Montana Viewpoint

December 23, 2002

The more I talk to with people about the upcoming legislative session and the huge state budget deficit, the more I’m reminded of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Now, you might think that’s a stretch, but I see the same cast of characters in both situations: Scrooge, the miser; Cratchit, the unappreciated employee; and Cratchit’s crippled son, Tiny Tim. I see a happy ending, too, and I hope that’s going to be realized.

I see Tiny Tim reflected in the many Montanans who are suffering from circumstances they didn’t create, and needing help if they are going to get ahead, not to mention get by. My last article was about people suffering from End Stage Renal Disease and that the program that helps them get kidney dialysis treatment is going to end because of state budget problems. A couple nights ago, I met one of the 27 people who need the program. He told me about how the disease came to him out of nowhere. He also told me of two people in the program who are thinking about killing themselves because of the loss of help. They’ll die anyway, if they can’t get dialysis.

I also met a woman with a college degree who has an insidious mental affliction called Bi-polar Syndrome. It used to be called manic-depressive syndrome, and it takes the victim from irrational euphoria to the darkest depths of depression. With the right treatment, it can be contained, and the person can be a productive member of society. This lady can no longer get the drug that works best for her. She cries uncontrollably and is worried about keeping her job.

The Bob Cratchits of this story are the men and women of Montana who work two or more jobs just to make ends meet. Montana leads the nation in people with two or more jobs. Usually, none of them are full time; that way, their employers don’t have to give them health insurance or let them build up vacation time. No sick leave, either. I think I’d also add the people who work for us, the people of the state of Montana, our very own government employees. Some people may belittle what they do, but I’ve seen how hard they work and how seriously they take their jobs. Budget cut backs just shove more work on fewer people, but they still do their best to get the job done. And we benefit from it.

But the Ebenezer Scrooges of Montana are the most interesting by far, and that’s because I see the same transformation happening to them as happens to Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” These are the folks who haven’t held government in very high esteem and have been critical of the way their tax dollars are spent. In fact, their protests have been responsible in part for legislators cutting government programs so they can cut taxes. Now, they seem to be seeing some of the good that their tax dollars used to do. Mostly, I think, it’s because they are beginning to have friends and relatives seriously affected by spending cuts.

I see this in a newspaper story about a fellow who used to be the Chief Financial Officer of the Montana Republican Party but fell on hard times and needed government assistance. He, too, has Bi-polar Disorder, as I recollect. I see it in a recent letter to the Helena Independent Record from Archie Nunn, who calls himself a “disenchanted Republican.” He writes: “We need to make some changes, like being responsive to our elderly, our children, and our disabled. They seem to be left out of the equation in favor of tax cuts for corporations.”

I see Montanans beginning to care more about the health and happiness of other people, and worry less about their own. I see a pretty special Christmas present being given to the people of Montana by the people of Montana. I see charity where there was selfishness and hope where there was despair. I see a Montana that just might begin to realize the special meaning of this Season.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” — Ebenezer Scrooge.

Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620