When Alicia Lara picked up a second job and started working at the Jack in the Box in North Highlands, California in 2018, she regularly found herself forced to work through legally mandated breaks. “When I needed a break I’d go to the manager but they wouldn’t give me any of my paid breaks,” Lara said through a translator. “We were understaffed, so we had to keep working.” It’s a form of wage theft, experienced by thousands of low-paid workers in the state’s fast-food industry, according to a new survey released last week by the Service Employees International Union through its Fight for $15 ...
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When Monica Tranel corrected Ryan Zinke on the full name of the monopoly power utility in Montana, the audience broke the “no cheering” rule.
Zinke, the Republican and former congressman running for the U.S. House of Representatives, touted American energy as cleaner and better than foreign energy. He pointed to his opponent, “an environmental attorney” who has sued the power company, as to blame for “Northwest Energy” raising rates.
“To think you’re going to make Montana one giant windmill, and hydrogen is going to provide the power, is just simply nuts,” Zinke said.
Democrat Tranel’s retort with the full name of the power company also served as commentary on Zinke’s residence. Zinke’s wife calls a home in California her primary residence, and he has listed a California mailing address in consulting paperwork.
“It’s NorthWestern Energy, which you would know if you lived here in Montana and paid bills to them,” Tranel said, stressing the “ern” in the name and eliciting the only clapping and cheering of the debate.
Thursday night, Zinke, Tranel and Libertarian John Lamb debated in front of roughly 265 people at Montana Technological University in Butte who mostly heeded the “no cheering, no jeering” rule moderators requested. Lee Enterprises and Montana Public Radio hosted the forum among the candidates running for the state’s new western district.
Friday, political analysts said they didn’t hear the candidates plow new ground in the debate, and the politicians displayed both predicted strategies and less expected ones. It was the second time in the campaign the candidates have faced off in person.
The punchy remark from Missoula’s Tranel about NorthWestern was a memorable line in the hourlong debate, said Christina Barsky, political analyst with the University of Montana: “That was a good zinger.”
But the candidates didn’t diverge from core positions, and Jeremy Johnson, with Carroll College, said without a significant faux pas that’s repeated over and over again to voters, debates aren’t likely to sway most people.
“Generally debates are not game changers, right?” said Johnson, a political science faculty member in Helena.
However, he said there is one group of “persuadable voters,” and part of Zinke’s performance was aimed at them. Zinke, projected to win 94 times out of 100 by FiveThirtyEight, took direct swipes at not only Tranel, but at Lamb, projected to win less than 1 time out of 100.
“Your comment that we should not have a border between Mexico and the U.S. is unsound, unsafe,” said Zinke, former Secretary of the Interior, to Lamb. “Without a border, we don’t have a country. Period.”
Lee Banville, political analyst and journalism professor at UM, said enthusiasm for Zinke among the GOP isn’t high. In attacking Lamb, Zinke’s campaign wants to prevent any push toward the Libertarian.
“If there’s a soft spot, which we saw in the primary, it’s that there are conservative Republicans who are not sold on Ryan Zinke because they voted for Al Olszewski,” Banville said. “I think he’s sort of defending his right flank.”
Zinke was expected to easily win the primary among five candidates. However, the more conservative Olszewski took 40 percent of the vote, and Zinke took 42 percent in a nailbiter.
In recent races, Libertarians have earned as much as 6 percent or 7 percent of the vote, likely pulling support away from Republican candidates, Johnson said. So Zinke, a U.S. Navy SEAL who also attacked Lamb on lack of support for veterans, is trying to consolidate the vote.
“He (Zinke) does not want to bleed voters to the Libertarian side,” Johnson said.
In his own opening comments, Lamb said he doesn’t like big money in politics, and he noted the only campaign manager he has is himself and his wife. Lamb has 12 children, and he noted his wife and six children were sitting in the audience that night.
“I believe that people need a grassroots type candidate to lead this western district, and I believe I’m that middle guy that can do that for Montana,” Lamb said.
A couple of federal investigation reports into Zinke’s actions from his time as U.S. Secretary of the Interior also played a role in the debate. Zinke kicked off his responses to a question about campaign civility by defending himself against findings in the reports, arguing anyone can file complaints, and the federal government has a duty to run them down.
“The things I got investigated on? My socks. My dog. I even got investigated on the horse I rode in on,” Zinke said.
A report in February and one in August from the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of the Interior found Zinke did not tell the truth to investigators about his involvement in a Whitefish development, the subject of the February report, and in his dealings with corporate casino representatives in his decision related to a tribal casino, the subject of the latter report. In both cases, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute.
