You may notice that we have not endorsed in every race that you’ll see on your ballot come Nov. 2, and here’s why: We simply couldn’t. With more than 55 citizens running for city and county review commissions alone, we were stymied by the sheer numbers, as many voters will surely be. Add in state legislative races in all the districts encompassed by this paper’s coverage area, from the Bitterroot to the Flathead, and the task was simply more than we could digest.
Our criteria for choosing which candidates and issues to endorse this year were that the race or issue had to be important, and we had to be able to tell you a lot about he/she/it. We called these “bright-line” races, and without diminishing the relative importance of the races we haven’t covered here, we think they’re the ones with the most at stake; they’re also the ones we’ve been able to follow most closely.
You may notice that we’re not endorsing for president. That’s because we figure you’ve got plenty of information on which to base that decision without us piping in (please god not four more years). Not that you’d be surprised or anything.
Please vote on Nov. 2 for someone or something you care about.
INITIATIVES AND AMENDMENTS
Ballot Initiative 147: FOR or AGAINST amending Montana law to allow cyanide leach processing at open-pit gold and silver mines, subject to state environmental regulations.
Voters wouldn’t know it from the ballot language they’ll face on Nov. 2, but Initiative 147 does more than re-open the state to bad business. It would also restore mineral interests diminished or lost in 1998, when actual Montana citizens banned cyanide heap leach mining in the first place. In other words, it’s a sweetheart deal that would directly benefit Colorado-based Canyon Resources, which still wants to open its stalled McDonald mine near the Blackfoot River outside Lincoln, and which funded almost 98 percent of the campaign to push this stinker on the public—because nobody else in their right mind would.
Voters banned cyanide heap leach mining because it has proved a regular failure with catastrophic financial and environmental aftermaths.
Do we need another go-round with a proved harmful business to jumpstart Montana’s economy? Well, more Montanans are already working in the mining industry today than in 1998, so that argument hardly seems urgent.
Does Canyon Resources deserve this pat on the wallet (though the struggling company clearly needs it) just because it magnanimously encodes regulation by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality? No again. Montana taxpayers have already spent $10 million to clean up the state’s “regulated” cyanide leach mines, with another $16.4 million coming due for perpetual water treatment at the Zortman/Landusky mine near Malta. That’s your money. You could buy your own damn gold.
State analysis, without quantification, says passing the measure could result in additional tax revenues and royalties on school trust lands, but could also increase state environmental enforcement costs. As if the DEQ didn’t already have enough on its hands without more proven polluters to police.
And when I-147 supporters say the measure contains strict new environmental safeguards, don’t believe it. The controls included in the initiative language are same ones that have already been imposed on cyanide leach mines in the past—the same mines that failed anyhow, the same mines that continue to trickle poison from their corpses.
Supporters want to send a signal that Montana is open for business again—to a business that, with its seeping toxins and its huge open pits, will never fit either side’s definition of sustainable extractive industry. Opponents know that the Blackfoot and other relatively unspoiled bastions of Montana’s true resource are more precious by far than gold, never mind cyanide.
You don’t have to be an environmental extremist, as initiative supporters like to suggest, to be wary; this initiative is a risk with few potential beneficiaries and countless prospective losers. Montanans oughtn’t take it.
Unless it’s Christmas, and unless Canyon Resources is your favorite grandchild, there’s no defensible reason to vote for I-147. The Independent endorses emphatically AGAINST.
Ballot Initiative 148: FOR or AGAINST allowing the limited use of marijuana, under medical supervision, by patients with debilitating medical conditions to alleviate the symptoms of their conditions.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still classifies marijuana more stringently than it does cocaine and methamphetamine. In 1988, a DEA judge ruled that the medical benefits of marijuana should be grounds for its reclassification (from Schedule I to Schedule II). “Placement in Schedule II would mean, essentially, that physicians in the United States would not violate Federal law by prescribing marijuana for their patients for legitimate therapeutic purposes,” wrote DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young. Ultimately, the DEA did not act on Young’s ruling. Possession of marijuana for medicinal use remains illegal in much of the country.
