The Montana Supreme Court could have decided one of this year’s election campaigns long before November – a race for a seat on that very court.
In April, a district judge struck Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke’s name from the ballot after ruling he had not been admitted to the bar at least five years prior to the November election.
But the high court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled VanDyke was eligible, and the race between VanDyke and Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat was on. Since then the two have campaigned hard, with VanDyke accusing Wheat of being a partisan Democrat and Wheat countering VanDyke is a conservative activist with few Montana ties.
VanDyke, who was hired by Republican Attorney General Tim Fox in January 2013, said trial lawyers who support Wheat brought the lawsuit.
“It was a win-win for Wheat,” VanDyke said in an email. “Even if they lost in court, they crippled my ability to campaign effectively for months, forced me to rack up huge legal bills and tied up my resources and energies in litigation.”
Wheat said that he was not involved in the case, although admitted knowing the lawyers involved. Instead of his opponent’s eligibility, Wheat said he wants to focus on his own professional record in his race for a full eight-year term.
Wheat is running for the first time, having been appointed to the court by former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2010.
“I think it’s important for people in the court to have a lot of experience, both in life and professionally,” Wheat said.
For Wheat, part of that experience is a term in the Montana State Senate as a Democrat from 2003 to 2005. It’s that experience that VanDyke is focusing on in his campaign to oust him.
“Before he was appointed to the bench a few years ago, Mike Wheat was a partisan politician who repeatedly ran for political office,” VanDyke said.
Wheat is unapologetic about his political past. “Being on the Legislature is one of the experiences in my life that helps me make better decisions,” he said, “but it does not dictate those decisions.”
He added that he is not alone in having served in the Legislature, pointing to current justice and former Republican legislator Jim Rice.
His resume also includes 27 years of running a private law practice out of Bozeman and time as a criminal prosecutor in Butte-Silver Bow County.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, Wheat faces a Montanan whose legal career led him around the country before returning to Montana to take the solicitor general post. After graduating from Montana State University with a degree in engineering, VanDyke attended Harvard Law School, where he wrote for the Harvard Law Review.
He worked at one of the nation’s most prestigious law firms in Washington, D.C., and Dallas before taking a job as assistant solicitor general in Texas.
Although he does not have as much experience practicing law in Montana as Wheat, VanDyke said his work in the attorney general’s office has quickly shaped his understanding of Montana law.
And he said he is driven to run by his concern over what he calls “results-oriented” judging.
“Results-oriented judging is when you pick the result you want and then you write an opinion to get there,” VanDyke said in a judicial forum in September. “We need judges who apply the law as it expresses the will of the people not reading their own will into the law.”
Although the Supreme Court seat is a nonpartisan one, a look at donations to the two lawyers shows a clear party preference for each candidate. VanDyke has attracted several out-of-state donors from Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C., as well as noted conservative activist Greg Gianforte, his wife and their family foundation. He has also received support from the Carbon County Republican Women’s political party committee and the Montana Gas and Oil political action committee.
Almost all of Wheat’s contributions are from in-state donors and the left side of the aisle, including the Montana AFL-CIO political action committee, and the Montana Education Association and the Montana Federation of Teachers political action committee, according to the records.
Between the rhetoric and the campaign donations, the nonpartisan race between Wheat and VanDyke has definitely taken on the feel of a partisan street fight, but how much voters know or care remains to be seen.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:59
The Billings Chamber of Commerce and its Board of Directors has announced the selection of Tom Scott with First Interstate Bank as the 2014 Lifetime Achievement honoree.
This award recognizes an outstanding individual who dedicated his or her career to improving the business climate in our community while giving back to improve our quality of life.
“No one better deserves this type of recognition,” says Chamber Board Chair Ron Yates. “Tom and three generations of the Scott family worked tirelessly operating and expanding First Interstate BancSystem throughout Montana and Wyoming. Tom’s efforts, vision and strong leadership is universally recognized and widely respected.”