In her own statements about the reports, Tranel repeatedly told audience members not to trust her own comments or those of her opponents, but to read the documents for themselves. She said she had copies of them available at the event.
Barsky, faculty with the Department of Public Administration and Policy, noted Tranel had also directed candidates to other source materials — for financial information and raw video from an earlier forum — and she was the only candidate who continually advised voters to look up information themselves and to also provide them a place to do so.
“Here’s the fact, and here’s where to find it,” Barsky said of Tranel’s approach.
Instead of just telling voters, she’s leading them to the source, and Barsky said that strategy may be one that helps speak truth to power. In pointing them to evidence and in other comments, Tranel speaks directly to audiences.
“The way that Tranel is presenting herself is as a representative of the people,” Barsky said. “She believes in representative democracy.”
Banville, though, said he expected Tranel to come out harder against Zinke. In particular with the federal investigation reports, both produced under an Inspector General appointed by Trump, Banville said she didn’t go after him as aggressively as she could have.
“It’s not that she was easy on him,” Banville said. “But there are only so many opportunities she’s going to have to sort of land some blows, and this was one of the bigger opportunities.”
Tranel told the audience everything Zinke said to investigators was contradicted by emails, other testimony, and an interview with a U.S. senator. She said she had printed out copies of the reports so people could read for themselves the lies he told to “cover up his corruption.”
“Don’t take his word for it. Don’t take mine. Ryan is lying again,” Tranel said. “It’s what he does best.”
Since Zinke is dismissing the investigations as partisan, Banville said, it’s not impactful for a Democratic candidate to say a Republican candidate was dishonest. Banville said it’s more powerful for people to see the information in the actual documents.
“But that’s a leap of faith that the voters are going to go and do this kind of independent research — and then believe the report that they read,” Banville said.
Zinke and Tranel will meet Saturday in a televised debate by MTN News. Thursday, Tranel urged MTN News to include Lamb as well, who has debated her in other forums without Zinke.
Three candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in Montana’s new western district answered questions Thursday on everything from gun control — all support the Second Amendment — to election security to inflation.
Given that school shootings have reached their highest point since the start of data collection, according to a question from Montana Public Radio, does Congress have a role in preventing future tragedies?
“I’m pro gun,” said Republican Ryan Zinke. “You ain’t taking the guns away from Montana.”
But he said protections for schools are important, as are mental health concerns. He said law enforcement officers need better options when they pull into a driveway and someone is “clearly deranged” than shipping someone to the state mental health facility for 10 days — and having them land right back in the street.
“We need to find a better way to do that,” Zinke said.
Democrat Monica Tranel said the U.S. Constitution has 27 amendments, and she supports them all, first of all. She also said conservative people she’s talked with support longer background checks as a reasonable approach to the problem.
“How do we keep our communities safe and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people?” Tranel said.
John Lamb, a Libertarian, said people have not only a constitutional right to own a gun, but they have a God-given right. And he supports arming teachers, putting guards in schools, and deregulating gun laws.
“We can’t take guns away from good people to stop bad people,” Lamb said.
In direct response to a question about whether Joe Biden was legitimately elected as president, Lamb said he’s the president “whether I like him or I like Trump.” But he confessed he liked neither to mark the ballot.
“I did not vote for either one of them,” he said. “I voted for Jo Jorgensen because I figured … she was a lesser of the two evils.”
Tranel said it’s “irresponsible and nonsense” to suggest that elections aren’t free and secure, and she’s talked to elections officials in Montana who have been on the job for 30 years who are now getting death threats.
“Our elections are fair and secure. And we need to stand by that,” Tranel said.
Zinke said he couldn’t speak to the security of elections in other states, and he said Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “put the finger on the scale.” But he said he thought Montana did a “pretty good job” based on his conversations with county clerks.
“If there was, you know, some tomfoolery, it was small,” Zinke said of the clerks’ assessments.
Candidates also were asked to talk about their plans to address inflation. Zinke said economists will say energy costs and spending are two critical factors, and he criticized Tranel for supporting trillions of dollars of new spending, such as in the Inflation Reduction Act.
“Monica wants to kill … American energy, which will affect Montana’s economy and quite frankly, national security,” Zinke said.
Tranel, though, said she’s the only candidate with a concrete plan to address inflation, and she said her record shows she’s helped Montana’s economy. She also said the top three issues facing Montanans are “housing, housing, and housing,” and her plan offers solutions, including ideas for child care for families.