The Medical Marijuana Act, if passed, would allow for regulated and limited use of the substance. It would allow patients with a “debilitating medical condition” (defined in full in the initiative), confirmed by their physicians’ written certification, to be issued ID cards by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (MDPHHS). A cardholder would be allowed to legally possess up to six marijuana plants and one ounce of useable marijuana. Cards would be renewed annually. The MDPHHS would annually report details (also specified in the initiative) to the Legislature. The initiative makes provisions for minors and caregivers, for example precluding convicted drug felons from serving in the role of caregiver and card-holder. In addition to protecting patients, the initiative would protect prescribing physicians from arrest or prosecution by the board of medical examiners. It would also institute fines and jail time for people misrepresenting their need for marijuana.
Since 1999, nine other states have decriminalized the medicinal use of marijuana. The most vocal opposition still comes from law enforcement. The Office of Drug Control Policy’s Scott Burns paid a recent visit to Montana to warn of the dangers of considering marijuana medicine: confused and dope-happy youth. Even back in 1988, however, Francis Young showed this argument to be ill-reasoned: “There are those who, in all sincerity, argue that the transfer of marijuana to Schedule II will ‘send a signal’ that marijuana is ‘OK’ generally for recreational use. This argument is specious. It presents no valid reason for refraining from taking an action required by law in light of the evidence…The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance…”
That was 1988. It’s still true. Vote FOR 148 to give physicians and patients relief.
Ballot Initiative 149: FOR or AGAINST increasing tobacco taxes and changing the use of tobacco tax revenues to include specific health insurance and Medicaid programs.
Though at least a few of us here at Independent World Headquarters stand to take a substantial hit if I-149 passes, even the tar-stained among us recognize that government is about the good of the commonwealth, not the minutiae of our personal luxury budgets.
As a matter of policy it’s hard to fault supporters’ goals, including a reduction in teenage smoking, more children covered by health insurance, improved public health and decreased health care costs.
Opponents’ arguments are trickier and ultimately less convincing. One is that the tobacco tax is already high and hitting poor people hard. Not to seem heartless, but if you’re getting hit hard by tobacco expenditures, quit. It won’t hurt you.
Another is that old canard about the creation of a massive new bureaucracy. Frankly, we’ve got no more reason to fear big government than big tobacco (one lies, the other kills—or is that the other way around? What’s the diff…); if government can get the job done where the private sector can’t, we say that’s what good government’s good for.
Argument three is that the initiative will hurt wholesalers and retailers. To which we say: Cry me a river; if you can’t sell tobacco profitably, sell something with better margins. It’s a free-market thing, remember?
Undergirding all this is the against-crowd’s charge that if the initiative works, its very success will inevitably undercut the state’s own health-care funding source as citizens quit smoking, and thus quit paying the tax and dying. Hey, if we can get a leg up on two of life’s top certainties, that’s fine. If I-149 actually solves a problem and so becomes obsolete, we can make new smart law later, happily dismantle a successful-to-the-point-of-unnecessary government bureaucracy in the name of efficiency, and go home and call ourselves clever.
Government requires income, and there are more-regressive taxes on drawing boards everywhere. If we can increase thinned revenues and maybe even improve the state’s health in the process, why on earth wouldn’t we?
The Indy endorses FOR the passage of I-149.
Constitutional Amendment 42: FOR or AGAINST extending term limits for legislators to 12 years in a 24-year period.
Twelve years ago, Montanans fed up with the apparent invincibility of well-connected incumbents promoted term limits as a mechanism to liberate legislative bodies from the influence of entrenched good ol’ boys and girls. It was a bad idea then, and it’s still a bad idea today. Voters should welcome this amendment to allow experienced legislators four more years in office.
