It feels a bit odd to be asking “When was the last time there was an election?” about something local. As a kid, I sort of assumed that elections happened everywhere in our country, as scheduled, and it was only foreign countries that lacked elections. Unfortunately, it’s a question worth asking. About the Trego School Board, certainly. Last year, we were writing about vacant school board positions, and the need to get an application in to the school clerk, for an election to be held in May. That’s what should happen (every year). What actually happens (and not just on… Continue reading When was the last election?

Community

Lincoln County Facing More Elections by Acclamation

With the primary ballots available (due back by June 7th), it’s become evident that we can expect more candidates elected by acclamation, since 69% of the races are candidates running uncontested.

Some of our previous comments on local elections:

Be Nice to the Candidates

I can claim that I am an elected school trustee.  So can the school board members in Fortine and Eureka.  Yet I (and probably most of them) was elected by acclamation.  There may be a more politically correct way to describe it – but the reality is that I was elected without anyone voting for me.  A lot of school trustees share that reality – but I don’t believe it is a good situation. The challenge is that, on far too many local boards and commissions, we have the same situation.  When a candidate can be elected by acclamation, without…

Keep reading

Uncontested Elections

What do you call it when only one person runs for office? An uncontested election. It seems like this must be a bad thing, and also that it is increasing in frequency. Is it? It seems, given the explanation about removing term limits at the last Interbel Meeting, that the situation is at least increasing in the telephone cooperatives. Watching the local school board shows a similar trend. How common are they by state? The data’s a bit hard to find- but at least some of it is out there. According to ballotpedia.org in 2020, 100% of Wisconsin’s local elections…

Keep reading

Consolidated Polling Increases The Cost of Voting in Person

It’s only about four and a half miles from downtown Trego to the Volunteer Fire Department for Fortine, which is where we used to go to vote. Going into Eureka (as per that letter we all received from the county) will increase the distance by about thirteen miles (according to google maps). The distance I am supposed to travel to vote just got multiplied by a bit over 3. Of course, I live in downtown Trego, which means that my distance increased less than most. Looking at a map, it looks like the furthest up Fortine Creek Road are now…

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A Science for Everyone, Community, Demography

Thoughts on Inflation

I’ve been watching monetary inflation since 1976 when I voted for Jimmy Carter.  I still don’t give Jimmy full credit for that spate of inflation – Nixon made the call that the US dollar would no longer be backed by gold in August of 1971.

1968 had been an interesting election – I recall the unhappy observation “Nixon, Humphrey, Wallace – three strikes and you’re out.”  The picture below brought back memories of a happier time, when I would add a million dollar Zimbabwe bill to a retirement card, so that my retiring colleagues would be millionaires as they left the university.  Ten bucks bought all the Zim million dollar notes I needed for a slew of retirement receptions.

Now the thing about inflation is that it taxes savers, and can move into being a tax on investors.  If we look at the value of gold during the California Gold Rush – 1849 – it was $18.93 per ounce.  That same value held through the Virginia City days, and basically took Montana from wilderness to statehood.  In 1920, gold finally topped $20 per ounce.  When Franklin Roosevelt was elected President, gold was at $20.69 per ounce – the next year, 1933, it was $26.33.  In 1934, it went to $34.69.

A couple of old Winchester catalogs, from 1900 and 1916, suggest that my Grandfather paid about $19.50 or a little more for his 1894 32 special rifle.  A glance online suggests somewhere close to $1,200 dollars today.  As I write this, gold is going for $1890.35 – roughly 100 times higher than when the rifle was made in 1902 along with the new, more powerful 32 special.  The cost of the rifle hasn’t kept up with gold.  Inflation or not, it’s kind of nice to look off the front porch and see the spot where my grandmother got a four-point in 1922.

At that turn of the century, land here was still available for homesteading – land here in Trego had little value.  Thirty dollars per acre was still a norm for accessible land in the 1950’s.  It’s another basis for calculating inflation – and if memory serves, Lee Harvey Oswald was paid 85 cents per hour in 1963. 

Median family incomes were somewhere around $500 per year in 1900, and had risen to about $3,300 by 1950.  Still, that half century was a time of many new developments and a greatly improved living standard.  Part of the change was that people could buy more – much like during our more recent inflationary times – along with the inflation of the eighties came the personal computer, the compact discs, video players etc.  Technical advances reduced the impact of inflation.

There is a certain irony in Putin’s decision to tie the Russian ruble to the value of gold.  Since that decision the ruble has gone up 6% compared to the US dollar.  He’s kind of the anti-Nixon, creating a stronger currency instead of a weaker one.  I guess that inflation often boils down to a handful of government officials making the decision to print more money.  I have a hunch inflation helps the folks who get the new dollars a lot more than it helps those who are trying to hang on to the existing dollars.

