Rep. Kris Hansen blamed much of the criticism of the Montana Legislature on the Helena press corps that she says spends too much time on hot-button issues but ignores other issues of importance.
As reported by Havre Daily News reporter Tim Leeds, Hansen lashed out at the press corps at a community meeting last week.
“The only time, the only time, they have got up to actually turn those stinking cameras on and turn those stinking recorders on was when there was an issue like that so that there would be headlines and something for you to yell at us about,” she said. “It is unbelievable, it is unbelievable, the stuff that we sit down there and do for the good of Montana every day that gets nothing, that gets no attention, and you have no idea we’re even doing it.
“Now, you take that into consideration when you are making those charges, because we are not going down there and doing nothing,” Hansen added.
The press corps covers issues such as corner crossings for hunters and gun control, but when it comes time to discuss more substantive issues, they put down their pens and go out for a pop, Hansen said.
Now, this wouldn’t be the first time the press and politicians disagree on what should be covered and how, but from my openly biased viewpoint, I think the Helena press corps is pretty outstanding.
For starters, on Page A6 of Monday's paper, Community News Service reporter Amy Sisk wrote yards of copy on issues facing the legislature, and there was nary a word on gun control, getting out of the United Nations or any number of other issues that legislators, not reporter, have brought up.
And the four overworked reporters for The Associated Press Helena bureau who cover the comings and goings of the legislature — while keeping an eye on day-to-day events from Kalispell to Ekalaka — do a great job of taking the complex issues facing the Legislature and making them easy to understand.
And the Havre Daily News’ Tim Leeds covers events that have a direct impact on the Hi-Line.
Because of the world of Twitter, I can follow coverage by reporters from the state’s larger newspapers who also provide excellent coverage.
You see, I’m a Legislature nerd. I spend hours in front of the television watching lawmakers conduct the public’s business. I know, get a life.
But when I read the coverage in the state’s newspapers, I feel I’m getting a pretty good synopsis of what’s happening down there in Helena.
Just the same, the Montana Legislature, the news coverage notwithstanding, is one of the most civil and orderly I’ve seen in the states I’ve lived in.
In my native New York, most of the time is spent rounding up lawmakers from the far corners of the Capitol or neighboring booze halls for quorum calls or to vote the way the party leadership has decided they should vote.
It’s been years, but the last I knew, the leadership barred use of still cameras, not less television cameras. Leaders thought the pictures newspaper photographers took made it look like lawmakers dozed off during the 18-hour sessions. The reason for that is lawmakers dozed off during the 18-hour sessions.
Not too many years ago, the Democrats seized control of the New York Senate in a special election. The Senate met, Democrats took control, and then Democrats, fearful that two of their own would defect to become Republicans and give the GOP control, locked the Senate doors. With Capitol police stationed at the door, legislative action came to a standstill for two weeks.
What a fine moment for the New York Legislature.
Reporters didn’t have any pop for those two weeks.
So, with its orderly processes and well-ordered meetings, the Montana Legislature is no comparison to the sensationalism New York offers.
But when it debates the important issues of the day, you can watch it on TV. Or if you care to, you can just read accurate accounts in the state’s newspapers.
(John Kelleher is managing editor of the Havre Daily News. He can be reached at jkelleher@havredailynews, 406-265-6795, ext. 17, or 406-390-0798.)