Upon hearing he’d been selected for this award, Mr. Scott provided the following statement: “I’m shocked and honored to be selected by the Billings Chamber of Commerce as this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. It is truly humbling to receive such recognition. Billings has been a part of my life for many years, and it will always be a community that I consider home. Thank you for this great honor.”
Tom Scott was born in Sheridan, Wyo., and grew up on the family ranch, beginning his banking career in 1969.
He and his wife, Joan, moved to Billings in 1970 and as the family’s banking interests expanded, Mr. Scott’s responsibilities focused on managing a growing, multi-bank holding company. He currently serves as chairman of the board of First Interstate BancSystem Inc. and served as its chief executive officer from 1978 to 2003, and as a director since 1971.
Mr. Scott’s service includes numerous boards of nonprofit organizations including Leadership Montana’s Governing Board, the Federal Reserve Bank Board of Minneapolis, and the Montana Economic Development Action Group.
Mr. Scott received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the Billings Chamber Annual Meeting luncheon on Sept. 18.
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:52
MISSOULA – Through personal profiles, debates and political analysis, MontanaPBS and Montana Public Radio (MTPR) will help Montanans get to know their United States Congress candidates beyond the advertising and sound bites.
Two documentaries profiling the U.S. House and U.S. Senate candidates will broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, on MontanaPBS. “Lone Representative: Zinke or Lewis” will profile House candidates John Lewis and Ryan Zinke.
Producer Anna Rau said neither candidate has much political experience. “This race is very much about personality and the candidates’ beliefs, since there is very little political record to dig through,” she said. “So the show focuses on their ethics, their upbringing and their political philosophies to inform voters.”
At 7:30 p.m. the U.S. Senate candidate profile “From Both Sides: Curtis vs. Daines” will introduce Amanda Curtis and Steven Daines as individuals, said producer Katie Gilbertson.
“But the candidates also talk about issues they believe Montanans want them to focus on in D.C., and they answer to past votes they’ve taken,” Gilbertson said.
In addition to these two programs, MontanaPBS and MTPR will partner with Montana Television Network stations to broadcast debates between Lewis and Zinke on Saturday, Oct. 4, and Curtis and Daines on Monday, Oct. 20. Both programs will begin at 6 p.m.
The debates will be followed by political analysis. Students and faculty from the UM School of Journalism will provide fact-checking analysis after the Senate debate. The debates also will broadcast on Yellowstone Public Radio.
MontanaPBS and MTPR will broadcast live election coverage on Tuesday, Nov. 4. On Nov. 5, MontanaPBS will review the election with a half-hour special that analyzes the results – from Montana’s Congressional delegation to the State House.
Last Updated on Thursday, 02 October 2014 16:13
Mary Bishop has been appointed the Youth Program coordinator for the Billings Family YMCA.
Born and raised in Great Falls, Mary Bishop earned her bachelor of arts degree in liberal studies with English emphasis degree at Montana State University Billings, and was certified by the state to be a primary preschool teacher in 2011.
With eight years of experience in a preschool teaching, Bishop has been hired as the YMCA’s afternoon preschool teacher, and will also help coordinate afterschool programs and summer camp activities at the Y.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:52
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game wardens are offering a reward for information about a mule deer buck that was killed illegally south of Columbus over the weekend.
Game warden Paul Luepke said the mule deer buck was shot illegally sometime late Saturday or early Sunday on private land eight miles south of Columbus. The poacher removed most of the meat, but left the head and antlers, he said.
FWP is offering a reward of as much as $1,000 for information leading to a conviction of the persons responsible for the illegal kill.
Anyone with information about the crimes is encouraged to call Luepke at (406) 690-8888 or FWP’s 24-hour wildlife tip line at 1-800-TIP-MONT (800-847-6668).
The 1-800-TIP-MONT program is a toll-free number where people can report violations of fish, wildlife or park regulations. Callers may remain anonymous. It is similar to the well-known Crimestoppers program and offers rewards for information resulting in conviction of persons who abuse Montana’s natural, historic or cultural resources.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:22
Billings resident Danielle Egnew could be described as a singer, producer, actress, writer and even a psychic. However, when she spoke at the Western Heritage Center last month, her primary topic was songwriting and how she becomes inspired when doing creative work.
