Here's to working together. Here's to the slow, arduous pursuit of compromise. Here's to the overlooked, underappreciated, unglamorous middle ground. These days, we hear so much from the fringes that it's easy to forget that progress is possible.
When Montana's legislature met in 2011, one fringe ran the show, refusing to budge and leaving the people of Montana in a lurch. Moderates, compromise, and middle ground were scarce around the halls of the Capitol. Instead, we got a heaping helping of grandstanding and chest-pounding, but no progress.
Unsurprisingly, the message at the beginning of this legislative session was completely different. Democratic and Republican leaders seemed to be on the same page, at least on their abstract commitment to work together. But was all the fuss about cooperation just lip service, or did they back up their words with actions?
As Montana's Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, I'm most concerned about consumer protection. My office works everyday to root out fraud and abuse while ensuring Montanans have access to a fair and competitive market. On those important fronts, this legislative session was an undeniable success:
· We passed a law establishing health insurance rate review in Montana. Finally, Montana has joined 48 other states with this critical law that protects consumers from unjustified, unreasonable premium hikes.
· We fully funded Insure Montana, the wildly popular small business health insurance program that more than 8,000 Montanans rely on for coverage. Small businesses are the engine of Montana's economy, and Insure Montana helps them stay competitive.
· We passed landmark legislation for Patient-Centered Medical Homes in Montana. The medical home model is health care reform done right: market-driven reform that is proven to reduce the cost of care.
· Montana became the first state in the nation to adopt tough new laws against pyramid schemes, which have cost Montanans millions of dollars in recent years. The new laws will let my office root out schemes before they take hold.
· We provided dedicated funding for the Securities Restitution Assistance Fund, which helps victims of investment fraud get back on their feet.
We owe these successes to the moderate majority: members of both parties who were willing to work together on commonsense ideas. I thank Rep. Jeff Welborn (R-Dillon), Sen. Dave Wanzenried (D-Missoula), Rep. Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls), Rep. Tom Berry (R-Roundup) and many more for their vision and commitment to compromise.
Rep. Chuck Hunter (D-Helena) and Sen. Jon Sesso (D-Butte), the Democratic minority leaders, did a tremendous job of building relationships across the aisle and making the moderate majority a powerful force for common sense this session. As a former legislator, l know that's no small task.
Unfortunately, the moderate majority couldn't capitalize on one of the largest economic opportunities this session, Medicaid expansion. On Medicaid, partisanship won the day.
Without Medicaid expansion, more than 70,000 Montanans will be without affordable health coverage next year. We'll miss the opportunity to create 14,000 new, good-paying jobs in the medical field. We'll still pay for it through federal taxes, but rather than giving those dollars back to invest in Montana, the federal government will just spend them in other states.
But in the spirit of moderation and compromise, I refuse to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. What we saw in this legislative session was the return of compromise, at least in part. Here's to hoping we see more of the once-endangered moderates in the very near future.