I was disheartened to read a recent opinion column by several Democratic legislators from the Bozeman area. Although it can be easy to run away with over-the-top rhetoric in today’s charged political climate, doing so can be counterproductive and even dangerous.
The Democrats from Bozeman crossed that line when they wrote “Few have contributed more to the current COVID spike than have Gallatin County Reps. Jennifer Carlson, R-Manhattan, and Jedidiah Hinkle, R-Belgrade” as they attacked their colleagues for political differences over government-mandated vaccines and state emergency powers.
Blaming two Montana legislators for a spike in COVID-19 is ridiculous. COVID is spiking in communities around the country. Places as far away as Australia are dealing with record numbers of infections. Are Montana laws supporting personal freedom and checks and balances on government power causing outbreaks in Miami, Florida, or Sydney, Australia? Of course not. As a new virus, COVID-19 continues to come and go in waves, mutate, and behave in ways that even health experts don’t fully understand yet.
The Democrats’ statement could be written off as silly if it wasn’t also dangerous. COVID is putting people in the hospital. It’s killing people’s family members. It’s causing angry debate and demonstrations over masks in schools and many other topics. Falsely labeling two local lawmakers as responsible for that invites threats and violence. At least one of them has already received threatening messages.
If you think that kind of over-the-top rhetoric isn’t dangerous, let me remind you that a Bernie Sanders activist shot and maimed Republican members of Congress at a baseball field a few years ago, before COVID had people as angry and on-edge as they are now.
Even without that type of tragic consequence, the Bozeman Democrats’ letter is counterproductive to working relationships and bipartisanship in the Legislature. One of the signers, Rep. Ed Stafman, is the chair of a bipartisan interim committee that Rep. Carlson also serves on. A bipartisan committee chair signing his name to an inflammatory statement like that targeting one of his committee members creates problems for Montana’s long history of cooperative policy work during the interim between legislative sessions.
I agree with Governor Gianforte’s recent statements that it’s unfortunate everything surrounding COVID-19 has become so politicized. All of us who serve in elected positions need to be mindful to not make it even worse.
To Representatives Ed Stafman, Kelly Kortum, Denise Hayman, Jim Hamilton, and Senator JP Pomnichowski: personal attacks are beneath the dignity of the offices in which we all serve. I expect you’ll choose your words more carefully next time.
By: Rep. Sue Vinton
Representative Sue Vinton, R-Billings, is the House Majority Leader