Egnew’s speech was part of the Western Heritage Center’s “Montana Inspiration Project” in which local artists discuss the sources of their creative inspiration.
Egnew says her inspiration has come from multiple different sources. One of these is her home state of Montana.
“I have personally drawn a lot of inspiration from being a Montanan,” she said. “What I noted, with being from Montana, is that the creative people here very much tune into nature to receive inspiration. In Montana, we have not separated ourselves yet from the ground or the sky. One of the hardest things for me while living in Los Angeles for 11 years was that the culture there had separated itself dramatically from nature.”
Egnew told a story about recording her first solo album in 2008 while living in Los Angeles. The album was called “Red Lodge” and inspired by her life in Montana, but she found herself having difficulty with the album because she was separated from the area that she was writing about.
Even though the album proved to be a hit, Egnew learned an important lesson from the experience: She moved her recording studio to Montana and now only lives in Los Angeles when she has to work with other music executives and writers.
“Once I got back here, I could connect again with the ground and the sky and I’ve just been cranking out material,” she said. “I have come to peace with the fact that my creative juices are connected to the ground and the sky. It is better for me to have space around me when I create.”
Like many artists, Egnew has also derived inspiration from her personal experiences.
“Creating stuff, whether it’s a song, a book, or a TV show, is a reflection of the self,” she said. “It’s usually something in the self that you’re trying to work out of your system. For example, I wrote some of my best songs when I was sad and needed to work through pain.”
Egnew suggested to the audience that creative people should stay true to whatever their inspiration may be and provide their audience with a sense of authenticity in everything they create.
“Remember where your center is and don’t place any sort of judgment on where you get your inspiration from,” she said. “You might get inspired by the grass or the bunny rabbits or your tennis shoes. It doesn’t matter as long as you honor whatever you need to honor. To be a creative person, you need to accept who you are in your entirety and not try to be somebody you’re not. … Authenticity in creation is where the joy of creation comes in. Human beings connect with authenticity.”
Egnew says that some of her most popular music has been the songs that were most true to her real life. For example, her solo album “Red Lodge” became her best-selling album ever.
Another example is “Play Some Merle” - a song she wrote recently for legendary country musician Merle Haggard. Egnew’s songwriting partner originally wanted the song to be about Haggard’s life, but Egnew rewrote it and based it on her experiences from touring with her all-female rock group Pope Jane.
“When Pope Jane played in Montana bars and we had gotten to the third set, the audience would start to get full of Jack Daniels and get sick of hearing all original rock music sung by chicks,” she said. “Pretty soon somebody in the back would shout ‘Play some Merle!” Not wanting a beer bottle thrown at my head, I would say ‘Here’s a Merle Haggard song for you’ and then play a Pope Jane song with a country twang to it.”
Egnew drew on this experience to make “Play Some Merle” a story about how a woman at a bar uses a Merle Haggard song to break up a fight. The song became a major hit for Egnew – the song’s music video on YouTube has been watched more than 73,000 times. She has received fan mail from people all over the world complimenting her on the song. But Egnew is especially thrilled about one particular fan.
“I actually got to meet Merle Haggard once and he told me, ‘Hey, that is a great song,’” she said. “That was pretty awesome because he’s usually a very quiet man.”
However, there is a drawback to making art that is so personal. When somebody criticizes your work, she said, it can often feel like they are criticizing you. Thus, Egnew says it is important to separate oneself from criticism.
“If I have a child, that child is not me – it is separate,” she said. “If I have a creative work, that also is separate from me. If somebody doesn’t like the piece, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like me. Not all art is for all people. Art is supposed to make people feel. … If people don’t like your work, you still did something right. You were still able to make them feel something.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 14 August 2014 17:16
Paul Metzger was a millionaire, but you wouldn’t have known that by looking at his apartment.
“His home was very simple,” said Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation. “He had a long couch, an end table, a lamp on that and very few other things around the house. He still had a rotary phone. He lived a humble life and never really took advantage of the opportunities that his success could have given him personally.”
