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Sen. Greg Hertz, chair of the Montana Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, published a recent op-ed proclaiming that “Montana Republicans will protect your freedoms.” While this op-ed may help his fundraising efforts, it twists the facts like a pretzel. Rather than spewing divisive and polarizing rhetoric, Republicans like Hertz would do better to take a good, hard look in the mirror and work on sensible policies that benefit Montanans. Democrats in the last session were laser focused on improving the lives of ordinary Montanans, promoting affordable housing, access to child care, sensible COVID-19 policy, improving our health care and mental health systems, protecting our public lands and wildlife, and addressing climate and energy issues, all of which were blocked by Republicans.The good senator’s claims about Republican bills in the last session are highly misleading. He fails to mention that over 80% of the Republicans’ supposed tax cuts go to Montana’s wealthiest 20%. While the average Montana family may save only a measly $50, the family with a million-dollar income will save over $1,500. And that doesn’t count the ability Hertz and his party created for Montana’s wealthiest to receive tax credits for as much as $200,000 for donating to private religious schools, depriving public schools of those tax dollars. Republicans chose these tax breaks for the wealthy over funding our collapsing mental health system, critical care for the elderly and those with disabilities, and housing for at risk youth. In recent weeks, we’ve seen how the Montana State Hospital, children’s mental health programs, and Montana’s mental health facilities are barely functioning and vulnerable children are being sent out of state for help instead of staying in Montana. We’re losing health care workers, mental health professionals, and teachers because Republicans prioritized tax breaks for the wealthy.Perhaps the senator should explain how such policies enhance our “freedoms” and help Montanans.The senator’s other claims are equally misleading. So-called Republican “voter integrity” laws are in reality voter disenfranchisement laws. The senator well knows Montana’s elections are free and fair (and resulted in a Republican sweep), and that these new laws are merely an attempt to advance the “Big Lie.” In fact, Montana’s elections are some of the most secure in the nation. New Republican laws “limiting government’s ability” in the public health arena are in reality laws dismantling our public health systems and putting Montanans’ health at risk.Religious freedom in Montana is already robust, and any person can practice any religion of their choosing. New Republican laws that purport to “protect everyone’s religious freedom” are just more Republican identity politics to bully minority Montanans. New laws blocking access to abortion violate Montana women’s fundamental right to autonomy. Instead of empty rhetoric, perhaps the senator can explain how Republicans’ disrespect for families and intrusion on our privacy enhances our freedoms.While Republicans are advancing their radical culture war policies, the good senator falsely claims that Democrats are focused on so-called critical race theory, defunding the police, and opposing control of the southern border. We must have attended a different legislative session because none of these subjects were raised by Montana Democrats even once. CRT is not taught in Montana’s K-12 schools, Montana Democrats have a demonstrated history of supporting public safety, and Montana doesn’t have jurisdiction over the southern border.The Republican sweep of all statewide Montana offices and nearly two-thirds of the legislature has done nothing to advance freedoms for everyday Montanans. It has just made the wealthy wealthier, sold our wildlife to the highest bidder, and resulted in an unprecedented power grab by the far right.
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Representative Mary Ann Dunwell (D-Helena/East Helena) represents House District 84 in the Montana Legislature. Representative Jessica Karjala (D-Billings) represents House District 48.
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