Community, Weird Words

Origins of the Word Rendezvous

One of the reasons that English is described as difficult to learn is the number of words- over 170,000! Of those, the majority are loan-words, words taken from other languages.

The word Rendezvous is one such word. It was appropriated from the French, around 1600 (during a brief period in which Britain and France were not at war- as a result of competition with Spain). The original usage appears to be a verb: rendez vous meaning present yourselves. This then becomes the noun describing the place of meeting we are accustomed to.

English has borrowed from different languages at different times. At the time Rendezvous joined the English vocabulary, a significant number of the new words were coming from French.

About two centuries after Rendezvous was appropriated from the French, William Ashley held the first trappers’ Rendezvous. These lasted for only fifteen years. Some of them were so large as to create temporary towns. Other gatherings in the same time period are occasionally given the same name.. Our local Rendezvous has outlasted the original.

Community, Patches' Pieces

Scraps and Threads Celebrates Another Successful Quilt Show

Held in conjunction with Rendezvous, Scraps and Threads Quilt Guild annual quilt show was well attended. This year the quilt show’s theme was Montana Silhouettes. The fair barn was decorated with silhouettes mostly representing Montana’s wildlife and included live wildlife (a fat mouse) scuttling in the facilities’ bathrooms. With over 100 quilted items on display, there was a variety of techniques and a lot of talent on display. Mel Casey and Shawnna Casazza tied for best theme quilts.  Delora Gauger won the People’s Choice award and 1st place in the large quilts category.  Delora’s extraordinary star quilt required 8 years to complete.

In the adjacent fair barn was a craft show with a mixture of crafts, art work, antiques, plants, clothing and baked goods. Coffee and seating encouraged shoppers to linger and visit. Based on the empty tables and various shopping bags, much retail therapy occurred. -Patches

award winning miniature quilts
Community

Uncontested Elections

What do you call it when only one person runs for office? An uncontested election. It seems like this must be a bad thing, and also that it is increasing in frequency. Is it?

It seems, given the explanation about removing term limits at the last Interbel Meeting, that the situation is at least increasing in the telephone cooperatives. Watching the local school board shows a similar trend.

How common are they by state? The data’s a bit hard to find- but at least some of it is out there. According to ballotpedia.org in 2020, 100% of Wisconsin’s local elections were uncontested. This seems a bit high- and they didn’t cover the local elections for Montana, so we can’t compare.

That said, Massachusetts had 100% for state executive and 75% for state legislative. Alabama and North Dakota were 100% for state judicial. If it’s showing up at the state level, where it really ought to be easier to find two candidates, uncontested elections are likely more frequent at lower levels.

Is this a bad thing? There’s an argument that electing (appointing?) the same people over and over ensures that an experienced person holds the position. However, there’s also an argument that doing so increases the likelihood of solving today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.

And, if the outcome is predetermined, why show up and vote? Our cooperatives have attempted to solve member disengagement by reducing the number required for a quorum. It’s a treatment- but it doesn’t consider any of the underlying causes.

Wildlife

In Case You Missed It

It’s that time of the year again- time to watch for frog eggs, listen for sandhill cranes, examine thatch ants and watch for salamanders.

Game Camera: Sandhill Cranes

Perhaps you’ve heard the distinctive call of the sandhill cranes recently? -Patches We’re actually in at the very south edge of the breeding range for Sandhill Cranes. They’re not particularly picky eaters- they’ll eat snakes, frogs, insects, seeds… Often, we’ll see them in the spring, hunting frogs in shallow water.

Frog Eggs and Toad Eggs

Spring seems to have finally arrived, and soon the pond will be full of little frogs. As it turns out, frog eggs and toad eggs are different, and far easier to tell apart than the tadpoles. Frog eggs typically form nice clumps. -this years batch are particularly muddy. Toad eggs, however, will generally be in… Continue reading Frog Eggs and Toad Eggs

Thatch Ants

Our mound-building ants in this part of the country are Western Thatching Ants, Formica obscuripes.These ants are rather special because they generally have multiple active queens in a single colony – the young queens often help out and reproduce at home, instead of founding their own new colonies…

Usually I don’t see Salamanders

We seem to have made a good location great for salamanders – ours are long-toed salamanders.  Despite being in a near-perfect location for salamanders, most of the time we don’t see them.  The information is online– and the field guide does a pretty good job explaining why we see them rarely.  They’re classified as “mole”… Continue reading Usually I don’t see Salamanders