This frugality and a knack for making wise investments helped Metzger to accumulate $38 million before his death in May.
But perhaps Metzger will be most remembered for is his generosity. He left his entire fortune to Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare. Each hospital will receive $19 million - the largest gift ever received by either institution.
“Most of the great healthcare organizations of our country have gotten where they are thanks to philanthropy,” Duncan said. “Think about the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins. A lot of those places carry the names of people that have had a profound difference through their transformational philanthropy. Mr. Metzger is just like that. You’re going to continue to see great things from our organizations because people like Mr. Metzger believe in them and are willing to invest further in them.”
Paul Metzger was born in Laurel on June 29, 1916. His parents, Louis and Nora Metzger, homesteaded on land south of the Yellowstone River between Billings and Laurel. It was here that Metzger learned to live simply - he didn’t live in a house with electricity until the early 1950s when he bought his own farm.
Farming was one of Metzger’s passions and he enjoyed experimenting with different crops. He eventually purchased and expanded his parents’ operation.
Metzger retired from farming life and moved into his apartment in Billings in the mid-1970s.
He then started developing his interest in stock trading. He became a member of the D.A. Davidson Co. the first week that it was opened. He came to the office every day and would often pass the time reading financial magazines and considering how to expand his assets.
“He was here every day, so the whole office can tell stories about him,” said Todd Preston, senior vice president of D.A. Davidson.
It was around this time that Metzger began considering the best use for the wealth he had accumulated. He eventually settled on giving to the hospitals because they had an immense impact on the community in which he had grown up.
Metzger made up his will nearly 30 years ago and never changed his mind .
“I’d ask him periodically if he wanted to put any restrictions on this big gift,” said Metzger’s attorney Gary Everson. “He always said, ‘No, the hospitals will know what’s best to do with it.’ He didn’t want to tie their hands – he wanted to help the community.”
D.A. Davidson employee Stacey Suydam added, “He was a true German. Once he made a decision, he didn’t budge. This was something he was set on from day one.”
Metzger died two months short of his 98th birthday, but his legacy lives on.
“Paul is a great example of the Greatest Generation,” said St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation President Dave Irion. “He started with little, worked hard, saved and believed in the importance of impacting the community in which he grew up.”
Both Duncan and Irion said they were excited about what the sizable donation would mean for their hospitals.
“We hope that these dollars will transform health care for generations to come in the Billings area,” Duncan said.
Irion added that the money would be given in an endowment-like fashion so that “these resources are going to be available for many years to come.”
Neither hospital currently has plans for how to use the money.
“In line with the magnitude of the gift, it is going to take both institutions time to analyze the long-term needs of the hospitals and the proper uses for this gift.” Irion said. “We have an awesome responsibility moving forward, but one thing’s for sure – today is a big day in Billings, Montana.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 07 August 2014 12:12
Robert K. Elder has 6-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, who’ve never been to Billings.
So when Elder brings them to his hometown town in early August, he’s planning to take them to all those places he visited as a kid — including Cody, Wyo., Yellowstone National Park and MontanaFair. Elder hopes also hopes that he and his wife, Betsy Edgerton, can take in one night of the Magic City Blues festival.
“It’s a three-car pileup of things to do,” he said.
And the list doesn’t even include the two events that are bringing Elder back to Billings. One is his Senior High 20th class reunion, on Aug. 8 and 9.
The other is a book party and a screening of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Babcock Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 3. He’ll be the guest of honor, talking about two of the growing number of books he has written while pursuing a journalism career in Chicago.
The two books both deal with movies. One is “The Film That Changed My Life,” in which 30 directors talk about the films, to quote Elder’s website, “that shaped their careers, and, in turn, cinema history.”
The other is “The Best Film You’ve Never Seen,” in which 35 directors pick a movie they really liked but which was overlooked by moviegoers or trashed by the critics.
Elder said he chose “The Wizard of Oz” for the event because it’s a movie for everyone in the family. Coincidentally, according to his website again, it was the movie that changed director John Waters’ life.
