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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I’d be joining best-selling author Sarah Vowell on stage with former U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention delegate Mae Nan Ellingson and longtime political journalist Charles S. Johnson for a panel discussion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Montana’s Constitutional Convention.
We’ve received a lot of interest from MT Lowdown readers, so this week I want to share a few more details with you.
Sponsored by Montana Free Press and Montana State University, the event will take place at 7:30 p.m. on March 22 in Ballroom A of the Strand Union Building on the MSU campus in Bozeman. The event is free and open to the public. For those who can’t attend in person, the program will be livestreamed by MSU on YouTube and recorded for later viewing online.
The event will feature first-person accounts by Ellingson, the Constitutional Convention’s youngest delegate, as well as convention staffer Baucus and reporter Johnson. Sarah and I will also present new video interviews with the surviving convention delegates and staff. Racicot and Juneau will discuss the Montana Constitution’s legacy.
As Sarah says, the Constitutional Convention of 1972 is one of the most consequential events in Montana’s history, and arguably the most inspiring.
“The 100 delegates, who arrived at our state Capitol from across Montana to frame a new future, shared a sense of purpose, a spirit of nonpartisan cooperation and a devotion to the public good that is worth remembering and celebrating in these quarrelsome times,” Sarah said.
“How the people of Montana came together and agreed on a foundational document that explains and expounds for posterity how they are going to operate is a monumental accomplishment and an amazing piece of history,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “I’m very proud Montana State University could be part of this effort to record and preserve these important interviews.”
MSU provided technical support for the interviews and is creating an archive for the video recordings and their transcripts in the Archives and Special Collections of the MSU Library. The collection will be publicly available through the library’s website after the March 22 live event.
We hope you can join us in person. And if you can’t, we’ll soon share details on how to watch the program online. Either way, we hope you’ll take advantage of this rare opportunity to peek behind the curtain of Montana history in the making.
—John S. Adams, Editor-in-Chief
By the Numbers 🔢
Wolves killed in southwestern Montana as of Feb. 17, triggering the closure of Region Three’s wolf trapping season as directed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission late last month. That tally includes an estimated 19 wolves that lived primarily within Yellowstone National Park, about 17% of the park’s wolf population.
—Amanda Eggert, Reporter
After going virtual in 2021 due to the pandemic, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival revives its annual slate of in-person screenings and events in Missoula over the next 10 days. The festival has become an acclaimed outlet for visual storytelling, attracting nonfiction films from around the globe. In light of its popularity, Montana Free Press perused this year’s schedule and checked in with Executive Director Rachel Gregg to spotlight a few can’t-miss offerings. Note that the festival is implementing COVID-19 mitigations this year including requiring all in-person attendees to wear masks and provide contact information. A majority of screenings will also be available for viewers to watch online.
Feb. 18: The 2022 festival kicks off with a 7 p.m. screening at the Wilma Theatre of “A Decent Home,” which captures America’s economic and class struggles through the eyes of mobile home park residents.
Feb. 20: In “Daughter of a Lost Bird,” Blackfeet/Salish filmmaker Brooke Swaney explores the cultural impacts of the Indian Child Welfare Act as she follows Kendra Potter, a Native American adoptee endeavoring to reconnect with her Lummi heritage. Swaney’s film screens at the Wilma at 3:15 p.m.
Feb. 22: The Big Sky Doc Fest partners with Humanities Montana for the world premieres of two Indigenous films, “Bring Her Home” and “The Trails Before Us,” followed by a panel discussion about Indian education and missing and murdered Indigenous people. The exhibition starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC).
Feb. 24: The festival hosts the world premiere of the Washington Post-led documentary “Bring Them Home,” which captures American Emad Shargi’s family’s efforts to free him from Iranian custody. “Bring Them Home” screens at the ZACC at 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 27: Filmmakers Olivier Matthon and Michael Reis delve into a topic familiar to many Montanans: wild mushroom picking — more specifically, the challenges faced by immigrants, refugees and rural citizens in Montana and Idaho looking to harvest them on public lands. “Up on the Mountain” screens at the ZACC at 11:45 a.m.
