Conservatives have again stirred the political pot in Ravalli County, this time with a list of weighty demands sent to county commissioners and Sheriff Chris Hoffman.
Stevensville resident Robert Gairing and several others submitted a two-page petition last week calling for elected officials to reaffirm their constitutional obligations and execute a number of tasks. Hoffman says he was "taken aback" by the request.
"The entire document disturbed me," Hoffman says. "I feel like I've upheld my oath. I take my direction in terms of my duties from Montana Code Annotated."
The petition's most drastic demand calls for Hoffman to "form and command a County militia." Critics of the Bitterroot's conservative activists have long feared a new militia movement in the area. But backers of the petition condemn the "demonizing" of the term militia.
"It's not an aggressive stance we're taking," says Mona Docteur, founder of the group Celebrating Conservatism. "It's a, 'Jeez, let's help each other out here,' just in case we have something happen like what's happening in Haiti right now."
According to the petition, failure of officials to sign will result in "immediate suspension and a Grand Jury hearing." How exactly citizens would enact those measures escapes Gairing, a co-author of the petition. In Montana, only a district court judge can convene a grand jury. And citizens don't have the power to suspend public officials.
"Clearly, the mechanism [of suspending officials] as far as I can see is not in place," Gairing says.
Many of the details of the petition mattered little to Docteur, one of roughly 175 individuals who signed it. Docteur says that while Celebrating Conservatism—the subject of an Independent cover story in October 2009—doesn't sanction the effort, she did allow the authors to collect signatures during group meetings.
"I just wanted to make sure that these officials didn't have a problem reaffirming their oath of office," Docteur says.
The petition also seeks to lift requirements for permits for concealed weapons, prohibit U.S. Census Bureau personnel from gathering certain information, and ban the Environmental Protection Agency from entering Ravalli County without permission from the sheriff.