Waters says in Elder’s book that “when they throw the water on the witch, she says, ‘Who could ever have thought a good little girl like you could destroy all my beautiful wickedness?’ That line inspired my life. I sometimes say it to myself before I go to sleep, like a prayer.”
The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a reception and book signing. At 7, Jaci Webb, entertainment editor of the Billings Gazette, will conduct a short Q&A with Elder, followed by a showing of “The Wizard of Oz” at 7:20. Tickets are $5.
Elder said the event brings together a lot of threads in his life. He hasn’t done a book signing in Billings since his first book, “John Woo: Interviews,” was published in 2005, and he has fond memories of the Babcock Theater, in the heart of downtown Billings.
It was there he saw the last Indiana Jones movie, the fourth “Star Trek” film and “The Hunt for Red October.”
“I love the Babcock,” he said. “I grew up with it.”
He also remembers the Hastings store where, all through junior high and high school, he rented countless movies.
He put that background to work in his professional life, when he worked as a reporter and film critic in Chicago. He worked for the Chicago Tribune and wrote for, among other publications, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.
Studs Terkel, the legendary Chicago journalist, wrote the introduction to “Last Words of the Executed,” Elder’s compilation of the final statements from death row prisoners.
A little more than a year ago, Elder was named editor-in-chief of Sun-Times Media Local, overseeing 36 publications in suburban Chicago. But why try to summarize his many accomplishments? You’d better go to his website and have a look.
Elder said he is also excited about the Babcock event because it is being produced by Sean Lynch of 11:11 Entertainment. Lynch was three years ahead of Elder and graduated from West High, and Elder remembers contributing a story to a publication put out by Lynch in high school.
For the Babcock event, Elder said, “Sean was wonderfully supportive, as he always is.”
When asked — how could we resist? — to name the film that changed his life, Elder chose “Reservoir Dogs,” Quentin Tarantino’s violent, profane crime film of 1992. Elder first saw it on a video rented from Hastings.
“It just completely blew my mind about what a film could be,” he said, and he remembers it as being the first film in which he felt the overwhelming presence of the director. “You could really feel Tarantino’s DNA stitched inside that film.”
As for a film that he thought was underrated or overlooked, Elder couldn’t settle on one, so he named three: “State of Grace,” a 1990 crime drama starring Sean Penn; “Panic,” 2001, about a reluctant hit man played by William H. Macy; and “Without Limits,” a 1998 biopic about the distance runner Steve Prefontaine.
It sounds like he’ll have a lot to squeeze into that 20-minute Q&A.
Last Updated on Thursday, 31 July 2014 10:48
Fresh peaches from Palisade, Colo., will be here in August.
Each year, the Billings Chi-Tu Do martial arts school sells Rocky Mountain peaches as a fundraiser for the school’s scholarship program. This program enables at-risk and under-resourced children in the community to participate in martial arts training.
These children learn respect, discipline, focus, patience and perseverance through the practice of and participation in martial arts, a news release said.
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 11:28
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is offering a reward of as much as $1,000 for information leading to the conviction of those who illegally killed two deer south of Roundup.
FWP game warden Lee Burrough said someone killed two mule deer on private property off of Fattig Creek Road south of Roundup Sunday night, July 13. The perpetrators field dressed both deer, a buck and a doe. They removed the doe carcass and just the buck’s head, leaving the buck carcass next to the road.
Montana’s deer hunting season was closed at the time. In addition, Montana law makes wanton waste of game meat a crime. Anyone with information about the crimes is encouraged to call Burroughs at (406) 860-7802 or FWP’s 24-hour wildlife tip line at 1-800-TIP-MONT (800-847-6668). The TIP-MONT program is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to a conviction.
The 1-800-TIP-MONT program is a toll-free number where people can report violations of fish, wildlife or park regulations. Callers may remain anonymous.
It is similar to the well-known Crimestoppers program and offers rewards for information resulting in conviction of persons who abuse Montana’s natural, historic or cultural resources.
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 11:20