Making state law is complicated, demanding work. You don’t just amble into the chamber, make a few common-sense judgments and cast a vote. There are powerful, compelling interests to balance, arcane legal screeds to decipher, rigid procedures to navigate, and hundreds of lobbyists and constituents who aren’t in the least bit shy about telling you what to think.
Anybody who thinks that limiting a legislator’s time in office will somehow diminish the influence of lobbyists is dreaming. Inexperienced people are typically more impressionable and easier to fool. Sic a hundred lobbyists on them and who knows how they’ll react? In general, experienced lawmakers are more likely to render confident, independent judgment on the issues that matter.
When Independent reporters want to know where the real problems in state government lie and which solutions are the most likely to succeed, we’re more inclined to seek the wisdom of a two-term committee chairperson than a rookie restaurateur or car dealer who’s still struggling to get the office phones to work.
Knowing the ropes helps legislative leaders cut through the crap to focus on the good stuff—bills that will make a significant difference in our lives, bills that are clear and complete, and bills that can pass without dividing the Legislature on the next worthwhile measure. Extending term limits will give our best leaders a better chance to improve state government for everyone.
We endorse FOR C-42.
Constitutional Initiative 96: FOR or AGAINST amending the Montana Constitution to provide that only a marriage between a man and a woman may be valid or recognized as a marriage.
This proposed constitutional amendment is an attempt to preventatively ban homosexual marriage, but it should not be decided on the purported merits or demerits of gay marriage. Rather, the proposed amendment should be weighed against the express provisions of the Montana Constitution.
When delegates to the 1972 Constitutional Convention convened in Helena to draft the Montana Constitution, they intended that the document be used to protect and expand the rights of the individual and limit the role of government in people’s lives. The state, we believe, does not have a compelling interest in dictating the pool of humans from which we choose to marry. Marriage affords its participants rights—1,049 federal rights, according to the General Accounting Office—and the Constitution should not be used to deny rights.
What we have here is a wedge issue plain and simple, instigated and cynically exploited by right-wing moralists, presumptively to protect the sanctity of marriage. But any institution whose sanctity relies on the suppression of human rights, on intolerance and neighbor-baiting, is no institution worth preserving.
Over the past four months, in Washington, D.C., a gay marriage ban (or Marriage Protection Act) failed in both the Senate and the House. We trust we’ll see this similar ban fail here, too. Vote AGAINST CI-196.
STATE AND LOCAL RACES
We debated this one long and hard. On one hand, Bob Brown seems an honorable public servant with the experience to keep the state moving. In what direction is the question, and staying the Republican course is the answer. That course has not excited us thus far, and we don’t believe it to be the most beneficial path for Montana to continue traveling.
Schweitzer is inexperienced, sure, but so was Judy Martz, and at least Schweitzer has ideas that sound plausible, ideas that at least pay lip service to some vision of the future other than a rape-and-run fantasy of out-of-state companies, unburdened by our meddlesome taxes, taking what they need and ditching the bill.
On the other hand, Brian Schweitzer apparently finds it either to his taste or politically expedient to support a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage. We say it elsewhere and we’ll say it here: that position is morally wrong and it will be rightfully eclipsed within our lifetimes, and we’d be better off on the right side of history.
But Schweitzer isn’t using his support for the ban as a wedge issue, and that, oddly, counts as a plus in this essentially partisan endorsement. Schweitzer seems more a moderate centrist than a flaming liberal (where is the flaming liberal in this race?), and many of his ideas have unexplored consequences, but he seems essentially an entrepreneur, eager for and receptive to new ideas. We even like his admittedly gimmicky but symbolically significant choice of Republican John Bohlinger as running mate.
Brown, for his part, supports a return to cyanide heap leach mining and an antiquated idea of Montana’s place in the economic world—just like Martz without the damaging sound-bites, it sounds like to us.
We believe that the old ideas—in this election cycle defined as Republican—are failing. We want a shot at something different and something better, and at the risk of electing a relative political newcomer to the highest office in the great state of Montana—like it’s the papacy or something—we’re willing to take a chance on Schweitzer.
