Growing Backlash to Montana’s GOP-Controlled Legislature

It’s not every day 500 Montanans show up and stand outside in below-zero weather to protest the agenda of the GOP-controlled Legislature. But that’s just what happened when those who cherish our Constitution, our “clean and healthful environment,” our lands, rivers and the wildlife and fisheries they support showed up at the Capitol last week. In short, they’ve had it with the GOP’s destructive, intrusive, and authoritarian legislative agenda – and they are not alone.

Politicians know you can anger a certain sector of society and get away with it. But continuing to offend more citizens across more sectors of society brings increased scrutiny to your actions, widespread criticism from the public, and eventually results in retribution at the polls.

You don’t have to be a genius to see that’s exactly what is happening right now. Check the flood of opinion columns, letters to the editor, and ads signed by hundreds of Montanans calling out the Republicans for their abuse of power and mis-use of the legislative process.

The 500 Montanans rallying for fish, wildlife and a clean and healthy environment were exactly right to oppose the threats the Legislature is implementing right now with a raft of deleterious constitutional amendments and deliberate anti-conservation legislation.

Take the redirection of $30 million in marijuana tax revenues as a prime example. The citizens approved that initiative by more votes than the governor, attorney general, or any other state-wide or local Republican received.

Yet, Billings Republican Rep. Bill Mercer had the gall to tell those testifying against the rip-off that: “We don’t know what the voters intended. That whole line is based on a false narrative.” The “false narrative” was the very clear language of the initiative, read by Montana voters and approved as written. Whether or not you support recreational use of marijuana, putting the new tax revenue to conservation of habitat was a compelling incentive to vote for the initiative. To redirect those funds when the state has an historic billion dollar surplus isn’t a necessity, it’s an insult to Montana voters.

Or how about the bill to charge citizens $3,700 to exercise our constitutionally-guaranteed right to the citizen initiative process? The blather from Republicans is that the outrageous fee is required to “cover the costs” of the attorney general and Legislature to review the initiative before they allow it on the ballot.

Mind you, the Legislature and attorney general inserted themselves into the initiative process without asking Montanans if we wanted their heavy-handed, extremely partisan interference. Then, while wallowing with a huge surplus, they force citizens to cough up thousands of dollars before they can offer an initiative. Duplicity would be a kind word to describe their move when, in fact, it’s all too clear they simply want to cripple the citizen initiative process and remove the right of Montanans to pass laws the Legislature’s right-wing cabal wouldn’t.

As succinctly stated by Sen. Brad Molnar, the only Republican to vote against the bill: “Herein lies the problem, we are treating lobbyists every day to thousands of dollars’ worth of resources for them to have their say. For a person in Montana who has the constitutional right to ask a question of the elected, to have to [pay] $3,700 is a poll tax.”

The list of this session’s atrocities goes on and on and growing numbers of Montanans, including Republicans, are fighting back. The GOP scoundrels can wrap themselves in the flag and claim to be for “freedom” and less “government intrusion” into our personal lives. But their every action is just the opposite – and eventually, they will pay for their perfidy.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.