Montana Public Radio

Protesters Give Sen Daines An Earful At The State Capitol

Feb 21, 2017

Just before U.S. Senator Steve Daines was scheduled to give a speech in front of Montana lawmakers Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of protesters gathered on the Capitol steps.

The event was organized by a Facebook group called "Bring The Town Hall to Steve Daines".

Its members say their mission is to voice the concerns of constituents who don't feel Sen. Daines is working for their interests in Washington D.C.

Erna Smeets from Bozeman sat on the Capitol steps just before the protest began. She said she participated in Daines' telephone town-hall last week, but wasn’t happy with it.

"I listened to the whole thing. It was just a long period of Senator Daines telling us how wonderful he was, but not answer questions."

Corin Cates-Carney: In that town hall did you have a chance to ask questions?

Erna Smeets: I didn't ask. There were many people who tried. They were then passed on to aids who determined who got to ask the question, and the questions that were asked he didn't answer. So, and people didn’t get a chance to ask follow-up questions. So that is not really a town hall.

About an hour and a half before Senator Daines was scheduled to arrive at the Capitol Tuesday to address Montana's House of Representatives, he postponed his speech, pushing it to Wednesday.

Staff with Senator Daines' office say he pushed his speech back a day to work with his schedule, saying Daines had several other reasons to be in Helena on Wednesday.

This is the second time Daines has postponed speaking to the Montana House this year.

While Daines' office says the most recent rescheduling had nothing to do with the protest, some of those rallying outside the Capitol still took credit for it:

“Take this from a veteran, this is a win. A sitting Senator cancels a speech because we showed up on the capitol steps. That’s people power," said Josh Manning, one of half a dozen speakers at the rally.

Manning criticized Daines for his support of President Donald Trump, and what Manning called "the Putin-Russia-Trump connection."

"[Daines] serves on the homeland security committee and has taken a lead on cybersecurity issues. There are few senators in a better position to call for a thorough investigation of Russian interference in the last election. But go through Daines' press releases, social media, any other public comment, what do you see? Nothing," Manning said.

Other speakers at the rally hit on issues like the Affordable Care Act, which Daines has called fundamentally flawed and says needs to be replaced.

"For me health care has meant being able to get new glasses, regular health checkups and cancer screenings," said Celeste Thompson from Missoula.

"A few years ago I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Thank God they caught it in time. So for me, having access to health care isn't a luxury, it's a matter of life and death."

Other protesters expressed frustration on Daines' stance of not accepting Syrian refugees and wanting more vetting of any refugees entering the country.

Members of Montana’s LGBTQ and Native American communities also spoke about ways they feel Senator Daines is not taking their interests into consideration in his role in the U.S. Senate.

Protesters brought Q-tips to the steps of the Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 21, to protest Sen. Steve Daines’ refusal of a town hall meeting. Protesters said they brought the Q-tips for Daines to clean out his ears.
Credit Freddy Monares - UM Legislative News Service

During the rally Judy Grebenc from Helena held a sign reading "Explain Your Actions."

"[Daines] seems to be a yes man to the Trump Administration," Grebenc said. "He’s not representing us. I'm really really upset. I'm a mother. I'm a grandmother. I'm a great grandmother. I'm worried about Planned Parenthood with granddaughters. I'm worried about the Affordable Care Act. What kind of health care, my future? The future for my family, the citizen's, education, I'm worried about everything."

Organizers of Tuesday's rally say they plan on showing up to Daines’ regional office in Helena next week, and encouraged their supporters to do the same all over the state.

Rally organizers say they want Steve Daines to hold a town hall, in person, to listen to the concerns of Montanans.

On the front page of Senator Daines' website there is a survey anyone can take that asks general questions about what issues and policies are important to constituents.