for MainstreetMontana.com 

by Tyler Morrison

Did you know that May is national hamburger month? May is probably more well known to include Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, but it also includes some lesser known, albeit fantastic sounding holidays. In the first week alone, May holidays encompass “Mother Goose Day,” “Lumpy Rug Day,” “International Tuba Day,” and of course, “Star Wars Day.”

Many of these holidays can prove to be pleasant distractions from the outright weather-anarchy of  Montana’s borderline personality climate disorder. I’ve been closely watching the neighborhood gardens, waiting eagerly to observe which of my neighbors will plant their tomatoes first. (The ritual of gardening in Montana demands a tomato sacrifice to prevent 10 inches of snow in the middle of May.) And while I enjoy any excuse to have a little silly fun, (Blame Someone Else Day, May 13th) Let’s talk about the noble hamburger.

Taken from Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, 1884:

“Hamburgh Steak. – Pound a slice of round steak enough to break the fibre. Fry two or three onions, minced fine, in butter until slightly browned. Spread the onions over the meat, fold the ends of the meat together, and pound again, to keep the onions in the middle. Broil two or three minutes. Spread with butter, salt and pepper.”

The only piece of the hamburger puzzle that seems to be unanimously agreed upon is origin of the name. The name comes from the German city of Hamburg, a person from Hamburg being a "Hamburger"; by extension inanimate objects such as ground beef patties that either originated or enjoyed early popularity there took the same name. (Unlike the city it is derived from, the word "hamburger" is spelled as a common noun, with a lowercase letter "H.")

The hamburger's history is quite disputed. In Hamburg it was common practice to put a piece of roast pork into a roll, called Rundstück, although this is missing the essence of the modern hamburger, that the meat first be ground.

Hamburg, New York, USA, also claims credit for the invention of the hamburger. This town celebrates a "Burgerfest" every summer, held to mark the anniversary of the hamburger's creation at the Erie County Fair in 1885.

Another claim is made by a small lunch counter in the town of New Haven, Connecticut, named Louis' Lunch. It is sometimes credited with having invented this quick businessman's meal for busy office workers in the late 19th Century. Their burgers are made the same way they were in the late 1800s, which means no condiments allowed; the only permitted garnishes are cheese, tomato, and onion.

Interestingly enough, due to widely prevalent anti-German sentiment in the USA during the First World War, an alternative name for hamburgers, “salisbury steaks," became more common for the duration; hamburgers' popularity even after the war was severely depressed until the fast food industry popularized a business model featuring sales of large numbers of small hamburgers (later sometimes called "sliders," "grease grenades," "gut bombs" and other dysphemisms) in the mid-1920s. The fast-food hamburger began its ascent to modern popularity when Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald's franchise in the mid-1950s.

Traditionally,  a hamburger is made primarily of ground beef, although it may also contain spices and other ingredients. This is also known as a beef hamburger or a "beefburger." A beef hamburger that contains no other ingredients besides the beef itself is referred to as an "all-beef hamburger" or "all beef patties" in many restaurants. Some prepare their patties with egg, bread crumbs, onions, parsley, or other ingredients. Today hamburgers can be found in nearly every part of the world. Over time the concept has evolved, and meat patties are decorated with an endless variety of creative, tasty toppings. The meat patties themselves have been replaced with healthier options, including black bean, turkey and salmon burgers. (though one might argue that these do not really qualify as burgers in the traditional sense).

If there should exist in the whole universe, one unifying force other than gravity, it must be the humble hamburger. Throughout the years, hamburgers have endeared themselves to a variety of food lovers. Restaurants across the country compete for who can create the biggest hamburger, and culinarians write books devoted to cross-country road trips in search of the very best burger. You can find hamburgers in tiny hole-in-the-wall diners and on the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants. In 2005, Las Vegas restaurant Fleur de Lys outdid themselves by creating a $5,000 hamburger served with champagne. Seems a bit silly to me, but it does prove the widespread appeal of this simple and tasty sandwich. Even now they continue to evolve.

I think the moral to the burger saga is this. There isn’t any official way to make a hamburger. They remain as personal and unique to each person as a fingerprint. They can fulfill a variety of styles based on your given mood at any time. The most important part to remember, is as always; eat with friends, eat with family, and it’s always better with cheese.


 

Big Sky Connection

 

 

Eric Tegethoff

 

May 4, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - More than 50 multi-millionaires have signed a letter urging President Trump and Congress to abandon their attempts to abolish the federal estate tax, the only tax on inherited wealth in the U.S.