U.S. House of Representatives
With a comfortable lead in recent public opinion polls, incumbent Republican Denny Rehberg has already sewn up reelection for a third term. Normally, that would be a perfect opportunity for a great statesman to talk about important issues in a substantive way. But Rehberg is not a great statesman.
Instead, he’s falling back on the destructive tactics of weak Republican demagogues, emphasizing the divisive wedge issues of state religion and homosexuality. In his most recent television ads, Rep. Rehberg wants Montanans to know that he’s opposed to gay marriage and thinks the words “under God” should stay in the Pledge of Allegiance. When our leaders needlessly grind on the conflicts that divide Americans most deeply and bitterly, we can only conclude they have little interest in bringing us together to solve the problems we all face together—huge problems like health care, the deficit and national defense.
Unfortunately, the campaign of Rehberg’s Democratic opponent, Tracy Velazquez, has barely risen above the level of background noise. Velazquez, a Bozeman consultant to nonprofit organizations, has been gauzy and uninspiring on the issues. Although she has aggressively criticized Rehberg, she comes across as perhaps a bit too demure for the big show. For instance, asked last week on a Billings radio program to comment on the Bush administration’s 2001 tax cuts, Velazquez, after arguing that the cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthy, diffidently concluded, “It’s a little bit troublesome to me.”
A little bit troublesome? How about a harmful policy that threatens to dramatically increase the federal deficit and exacerbate class divisions with very little discernable short-term benefit for the economy?
Faced with a choice between a disagreeable incumbent and an inconspicuous challenger, the Independent gives no endorsement in the contest for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Public Service Commission District 4
Two veterans of public service with distinct ideological differences are vying to fill a vacant seat representing Western Montana’s District 4 on the Public Service Commission.
Free-market idealist Doug Mood, the former Republican Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives and a partner in the Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company in Seeley Lake, stresses the need for competition to control greedy utility companies and keep rates down. He thinks digging more coal would help.
Democrat Geoff Badenoch, the long-time leader of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, has gone out of his way to establish his bona fides as a pro-business candidate. He’s focused on the PSC’s role encouraging wise investments from utility companies that will improve service and benefit citizens, while allowing the utilities a reasonable chance to succeed.
Mood rates a big fat zero from both the Montana Environmental Quality Council and the Northern Plains Resource Council for his voting record during the last legislative session. Not that the environmental lobby has an exclusive lock on righteous policy, but Mood obviously prefers to keep Bambi on the run, a disturbing trait in a person with authority over power plants.
Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Business couldn’t be happier with Mood’s voting record, scoring him a perfect 100 out of 100 during the 2001 session. Mood says he has no special love for utility companies, but we’re not comfortable electing a person who votes for business interests virtually every single time to sit on a commission charged with regulating industry for the benefit of all Montanans.
Both candidates exhibit intelligence, experience and a sensivity to business interests, but Badenoch commands more credibility as a consumer advocate, and that’s the most important prerequisite for serving on a commission charged with ensuring customers fair and reasonable rates.
Supreme Court Justice #5
The election ballot bills this race as “nonpartisan,” but Bozeman Rep. Cindy Younkin has been doing her level best to politicize the race, considered by some to be one of the most important in this election.
At the heart of Rep. Younkin’s campaign is her charge that sitting Justice Jim Nelson is too “activist.” The basis for Younkin’s accusation is an article by University of Montana law professor Jeffrey Renz. In September, Renz wrote a letter to Justice Nelson saying, “I have learned that your opponent has been misusing my…article…She claims, on the basis of my article, that the Montana Supreme Court is activist. This angers and disappoints me. It angers me because it is not true. It disappointments me because your opponent…appears to lack the integrity to serve.”
