IT IS hard to imagine reading about Montana government and politics without seeing the bylines of Chuck Johnson or Mike Dennison. But that appears to be the case in the face of reports that both journalists are leaving their jobs May 29. 

Montanans will lose a tremendous amount of depth and insight that their reporting brought. Johnson has been covering Montana issues since the early 1970s; Dennison almost as long. They are like walking, talking Wikipedias on Montana issues -- with more of a human touch, of course.

Johnson plans to retire, while Dennison is looking for a new job. Praise for the two poured in from many quarters. 

"It's a loss for everyone who cares about informed civic discussion of statewide politics," said Dennis Swibold, a University of Montana journalism professor.

"The loss of the Lee Bureau is a hit to the watchdog role of Montana media," said Great Falls Tribune publisher Jim Strauss.

UPDATE: Years ago, in another life, I worked with Chuck in the Great Falls Tribune’s Capitol Bureau. He was one of the hard-working, if not hardest-working, journalists I’d been around in my three decades in the profession. More than that, he was thorough, a stickler for details, fair – qualities you don’t always see in reporters today. At the same time, I saw in him compassion and concern for those around him.

People are rightly concerned about what his departure means for the future of news coverage of Montana government and political, but there’s also concern for him as a person. He wasn’t really ready for retirement, I think, and isn’t leaving on his own terms. That’s sad.

But he still has much offer in whatever comes next.

So, too, does Mike Dennison. Smart and talented, Mike will no doubt find a way to continue to contribute to the betterment of Montana life -- though he sneak in little more time on the links before he does it.

Good luck to both -- Steve Shirley


SHOULD  Montana lower its flag to half-staff in the wake of this news: An online survey found that Americans believe Montana has one of the ugliest state flags? More specifically, they ranked it the 49th worst flag, right behind Nebraska's.

New Mexico's flag was rated the best.

The survey was conducted by Ted Kaye, the author of a book on flag design called "Good Flag, Bad Flag" and the North American Vexilollogical Association, which studies flags. 

IS MONTANA a racist place? Not so much, if one is to believe a recent study based on Americans' Google searches. 

The study, published in PLOS ONE, analyzed Google data searches to determine race attitudes. You can see the results broken down on this map of the country. Data wasn't available for some parts of Montana, but what was available put the state in the "much less" racist than average category.

In fact, most of the region was in that category. So where do the most racist folks supposedly live? The rural Northeast and the South.

AS CHAIRMAN of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Sen. Jon Tester is now pursuing a strategy that could have done him in nearly a decade ago. So say two Roll Call magazine analysts, Stu Rothenberg and Nathan L. Gonzales.

They note that, in 2006, national Democratic strategic strategists preferred Montana's auditor John Morrison as the party's candidate to run against incumbent GOP Senator Conrad Burns. But Morrison stumbled in the primary due to personal problems, Tester won the primary, and went on to upset Burns. The Roll Call analysts tell how party leaders tried to talk him out of running in order to give Morrison a better shot at beating Burns.

Fast forward to 2015, and Tester is in the same boat, say Rothenberg and Gonzales. In order to give Democrats the strongest chance of keeping Senate seats they hold and winning ones they don't hold now, Tester's organization is taking sides early on. It has made endorsements in some races, and been complimentary of some candidates in others.

​​MONTANANS love their rock 'n roll. So much so that they listen to more of it -- on a per capita basis -- than anyone else in the country. How do we know?

The online music service Pandora reports that Montanans listen to more rock, compared to other genres of music, than residents of any other state. Montana members listened to rock 19 percent of the time, followed closely by Colorado at 18 percent. Next up: Arkansas and Oregon at 15 percent, then Wyoming at 12 percent.

A daily digest of Montana news

May 24, 2015


Family of Missoula murder victim can't believe killer freed after 7 years

State officials aim to beef up local mental-health services

Researchers scour burned battlefield for Indian, Army artifacts

Some women say they face extra challenges as political candidates

Butte woman, 90, dies after she is pinned by her car

Airman's widow mourns her dedicated, loving 'Montana man'

Butte man gets 15 years in prison for killing pedestrian

Biologists put down problem bear that climbed Missoula tree

Wind powers economic development on the Hi-Line, other regions

Seeley Lake man accused of trying to prostitute his dog on Craigslist

Man faces 8-year prison term after admitting he raped UM student

Poplar school superintendent fired after tribe accuses her of racism

Wyoming wants to put to death man who murdered Billings teen

Regents OK change in name for law school, freeze in tuition

Some Montanans upset with deicers put on Montana roads

US Supreme Court won't release Yellowstone Club founder from jail

Memorial Day holiday often rainy, but forecast calls for nice weather

Glacier Park anticipating surge of visitors this weekend

State bison expert says he's 'shocked' by change in his job

In wake of mom's overdose death, teen sponsors drug drop-off

Missoula man still trying to overturn rape conviction

Regent questions plan to rename UM law school after donor


Researchers study potential of small dark fruit crops in Flathead Valley

Special Olympics could pour $1 million to Missoula economy

BNSF to furlough some Montana workers as freight traffic drops

First Interstate Bank, insurer sue each other over $24.5M judgment

Red Ants Pants owner takes case for tax reform to White House

Over 229K acres of state oil leases terminated, canceled, expired

Missoula man sues mall for denying space to Christian bookstore


For river recreationists, now is the time to on the water

Morley sets record in girls' 1600, Aragon breaks it 15 minutes later

UM shares research on traumatic brain injuries with NFL, GE

Griz coach Stitt excited about his new job, and his quarterback

All 11 Grizzly football games to be televised in 2015

Butte High School to spend up to $700K installing new turf football field

All 11 MSU football games to be televised this fall


State prison system must do more to reduce recidivism

Montana will miss Johnson and Dennison at the Lee Bureau

News coverage takes huge hit with closure of Lee State Bureau

Let's be clear, First Amendment provides right to anonymous speech

Glacier Park: For the benefit and enjoyment of the people


Bringing the story of Sacajawea to the big screen

The Bairs: One of Montana's most influential families

Rare Shakespeare folio to be showcased at UM next year

Tina Fey to make movie of Billings' native's Afghanistan's adventures

A young Paul Harvey fell in love with Missoula's Greenough Mansion

Top Ten Montana mentions on the David Letterman show

Whoa! Here's what it is like to be bitten by a Montana rattlesnake!



Eagles to perform at Billings concert June 2

Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss on stage in Missoula June 17

Comedian Dave Chappelle plans 2 shows in Missoula June 16

Chappelle also coming to Billings June 18

Country star Clint Black to headline Headwaters Jam in June

Hank Williams Jr. to play at Billings music fest July 11

Norman Maclean festival runs July 10-13 in Seeley Lake

Martina McBride coming to Helena stage on July 22

Motley Crue, Alice Cooper take stage in Billings July 26

Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice take stage at State Fair in late July

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ryan Bingham headline Red Ants Pants Festival

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blue Oyster Cult to play at Billings fair Aug. 8

Martina McBride coming to Billings Aug. 9

Pointer Sisters to headline Billings fundraiser Aug. 29

Miranda Lambert to perform in Billings Sept. 25

Little Big Town coming to Missoula town Nov. 12

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Cyril Kenneth Richard was released to a Helena prerelease center just 7 years after he was sent to prison for killing his friend, Michael Meadows, and dumping his body in the Clark Fork River. Meadows' family is upset that Richard served such a short period of time in prison.