“I’ve brought hundreds of millions of dollars of new projects, good jobs and real investment here in Montana over the last 25 years,” Tranel said.
Lamb said he talked to a Bozeman veteran who owed $13,000 in taxes and had to sell things because he thought he was going to lose his home. Lamb worries about his own situation, too, with 12 children and $5,000 in taxes to pay in Norris, outside Ennis.
“I’m going to have to sell my farm if this keeps going up,” Lamb said.
Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.
The debate at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg kicked off with a discussion on immigration, which consistently ranks as one of the top issues for Texas voters.
Abbott touted the $4 billion the state has allocated toward border security, including funding to deploy thousands of National Guard troops and Department of Public Safety troopers to the southern border to apprehend the large number of migrants crossing into the state. But he noted that the state shouldn’t be paying any money because the federal government should be stepping up to secure the border.
“What we’re doing is making sure that we are keeping our community safe, and this is completely different than the way things would be under Beto because he said months ago, ‘There is no problem on the border.’ He said that he would reduce immigration enforcement,” Abbott said.
Abbott also blamed Democratic President Joe Biden for the large number of migrants trying to cross into the country through the Texas-Mexico border.
O’Rourke immediately went on the attack, saying Abbott was trying to deflect the blame on immigration as he would on other issues. He noted that Abbott’s expensive border mission has not had the impact of deterring border crossings.
“What we just heard from the governor is what we’re likely to hear over the course of this debate,” O’Rourke said. “He’s going to blame people like President Biden. He’s going to try to lie about my record, and he’s going to distract from his failures, whether it’s his failure to keep the lights on in the grid, his failure to address school shootings or his failure in immigration.”
O’Rourke said the Texas needs a “safe, orderly path” for migrants crossing the border that reflects the values and interests of the state.
The two candidates also clashed over the busing of migrants to Democrat-led cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., with Abbott questioning why O’Rourke did not criticize the busing of migrants by El Paso, his home city. O’Rourke said the two programs were completely different. (El Paso coordinates with the cities it sends migrants to, and Democratic mayors said Abbott refuses to give them any notice.) O’Rourke said Abbott was comparing “apples to oranges.”
Gun control measures were also a major topic of conversation following the deadly shooting of 19 children and two teachers at a Uvalde elementary school in May.
Hours before the debate, a group of about 35 family members of the victims of the Uvalde shooting held a news conference with O’Rourke, announcing their support for him. They criticized Abbott for not taking action after the shooting and for refusing their call for the governor to call a special session to change gun laws to raise the legal age for purchasing an assault rifle from 18 to 21. Abbott has said he believes such a change to the law would be unconstitutional given recent court rulings.
At the debate, Abbott reiterated that he opposed the change in law “purely from a legal position” and said other states that had passed such laws — like Florida — would have to deal with legal battles. Abbott also said he remained opposed to red flag laws because they would deny “lawful Texas gun owners their constitutional right to due process.”
The Uvalde families have also called for the passage of red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily seize firearms from people who are deemed dangerous.
Disclosure: The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Far-right activist smacked down in court again — ordered to pay $125k she owes to Muslim-American group
On Friday, The Daily Beast's Zachary Petrizzo reported that extreme right activist Laura Loomer suffered a blow in court, with a federal appeals judge refusing to overturn a judgment against her. The ruling means she must pay $125,000 to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The ruling stems from a lawsuit Loomer herself filed against CAIR, alleging that the organization colluded with Twitter to have her account banned from the platform. A federal court dismissed the lawsuit, saying she had failed to "provide any facts" to support her claims, and further found Loomer responsible for CAIR's legal expenses defending themselves from the litigation.
According to Mashable, Loomer's lawsuit had been set off by a joke, with two internet pranksters communicating with her by phone and text, convincing her that they were a Twitter whistleblower who had inside information CAIR had influenced the social media giant.
Loomer, who describes herself as "pro-White nationalism," previously stirred national controversy in 2017 and was banned from Uber and Lyft for writing, "Someone needs to create a non Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver." A year later, she was kicked off Twitter for hate speech targeted at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — and subsequently handcuffed herself to the door of Twitter's New York City office in protest.
After that incident, she mounted two failed runs for Congress — the first challenging Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) in the congressional district that includes Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, and the second a primary bid against Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), where she attacked him by claiming he wears a Life Alert monitor.
When she lost her second race, she refused to concede and alleged voter fraud, tearfully proclaiming, "I'm not conceding because I'm a winner! The reality is that our Republican Party is broken to its core!"