—Alex Sakariassen, Reporter
Candidates in the News 🗳️
An investigative report made public by the U.S. Department of the Interior this week sheds light on one of the scandals dogging former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Whitefish Republican who represented Montana in the U.S. House before being tapped for a cabinet-level position in the administration of President Donald Trump. Zinke, who resigned from the Trump cabinet in 2018 while facing multiple ethics probes, is angling for a return to Congress this year, campaigning in Montana’s newly created western district.
The report, issued by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General, concerns Zinke’s involvement with a commercial development in Whitefish where the primary investor was a senior executive for Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil companies.
The investigation found that Zinke continued to work on the project while serving as secretary despite having pledged in an ethics memo to pause his involvement, and that he misused his position by directing government subordinates to assist him with those efforts. It also reported that Zinke lied to a department ethics official, providing “materially incorrect, incomplete, and misleading answers” to questions. The investigation did not, however, find evidence that Zinke explicitly violated federal conflict of interest law by taking official action as Interior Secretary in matters related to the project.
The Associated Press reported that Zinke’s campaign derided the report as “a political hit job.”
—Eric Dietrich, Reporter
“In the Republican National Committee’s search for power for its own sake and its obsession with winning at any cost, you have sacrificed, by your proclamation and its revelation of the presently existing soul of the party, the allegiance of a great many, and a growing number, of your most ardent and long-time supporters. Regrettably, it appears, ‘you have hitched your wagon to the wrong star.’”
—Former Montana Governor and former Chair of the Republican National Committee Marc Racicot, in an open letter decrying the RNC’s recent censure of Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, for their work on the U.S. House investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the nation’s Capitol.
Following the Law ⚖️
The libel lawsuit filed by lobbyist Adrian Jawort against Jordan Hall, Sidney-based pastor and publisher of the far-right website Montana Daily Gazette, becomes more convoluted by the week. That’s saying something, seeing as the case has been perplexing since its inception. Hall originally reported in May that Jawort, who is transgender, verbally berated a state senator during the 2021 legislative session. Jawort, who claims the article damages her reputation, says that account is patently false.
Hall and his attorney, former Republican state Rep. Matthew Monforton, have spent months pushing back against the libel complaint in court. Outside of legal filings, though, Hall has been outspoken in his own defense, casting himself as a pious Christian fending off attacks by the “LGBTQ Mafia.” In social media posts, blogs and speeches, Hall has made aggressive and threatening comments about Jawort, her attorneys and the judge overseeing the case, at one point making a space for the “metaphoric head” of Jawort attorney Raph Graybill on Hall’s wall of hunting trophies. In response, Jawort’s lawyers in January filed a motion seeking sanctions against Hall, arguing that the pastor’s conduct was designed to “disrupt and undermine” the court process.
A scheduled hearing on the motion for sanctions was abruptly canceled this week after Hall filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, citing “legal debts” and “attorney fees” — despite Hall’s fundraising to cover the costs of the case through a “Religious Liberty Fund” at his church, Fellowship Baptist Church of Sidney. The move automatically paused all pending litigation, pushing Jawort’s case into new territory. If the federal bankruptcy court determines that Hall’s filing is legitimate, many of his outstanding debts and liabilities can be eliminated. That could affect Jawort’s libel case, unless the court grants her an exemption and allows the lawsuit to proceed.
Hall declined to comment on his bankruptcy filing to Montana Free Press. He was, however, scheduled to appear at the Great Falls Pachyderm Club on Thursday, where promotional materials said he planned “to speak on how the Lord has provided a last minute solution to the legal issues he has been dealing with.”
—Mara Silvers, Reporter
Crunching the Numbers 💻
Readers of last week’s Lowdown may remember that we invited readers to help us check the accuracy of the state’s new broadband access map. We didn’t get enough response to our less-than-scientific survey to say anything authoritative, but we did hear a couple of intriguing anecdotes:
Bristol in Hamilton reported a measly 6.1 megabit-per-second download speed from an unreliable connection at his home “within 10 yards” of a hospital property equipped with high-speed internet. He’s on a wait-list for satellite-based Starlink service, he wrote, adding, “When guests come into town, we rent a mobile hotspot from the Bitterroot Library.”
