Here's my quick read on winners and losers in the legislative session. In true blogging fashion, I have based these judgments on virtually no research, so your corrections and improvements are welcome.
Brian Schweitzer: I'm not persuaded that the governor did as well as he thinks he did, but considering that he was breaking in his first elective office with a slim legislative majority, anything this side of total disaster has to be a positive. Give him a B.
Jon Tester: The Senate president promised to be fair and bipartisan, and, by and large, he seemed to keep that promise. Now there's talk he'll run for Congress.
The ACLU: Strange, but true. Not only did public defender legislation pass in an effort to ward off an ACLU suit, the Legislature also lined up behind a resolution against the Patriot Act.
Education: It probably was too much to expect a solution to school funding problems to come out of this session, but Sen. Corey Stapleton, R-Billings, was right: Legislators should have debated education until the bitter end. Heck, I haven't had a day off since January; why shouldn't the Legislature burn 90 days of midnight oil? Back to Helena, folks.
Republicans: As I have noted before, I hold Republican leader Roy Brown in considerable esteem. I think he's smart and honest and fights for what he genuinely thinks is right. But I thought Republicans were much too quick to adopt the minority party role. They ought to have played from a position of strength: We're still the majority party in this state, and don't think a little gerrymandering changes that. Either show some bipartisan cooperation, or eat our dust in the next election. But conservative Republicans can't seem to shed the minority mentality: Sean Hannity has 12 million radio listeners, and his party controls the presidency and both houses of Congress, yet he still sounds every day like a besieged minority. Time to grow up.
Too close to call
Democrats: Interesting session for Democrats. On one hand, they had a fat surplus to spend -- every politician's wet dream. On the other, they had genuine needs to meet from court cases and a dozen years of tight budgets. It's one thing to freeze state workers' pay when the state's struggling to stay in the black, quite another when the Legislature has a couple of hundred million to play around with.
So Democrats had to spend, but they also had to avoid as much as possible the big spender label. Tough trick to pull off, and Republicans weren't eager to make it easier. The spoiler is still school funding. If the Legislature can come out of a special session with a reasonable solution and no big new tax bite, the Dems should be OK. If they don't, well, welcome to 2007.
That's enough for now. I'll add more as needed.