Younkin’s competence is in question as well. The Bozeman lawyer argued cases before the Montana Water Court, which rules on water rights cases. In a 2000 memorandum, the court wrote that a document, filed with the court and approved and signed by Younkin, “failed to disclose material facts which were essential for the Court to render an informed decision. The failure to disclose the material facts could have mislead [sic] this Court into making a false assumption.” In 2003, Younkin’s own municipal client sued her for malpractice in a water rights dispute. (The case was dismissed because it was filed too late.)
In 2003, Younkin thwarted democratic process by holding open a tied vote and calling for one more vote from her party. Such disrespect for process renders hollow her promise to leave partisanship at the door if elected.
During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Nelson authored more than 600 opinions, including landmark decisions like the 1997 Gryczan v. Montana opinion. The Gryczan ruling struck down an anti-sodomy law in Montana, ruling that it infringed upon the constitutionally protected right to privacy. The opinion is cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 case, Lawrence v. Texas, overruling a similar ban in Texas.
Younkin has said that the Supreme Court has no business second-guessing the Legislature. In fact, the Supreme Court is designed to protect citizens’ rights—not to serve as a rubber stamp for the Legislature. Writes Nelson in the Gryczan case: “Quite simply, while legislative enactments may reflect the will of the majority, and, arguably, may even respond to perceived societal notions of what is acceptable conduct in a moral sense, there are certain rights so fundamental that they will not be denied to a minority no matter how despised by society. In Montana, the right of privacy is such a right.” Former Chief Justice (and former Republican lawmaker) Jean Turnage is acquainted with both Nelson and Younkin. Turnage supports Nelson and calls him one of the “hardest-working jurists,” saying that Nelson writes “clear, well grounded opinions.” We think it’s important to keep Nelson on the bench.
Flathead County Commissioner We think the next Flathead county commissioner should be Kalispell Democrat Joe Brenneman, a 47-year-old dairy farmer and volunteer firefighter in nearby Creston. While Republican Denise Cofer hasn’t even been able to coalesce a solid base of support in her own party (in part due to her affiliation with the radical National Federation of Republican Assemblies—the so-called “Republican wing of the Republican party”—a group that believes our rights are granted by a Christian God, not the Constitution), Brenneman has reached out and earned the support of Flathead residents of all stripes. Neither candidate has a strong political background, but Brenneman seems much less likely to be a divisive figure in a community that needs to come together. Brenneman is focused on how the Flathead can “make sure that growth pays its way” and is interested in looking at a “narrowly focused” local-option sales tax targeting tourism that “wouldn’t be regressive or hurt the working class.”
“The measure of a community is how well it takes care of people with the fewest advantages,” Brenneman says. “At the end of my six-year term, I’d like us to feel more like a community, without all the name-calling and bitterness that’s happened before.” Perhaps most importantly, Brenneman says he’s not going to waste taxpayers’ time with proposals that he knows from the outset the other two commissioners, both Republicans, won’t support. It’s a practical approach for a minority party candidate to take. We trust Joe Brenneman to be a team player for the Flathead.
Whitefish Resort Tax
The resort tax has been good for Whitefish. By taxing lodging, luxury items and some restaurants, the tax primarily hits out-of-state tourists who are probably still paying less in Whitefish than they would visiting many other parts of the country. In return, the tax has aided in maintaining city streets, infrastructure and parks and has provided sorely needed property-tax relief in an area where some folks are wondering if they’re going to be able to continue to afford living where they always have. The ballot measure would extend the tax at the current rate and with the current use percentages until 2025, instead of the presently prescribed 2016. The only reason one might pause in voting for this amendment is concern as to whether it might set the current tax rate and usage in stone. It won’t, says Whitefish Finance Director Michael Eve. On future ballots, voters could still decide to raise the tax from 2 to 3 percent, for example, or dedicate more to property-tax relief and less to parks, as another hypothetical. Since Whitefish can always tinker later if it wants to, there’s no reason not to vote for the resort tax extension and give city councilors and planners a sense of stability with regard to future tax revenue.