A daily digest of Montana news

May 26, 2015


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.


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.

MONTANA has some great bars. Most of them are cowboy saloons, unpretentious places where you can relax with friends, sharing drinks and stories while chewing on a delicious burger and fries.

But what is the state's most iconic bar? According to the website Thrillist, it is the Sip-N-Dip in Great Falls,  tucked away in the O'Haire Motor Inn. It certainly doesn't fit the stereotype for a typical Montana bar.

The Sip-N-Dip, says Thrillist, is "an old-school tiki bar that serves up fruity cocktails that are in direct contrast with the state's unofficial order of 'whiskey and a side of solidarity.' Were that its only defining trait, the Sip 'n Dip would be a rarity. But it's their mermaids that make it an icon. That's right: in a state that defines landlocked, the servers (and, once, Daryl Hannah) dress as mermaids and swim around in a pool behind the bar, peeping in through a glass window. Throw in the soothing sounds of Piano Pat Spoonheim and you don't just have an icon. You've got a national treasure."

Thrillist picked the most iconic bars in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Its rules: The bars had to be famous, had to be around since at least 1990, and they still had to be popular.


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

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

Early Montana snowmelt adds to drought anxiety

Lake County man admits shooting, killing his wife

Police arrest 2nd suspect in hitchhiker-kidnapping case

Judge rejects tribes' lawsuit over Flathead water compact

Yellowstone Club founder asks US Supreme Court to free him from jail

Man accused of making threatening tweets faces complex trial

State does pretty good job placing kids in family care, report says

Board looks to restore license of Florence physician

Yellowstone Park wants to restore cutthroat trout to drainage

Cop's tourniquet saved life of Kalispell stabbing victim, chief says

UM wants to name law school after GTF attorney who donates $10M

Board of Regents expected to freeze students' tuition for next 2 years

Former Colstrip police chief cited for fatal dog attacks at Billings park


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


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


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

Political coalitions come and go, as party fortunes wax and wane

Zinke deserves praise for opposing transfer of federal lands to states


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!

Shelby native revisits world of the 'Condor' in his new novel

Mullan Road conference will include look at history of camels in MT


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

Send tips to

Jordan Lewis poses with his wife Samantha, their daughter Michelle and their dog Bella. Lewis, a Bitterroot Valley native who served in Afghanistan and Africa as an Air Force flight engineer, died in a training exercise in New Mexico earlier this month. Samantha says she'd like to raise Michelle, their 8-week-old son, Garrett, and her son, Isaac, from a previous relationship in Montana in honor of Jordan. (family photo)