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Declaration of independence from Republican Party
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Declaration of independence from Republican Party

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Ever hear of Rudy Stanko, well-known in Montana 20-plus years ago? Rudy “Stinko,” you say? Well, maybe. Here’s the story.

Rudy Stanko liked to speed, and it was easy for him to do so because from 1955-1974 and again from 1995-1999, the speed limit in our state was “reasonable and prudent” in the opinion of the arresting officer. This worked well enough when the spirit of the law was respected, but then along came Stanko. In one three-month period, he was clocked exceeding 100 mph three times. Our law enforcement and judicial systems had enough, so the Montana Legislature took up the issue.

By imposing a specific numerical speed limit, any driver could be ticketed for exceeding it. And we no longer had to tolerate drivers like Stanko deliberately endangering public safety, tying up the court docket and wasting police officers’ time.

The strict limits bill passed in Montana, but not without spirited debate. Wyoming had recently changed its undefined speed limit (like Montana’s) to specific speeds, and our feedback was that they liked it. When the 70 mph limit came up in the Montana Senate, the wisecrack was made that the only time Sen. Allen Kolstad drove that slowly was when he was backing out of the garage.

When the bill passed, Stanko was credited as the man responsible, though many prominent legislators had long been advocates for it. It took what amounted to a dangerous prankster to get it done.

It seems we have another deadly prankster in 2020, but his name is Donald Trump. This time, the “prankster’s” issue is the wearing of face masks.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is an ardent advocate for wearing face masks. With Fauci’s credibility and evidence mounting worldwide that masks are effective at mitigating the spread of the deadly virus that has already claimed over 125,000 American lives and decimated small businesses and social life, you might think that wearing one is a “no brainer.”

But Trump’s strongest supporters seem to interpret his indifference as opposition to wearing masks. The prankster-in-chief can be counted on to show up in his MAGA hat, but almost never shows leadership by wearing a mask. His vehement fans now see wearing one as a gesture of disloyalty to Trump, or as caving to the whims of the “experts” or “elites,” and the president encourages this unreasonable and imprudent behavior.

What about Senator Daines and Representative Gianforte? Will they remain seemingly un-persuaded by Dr. Fauci’s expert concerns for human lives at risk? Will they continue to look the other way as Americans careen around the country mask-less, risking public safety much like Rudy Stanko with his foot on the accelerator? With an eye on their election prospects instead of COVID-19 data, only if they get the go-ahead from the president will they do anything but his disastrous bidding.

Montana survived drivers with Rudy Stanko’s recklessness, but the country may not survive Trump’s. For over 70 years, I’ve considered myself a Republican. But after watching Trump’s consistently ignorant and irresponsible leadership, I’ve concluded that in good conscience, I can’t remain a member of the party he has taken over. I won’t vote for him, nor will I vote for his puppets, Greg Gianforte and Steve Daines, who know up-close and personal what a scoundrel he is and should certainly show the courage to stand up to him. They never have. I am declaring my independence from them and their Republican Party. And I’ll be wearing a mask, not blinders.

Bob Brown, of Whitefish, is a former Montana secretary of state and state Senate president. 

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