Chuck Collins, heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune and author of the book "Born on Third Base," says the tax only applies to households with assets of more than $11 million. He adds the tax was put in place a hundred years ago to prevent the kind of inherited aristocracy the nation fought a revolutionary war over.

"In that way, the estate tax is a fundamentally American tax," he says. "It's really the way in which we protect a level playing field and ensure that too much inequality doesn't sort of upend our democratic system."

He says starting in the 1990s, a handful of wealthy families, including Mars, Walton, Gallo and others, invested millions lobbying to end the tax, a move that would save their heirs billions. Trump once called the tax a "burden on the American worker."

But Collins notes that more than 99 percent of Americans will never be subject to the tax, and is confident the estates that will take a hit can afford it.

Supporters of Trump's proposed tax plan argue lowering taxes on corporations and the wealthy will lead to a revived economy and ultimately increase tax revenues.

Collins acknowledges that cutting taxes for the middle class, along with increased wages, can boost the economy, but he says tax breaks for people with millions in the bank don't change their consumer behavior.

"Cutting taxes for multi-millionaires and billionaires actually has very little positive economic impact," he adds. "The rest of us have to pick up the slack, and "the rest of us" is the middle class."

Collins says if Trump's claim to a $10-billion net worth is true, eliminating the estate tax would effectively transfer $four billion from U.S. coffers to his heirs.



 

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Big Sky Connection

 

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Eric Tegethoff

April 27, 2017

HELENA, Mont. -- President Donald Trump has signed an executive order calling for a review of 20 national monuments designated since 1996.

The administration said the review is necessary to ensure Trump's predecessors did not abuse the law allowing presidents to designate such monuments. In the past 21 years, three different presidents designated more than 50 national monuments, including the Pompeys Pillar and Upper Missouri River Breaks national monuments in Montana.

Hugo Tureck , a board member with the Friends of the Missouri Breaks National Monument, said Montanans do not support efforts to weaken protections for public lands.

"Every poll in Montana says don't touch our public lands," Tureck said. "Every poll in Montana says the overwhelming majority of people are saying bluntly we don't want the state to manage them."

Presidents are able to designate national monuments without approval from Congress because of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Conservation groups are concerned that the review process could weaken protections or shrink the monuments' borders. Only Congress can undo a national monument designation.

Tureck said the Antiquities Act helps speed up the process of protecting a monument of significant cultural or natural value since only the president has to act. Currently there is a bill in the Senate that would change the monument designation process. Tureck said Congress is waiting to pounce on this issue.

"What I'm really worried about is the effort to undo or change the Antiquities Act," he said, "because it only works to the degree that the president has that right."

The Department of the Interior, in charge of the review, could also look at the Stonewall and Birmingham civil rights monuments; Fort Ord and Fort Monroe military monuments; and Bears Ears in Utah, which contains preserved Native American ruins and cultural artifacts.



 

 

House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, explains procedure on the House floor April 23.

Photo and Story By Michael Wright
Community News Service
UM School of Journalism

On the last day of the 64th Montana Legislature, leaders in both houses lauded compromises made on the budget and other major pieces of legislation, even though the final measure died in the House after a five-day political standoff.

“Montanans should be proud,” Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said at a press conference after adjournment. “I am pleased with what we got done.”

Bullock listed off the his priority bills that passed -- the Flathead Water Compact, Medicaid expansion and campaign finance reform. Those bills were all carried by Republican senators and passed both houses with the support of Democrats and groups of moderate Republicans.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, who didn’t support any of those measures, said they showed who controlled the session.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Republicans were in the majority, but conservatives were not,” Moore said.

House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, said that sort of breakdown within the Republican Party has become common, with some Republicans finding they have significant power by joining with Democrats to pass bills.

“It’s something we’ve dealt with every session since I’ve been here,” Knudsen said.

The split was evident when, just before the end, a conservative wing of the House Republicans killed an infrastructure deal negotiated by the governor’s office and House and Senate leaders, ending the last battle of the 64th Montana Legislature.

Senate Bill 416, sponsored by Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, failed its final vote in the House for the fourth time Monday, and a revival effort Tuesday didn’t get the support it needed.

The bill would have spent $150 million on infrastructure projects around the state, including university buildings, a museum and a veterans center. Also included was more than $12 million directly for eastern Montana, where infrastructure has been hit hard by the Bakken oil boom.

But, because the bill borrowed money through bonding -- about $100 million -- it needed 67 votes in the House, which proved a high mountain to climb. Knudsen, who was involved in the negotiations, said he and others knew that going in.

