HELENA - Gov. Brian Schweitzer told fellow Democrats Monday that bills advancing in the Republican-controlled Legislature to "nullify" federal laws in Montana are "anti-American" and do nothing to solve problems faced by the state.
Schweitzer, speaking to a meeting of House Democrats, said if Montanans and others disagree with federal polices, they can advocate for Congress to change them.
"But a state like Montana saying, ‘We will pick and choose which laws we will enforce?' " the governor said. "That's not the American way. ...
"Some of these (bills) are actually passing. ... The nullifying bills are anti-American."
Nearly a dozen bills to declare federal authority "null and void" or unenforceable in Montana have been introduced by Republicans at the 2011 Legislature. Some of the bills have been killed; some are still alive. (See related story.)
On Saturday, the House voted 61-39 for a bill to nullify the federal Endangered Species Act in Montana. All House Democrats and seven Republicans voted against it.
Other nullification bills and resolutions have taken aim at federal health-reform laws, food-safety legislation and the Environmental Protection Agency's authority on greenhouse gases.
One bill would set up a permanent legislative commission to review all federal law for potential nullification; a resolution endorsed Monday by a House panel says Montana can protect itself against "federal incursion" that violates personal freedoms.
Schweitzer walked unannounced into a House Democrats' meeting Monday morning and started talking about the nullification bills, saying they don't represent Montana values and "make us look like we're harkening back to the days of South Carolina" and the Civil War.
"Could you ask (Republicans) just once - Does (this) create a job?" he said. "Does it educate a child? Does it help even one disabled person?"
House Majority Leader Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, brushed off Schweitzer's comments as political theater, and said voters should judge the Republican-controlled Legislature on the work it will complete to help revitalize the economy and bring jobs to the state.
"When all is said and done, that will define what we've done here," he said.
McGillvray also said every lawmaker has the right to introduce bills important to them and their constituents, and that leadership doesn't control them or wish to restrain their enthusiasm.
"We have a lot of passionate representatives (in our caucus)," he said.
House Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said the federal government is "inextricably linked" to the state's economy, with Montana receiving much more in federal funds than its citizens pay in taxes.
"We've earned that money," he said. "If there's something we don't like, we need to work to change it ... not just walk away from it."
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.