Hundreds of huckleberries to the more than 300 candidates who filed for the chance to hold a public office representing their fellow Montanans this election cycle. On Monday, the last day to sign up with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office and have their names appear on the ballot, 56 candidates filed to run for seats in the Montana Legislature, bringing the total number of legislative candidates to 292. Yet 20 legislative districts and two seats on the Montana Supreme Court received only one applicant, meaning there will be no meaningful election; instead, the sole candidate will win by default. Thankfully, there are plenty of choices in other key races, such as the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and candidates from five different political parties – Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Independent and Green Party – have qualified for the ballot.
Disparately distributed chokecherries to the jarring news that Montana is experiencing the fastest-growing rate of income inequality in the nation. The career website Zippia recently released a summary of U.S. Census Bureau data covering the period from 2010 to 2016, and found that income inequality in the state increased by nearly 5 percent. Montana was in 30th place for overall income inequality at last count, which is higher than surrounding states. One explanation for the growing gap is the sharply rising price of housing in Montana; the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana recently reported that housing costs have increased 40 percent over the past seven years, while income has increased by only 10 percent.
Historic huckleberries to the signing of a major water settlement that will allow the Blackfeet Tribe to move forward with important infrastructure development. In a ceremony in Browning attended by Blackfeet tribal members – including veterans, council members and Chief Earl Old Person – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed the documents to effectively transfer the first payment of a $470 million settlement that was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2009 and signed by President Obama in 2016. The initial $800,000 will allow the tribe to improve and expand irrigation and community water systems, while also providing for better fisheries management, among other benefits. As Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes told Zinke, “This will have a tremendous impact on our children and grandchildren. It will impact the Blackfeet people for years to come.”
Dismayed chokecherries to Missoula County’s 11th-place ranking in a report on the healthiest counties in Montana. The ninth annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report used 30 different criteria, from exercise opportunities to air pollution, to sort out where each county stands in relation to its neighbors. Nine of Montana’s 56 counties, however, were not ranked. According to the report, Madison, Jefferson, Gallatin, Carbon and Fergus counties are the overall healthiest in the state, in that order. Surprisingly, Missoula County didn’t even crack the top 10 and worse, the data revealed increased rates of obesity and sexually transmitted infections.
Honorary huckleberries to Matt Jolly and Larry Bradshaw, two local fire scientists who recently received high honors in their field for developing an easy-to-understand fire risk rating system. The new National Fire Danger Rating System will replace the old – and ever more complicated – system that has been in use since 1922. The new system, which makes use of modern technology and existing methods of organizing large amounts of information, earned Jolly and Bradshaw the U.S. Forest Service’s highest recognition for innovation and initiative in fire research, the Gleeson Award.