“We always knew it was a large number,” Knudsen said.

Many who voted against the bill are completely against the state borrowing money, and others opposed how the projects in the bill were prioritized. Two of the top projects in the bill were a renovation of Montana State University’s Romney Hall and a new building for the Montana Historical Society. Knudsen said those projects were “anchors on 416’s neck.”

Negotiations on the bill took place behind closed doors in the final weeks of the session. The final deal hit the House floor for the first time April 23, clearing an initial vote 70-30, a level of support the bill would never see again. It needed to pass a final vote before heading to the Senate for approval. In four tries on separate days, the bill came close, but never cleared the 67 vote hurdle.

“I’m disappointed that a small extreme faction in the House … blocked this proposal,” Bullock said.

Some House members tried to amend the bill to reduce the level of borrowing and add in projects they felt were more important.

Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, pushed to get more funding for schools, noting an elementary school in his district recently had a boiler go out. He said funding some projects meant not funding others, and that he thinks projects for local schools are more important than those prioritized in Senate Bill 416.

“I’m not willing to make that trade off,” Hertz said.

But supporters of the bill weren’t going to make any changes, and an amendment to cut the bonding and prioritize local school projects failed.

Despite Senate Bill 416 going down, the Legislature did pass a group of bills that spends nearly $100 million in projects across the state, including city water system updates, Fish, Wildlife and Parks habitat programs and some university maintenance.

 Budget deal clears both chambers

 Representatives from the governor’s office and legislators met in the final weeks of the legislative session to cut a deal on House Bill 2, which lines out about $10 billion in allocations to state agencies for the next two years.

Budget leaders from both houses worked with Gov. Steve Bullock's administration to come to a deal that included adding in a pay raise for state employees, giving them a 50 cent increase in both 2016 and 2017. That proposal originally appeared in House Bill 13, which was killed earlier in the session.

Including the pay plan also secures a likely tuition freeze for in-state students at Montana universities.

But the budget negotiations hit an impasse on the governor’s $37 million "Early Edge" preschool plan. That proposal had little support from Republicans, who said that the price tag was too high and that it could have an adverse effect on rural school districts. Offers from Republicans to fund a watered-down version of the plan contingent on rule changes by the Board of Public Education went nowhere, and the proposal stayed out of the budget.

Some House members said they were uncomfortable with the level of government spending -- an increase of about 6 percent -- but recognized that they had to pass the budget.

“We have not tamed the juggernaut of government spending in Montana,” said Rep. Tom Burnett, R-Bozeman.

Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, the primary sponsor of House Bill 2, agreed with Burnett, but said she thinks the negotiations got the bill to a good place.

“I think we’ve come up with the best product we can,” Ballance said.

Motl survives hostile Senate confirmation

One of the most hotly debated measures in the waning days of the Legislature was the Senate's narrow confirmation of Jonathan Motl to the post of Commissioner of Political Practices.

Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Jonathan Motl in June 2013. Motl was a lawyer in the Helena area before becoming commissioner.

While in office, he has pursued several complaints against Republicans, winning him few friends on that side of the aisle. During a public hearing on his confirmation, several of his former business partners and his staff spoke in support of him.

Opposition came from the Montana Republican Party, Republican legislators and former legislative candidates who felt wronged by Motl.

Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, spoke against Motl at the hearing, saying Motl has used the office for a “crusade against conservatives, and only conservatives.”

“He will bring further shame to this office, and to justice itself,” Wittich said. Wittich is set to go to trial over a 2010 complaint filed against him, a case he said he plans on winning, though it will cost him a lot of time and money.

The resolution supporting Motl’s confirmation was tabled by the committee, then revived late last week after the Senate OK’d the budget deal.

Opponents of his confirmation said his main focus is taking down Republicans, and that he likes litigation.

“He is a litigator,” said Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse. “I believe this job needs an educator, not a litigator,”

Brown added that she knows people who are afraid to run for office because Motl is the commissioner.

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, said Motl is a “tyrant who’s supposed to be a referee.”

On the other hand, Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said he thinks Motl has proven himself “to be fair and unbiased.”

Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said legislators shouldn’t worry so much about who is enforcing the law, but more on following it.

“If we’re in compliance with the law then we shouldn’t have to worry about the commissioner knocking on our door,” Windy Boy said.

All Democrats and eight Republicans voted to confirm Motl.   

- Michael Wright is a reporter for the Community News Service at the University of Montana School of Journalism. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.