Joe in Helena reported a 61 Mbps download speed despite living three blocks from the state Capitol. He told us he wasn’t perturbed, though. “It doesn’t really matter to me,” he wrote. “I don’t stream or play games. I read MTFP and other high quality publications.”
Both readers live at urban addresses the state has classified as “served.” Again, the state’s official service standard is a low-latency connection that provides 100 Mbps downloads and 20 Mbps uploads.
Thanks to everyone who weighed in there!
—Eric Dietrich, Reporter
Decorated social justice advocate and community organizer Michaelynn Hawk died Feb. 3 in Tulalip, Washington. She was 61.
Hawk, an enrolled member of the Crow Tribe, was the longtime executive director of Indian People’s Action and was still serving as Montana senior adviser to the organization when she passed away from cancer earlier this month.
Hawk attended school in Coos Bay, Oregon, Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma, and Saint Xavier Catholic Boarding School in Big Horn County before graduating from Lodge Grass High School. An online memorial notes she was the “tiger mother” of six sons — Donavon, Keaton, Wacey, and Ethan Hawk and Alonzo and Isaiah Otherbull — and adopted daughters Amanda Curtis, Molly Moody and Sunshine Curlee.
“She was one of my biggest inspirations. I would not be where I am today without her,” Donavon, who represents Butte in the Montana Legislature, told the Montana Standard.
The Social Justice Fund recognized Hawk with the Jeannette Rankin award and the Montana Environmental Information Center named her Conservationist of the Year in 2019.
Moody described Hawk as a very private person who had known injustice and become “a real force for justice in every aspect.”
“She was deeply, deeply religious — always in prayer [and] just a really kind, wonderful woman of faith,” Curtis said. “She was girded in the armor of her God and always fought for the godly position for anyone who had been wronged or anyone who was doing without.”
Tom Rodgers, president of the Global Indigenous Council and an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, worked with Hawk on Indian voting rights. In a statement about her passing, Rodgers celebrated the “warrior passion that lived within her soul.”
“Creator, maker of all things, a warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Prepare the campfires so that she may find her place as a star along the Wolf’s Trail. Kitsiikakomim to you my beautiful friend,” he said.
—Amanda Eggert, Reporter
On Our Radar
Amanda Eggert — This short clip from a Feb. 9 meeting of a U.S. Senate subcommittee caught my attention because in it, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, asks a top Forest Service official about historic easements. “I continue to be concerned with what I think are inconsistencies in the Forest Service’s approach to public access,” he said, referencing a lawsuit regarding the Crazy Mountains awaiting a federal judge’s decision. “These decisions affect access in every state in the nation.”
Mara Silvers — When it comes to abortion access, Montana’s legal backdrop is pretty interesting. Since 1999, state courts here have permitted abortion as an exppression of bodily autonomy under the state’s constitutional right to privacy. This Kaiser Health News article by Nick Ehli, who’s also on our team at MTFP, puts Montana in context with other states. The legal patchwork is especially relevant as the U.S. Supreme Court considers cases that directly challenge Roe v. Wade.
Alex Sakariassen — This time of year, even my reading habits tend to skew toward skiing. And a recent adventure story in the Flathead Beacon, courtesy of my friend and former colleague Micah Drew, really put some fuel in the tank. Spurred by a flurry of rumors that pro skier Cody Townsend had been sighted in the Flathead last winter, Micah dug in and got the full story about a Glacier National Park descent that nearly broke one of freeskiing’s most celebrated athletes.
Eric Dietrich — I had to pry my jaw off the floor this week after I saw this real estate listing for the house I lived in when I covered city government for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle a few years back. Living with three roommates, I paid $400 a month in rent back then — and actually quit my job to leave Bozeman after my then-landlord listed the property for about $400,000 in 2017. Now it’s back on the market for twice that. Though, in fairness, they did redo the kitchen.
* Some articles may be behind a paywall.