As my wife and I drove back from Billings last night, stopping off for some beers and boudin at High Plains Brewing and Cajun Phatty’s, I told her how my Facebook feed had shared the news of my home state’s governor inviting PayPal to set up shop there after rebuking Charlotte, citing all the amenities the Green Mountain state has to offer. I lamented the fact that even if our state leaders here in Montana wanted to send such an invitation, they couldn’t honestly do so.
On Wednesday, Sen. Jon Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock followed shamelessly on the heels of other state leaders in inviting PayPal to come to our state, citing the inclusive business environment, and Montana’s many positive attributes. The problem is, unlike Gov. Shumlin of Vermont whose state has actually led the way on social issues, Tester and Bullock had to bend the truth more than just a little bit.
While Montana does have an inclusive business environment, with some very strong anti-discrimination statutes hard-wired into the founding documents, there is a simple fact that stares anyone in the eye who looks closely enough. Despite our Supreme Court’s recent decision, gay marriage is still legally prohibited according what is written in our constitution. So no matter how much you may want to say that we mirror PayPal’s values of “fairness, inclusion and equality”, we don’t. And as wrong as it is to have this prohibition codified in our laws (despite being null and void according to the Court’s ruling), it is even more wrong to insult the intelligence of any vested party and say that Montana believes in equality.
Senator Daines came out quite forcefully after the decision to voice his disagreement. "The Court is overriding the will of the people of Montana and numerous other states that have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. I believe marriage is between one man and one woman." That doesn’t sound very inclusive to me. And the fact that the letter sent Wednesday was partisan and did not include Daines or Rep. Ryan Zinke suggests that maybe only half of our state’s leaders would even want PayPal here.
After all, this is the same state that fought for sixteen years to remove a law from the books the criminalized gay sex even after the state highest courts struck that down. The law didn’t even come off the books until 2013 – just three years ago.
Dig deeper and you’ll see a few more things that Tester and Bullock got wrong. Though Montana ranks well for entrepreneurship, in areas where real growth is happening, Montana retains arcane and oppressive anti-competition laws. Our restaurant and hospitality industries are hobbled by the expensive and oligopolistic liquor licensing laws, while breweries and distilleries can only serve customers during the hours the state tells them they can.
Then there is the simple fact that our power companies can’t get out of their own way. With the Colstrip situation hanging out there with no resolution in sight, where on Montana’s earth can they put a facility and feel certain that their investment will continue to be powered well into the next decade at rates that aren’t usurious? All the folks at PayPal would have to do is read a recent issue of the Billings Gazette to see how fearful existing Montana employers are of the situation.
The truth is, PayPal doesn’t just want to put their business someplace where it can be built, they want it to be put someplace it can grow. To do that, you have to have and open an accepting economy overall, one where people are willing to uproot themselves from comfortable surroundings to take an opportunity with a multi-national company. They want to buy their home, raise their family, and live their lives as they see fit – not how the government tells them they can. This is why Silicon Valley startups have started to flee California for Boulder, Austin, and other locales. What do these locales have in common? They’re far more socially tolerant than Montana. Yes, even Utah - who showed this with their recent welcoming stance on Syrian refugees.
So let us at least be honest if we are going to extend PayPal such an invitation. Tell them that like a big-armed quarterback singing with a Division II school that they can be a cornerstone in our development, building the state’s thriving economy. Show them that we have two first-rate universities that can pump out students eager to stay and work in Montana. Tell them we have made strides on social tolerance, but still have a ways to go. And tell them, most of all, that we can provide the most dedicated and hardest-working employee population that they will ever encounter.
Just don’t lie to them. Or to us.