Hucks n Chokes

A representative panel of huckleberries to the members of Missoula’s City Council sworn in this week, newcomers and incumbents alike. The three new councilors — Amber Sherrill of Ward 4, John Contos of Ward 5, and Sandra Vasecka of Ward 6 — join returning councilors Heidi West of Ward 1, Mirtha Becerra of Ward 2 and Gwen Jones of Ward 3, as well as six other council members who are midway through their four-year terms. As Mayor John Engen pointed out during the swearing-in ceremony in City Council Chambers, it’s not required that they all agree — but they do have a duty to listen, to learn and to respect their fellow council members. That goes for their constituents too.

Spray-painted chokecherries to whomever is responsible for the recent graffiti on a home in Stevensville. Dave and Golda Weber have wooden letters that spell “Trump” on the side of their house — which someone apparently took as an invitation to add profanity and anti-Trump messages. Fortunately, kind-hearted neighbors Marie Noell and Steve Fryer took it upon themselves to paint over the graffiti, and one anonymous supporter even mailed the Webers a card with $20 inside. Further, Golda Weber says she has received expressions of support from people on both sides of the political divide. Apolitical huckleberries to these folks for their civic response to an unacceptable act of vandalism.

Huckleberries heading in the right direction to the latest report from the Montana Department of Justice showing that the number of deaths from intimate partner homicide has dropped by almost 50%. Statistics tracked by the state Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission, which has studied domestic violence in Montana since 2000, show an average of 11 intimate partner homicides a year. However, the numbers spiked to 19 and 24 in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and then reduced to 11 in 2017 and 14 in 2018. While still far too high, the latest numbers are a hopeful indicator that fatal partner violence in Montana may be on the decline.

An expanded field of huckleberries to the addition of 16,400 acres of land to the Lolo National Forest, thanks to a deal with The Nature Conservancy. The parcels, which include a “checkerboard” area east of the Flathead Indian Reservation and a big chunk along the east side of the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, were previously owned by the Plum Creek Timber Company, then bought by The Nature Conservancy in 2015 as part of a deal for nearly 117,000 acres. The U.S. Forest Service used nearly $12 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is supported by offshore oil drilling fees and not taxpayer dollars, to purchase the new public land.

An unsettled heap of chokecherries to the endangered state of some $80 million in state infrastructure projects due to a discrepancy in Montana Medicaid. Legislative auditors say up to 135,000 individuals — half the total number of enrollees — may be improperly enrolled. If true, that could cost the state $135 million in federal funds. However, the governor’s office says auditors used the wrong eligibility criteria. Auditors and administrators need to get this issue cleared up and settle on a mutually acceptable method of determining Medicaid eligibility in the future.

Congratulatory huckleberries to Deena Mansour now that she has been officially named head of the esteemed Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center. Mansour, who has been with the center for the past decade and was previously a foreign service officer with the Department of State, was appointed interim executive director more than a year ago, and has amply proven her ability to lead it successfully in its mission to deepen global understanding and relationships.

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This editorial represents the views of Missoulian Publisher Jim Strauss, Editor Gwen Florio and Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen.

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