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Last fall, Montana Free Press embarked on a project to commemorate a monumental event in Montana history: the creation of our state’s 1972 Constitution.
Fifty years ago this week, 100 Montanans from all corners of the state and all walks of life, one by one, signed their names to the foundational document that enumerates the rights of Montana citizens and the roles and responsibilities of its three branches of government.
It was perhaps the greatest display of bipartisanship the state has ever seen, and one that seems unlikely to be repeated in our lifetimes.
Along with New York Times bestselling author Sarah Vowell, Montana Free Press reporters and I interviewed six of the living delegates to the 1972 Constitutional Convention, four staffers who participated in the Con-Con, and our very own Board Chair Chuck Johnson, who covered the convention as an intern for the Associated Press.
“I thought the 50th anniversary was not just a good time to reflect on the convention but also, from an oral history standpoint, this is the last time that we would be able to do this,” Vowell said, explaining the roots of the project. “It’s a nice time to check in with delegates that are still here and get their thoughts on what they accomplished, where they came from, to get them pondering the future.”
Those oral histories are now archived at Montana State University for the benefit of current and future generations of Montanans.
The interviews inspired a series of MTFP stories this week documenting the Constitution’s legacy, from Eric Dietrich’s analysis of how the “living document” remains at the center of current political debates to Amanda Eggert’s examination of how the state has lived up to the promise of a “clean and healthful environment.” Mara Silvers dug into the question of whether state government is complying with the Constitution’s “right to know” provision, and Alex Sakariassen detailed the challenges the state, educators and tribal leaders have faced in implementing the commitment to provide “Indian education for all.” Finally, Chuck Johnson reflected on his experience covering the Con-Con as a “wet behind the ears” reporter for the AP.
MTFP is proud to have participated in this historic anniversary commemoration.
You can read our complete coverage, and watch our anniversary event at MSU this week, including a 20-minute highlight reel of our interviews with Con-Con participants, on our “Montana Constitution at 50” webpage.
—John S. Adams, Editor-in-Chief
“A ‘special select committee’ promoting baseless conspiracies may further someone’s political career but would recklessly undermine the public’s trust in Montana’s elections. This constitutes an attack on the integrity of Montana’s election system that I am duty bound to resist. I ask my fellow legislators to do likewise.”
— Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, in a Belgrade News op-ed this week.
Bedey’s statements came in response to the latest move by a group of Republican lawmakers to form a special legislative committee to investigate alleged irregularities in Montana’ election security. At the request of 10 of those Republicans — including Sen. Theresa Manzella, Rep. Brad Tschida and Rep. Derek Skees — Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen is polling legislators via certified mail on whether to call a one-day special session May 2 to vote on establishing such a committee and allocate the necessary state funds. Legislators have 30 days to respond to the poll, with 76 “yes” votes required for the effort to succeed. A push last month by the same Republicans to convince Gov. Greg Gianforte to call a special session failed to attract support from a majority of lawmakers.
—Alex Sakariassen, Reporter
Hot Potato 🥔
Backers of a constitutional initiative that would cap residential property taxes in Montana said this week that they expect to ramp up signature gathering efforts as winter gives way to spring. The backers of the initiative, CI-121, face a June 17 deadline to collect the 60,358 signatures they need to qualify their amendment for this fall’s ballot.
Supporters of CI-121, which is modeled on California’s landmark Prop 13, say it would keep rising property taxes from pricing Montanans out of their homes as the state’s real estate values surge. The measure is opposed by business groups, labor organizations and many state lawmakers, who argue its blunt-force approach would help some homeowners at the expense of first-time homebuyers, farmers and small businesses.
If you missed it, Montana Free Press published an in-depth story on the proposal in February
—Eric Dietrich, Reporter
Following the Law ⚖️
On Tuesday, conservative polemicist, blogger and pastor Jordan Hall appeared virtually before a trustee in Montana Bankruptcy Court, raised his right hand and swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about his personal finances.
Hall, of Sidney, publishes the Montana Daily Gazette, a right-wing site he has claimed gets more web traffic than the Billings Gazette. Hall filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Feb. 14, shortly before he was scheduled to appear for a hearing in a libel case filed by lobbyist Adrian Jawort. The bankruptcy filing halted proceedings in Jawort’s case, where Hall was at risk of being sanctioned for using threatening language against the plaintiff, her attorneys and the judge.
The hearing on Tuesday was Hall’s first appearance before the federal bankruptcy trustee who, along with Hall’s creditors, asked a series of questions about his personal assets (the sole creditors in attendance were attorneys representing Jawort).
Hall reported at least partial ownership of one house, seven vehicles and trailers, 16 guns and rifles, roughly $500 in silver coins, a $2,500 gun safe and three limited liability companies. At one point in the hearing, Hall chose to plead the Fifth Amendment after being asked by Jawort’s attorneys if he was involved in “a bulk purchase” of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine imported from Canada, an arrangement he allegedly mentioned during a February speech in Great Falls. Later in the hearing, Hall denied being involved in any bulk purchase of those drugs.
Hall is also the sole owner of Gideon Knox LLC, which he told bankruptcy trustee Joe Womack does political consulting and also operates “various news blogs or websites,” including the Montana Daily Gazette. Womack told Hall he should ideally shut the business down in order to pay off his creditors.
“I’d like you to close the doors on that and get the money out of the account and send that to me and then let your employees know you’re not going to be doing any more — they’re not going to be doing any more work,” Womack said, adding that Hall should also terminate the business’ office lease with the Fellowship Baptist Church of Sidney, where Hall is employed.
Womack indicated that the decision about Gideon Knox was not final, pending deliberations with Hall’s attorney. It’s unclear what its closure would mean for the Montana Daily Gazette, the platform where Hall published the post about Jawort that’s now at the center of the libel case.
As the case continues, Jawort’s attorneys will try to argue that bankruptcy shouldn’t shield Hall from liability in the defamation suit. Another hearing to focus on that issue is scheduled in bankruptcy court on April 21.
—Mara Silvers, Reporter
The Viz 📈
The University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism & Recreation Research has for years surveyed Montanans about their attitudes toward tourism, which has become both a major economic driver for the state and, for some Montanans, a subject of lamentation.
This year, for the first time, a majority of respondents responded affirmatively to a question the institute has been asking since the early 1990s: whether they agree with the sentiment that tourism is making Montana overcrowded.
For years, healthy majorities of Montanans have apparently scoffed at that idea. But public opinion has become more critical of tourism gradually over the last decade, and then shifted dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The institute’s full report also includes data on how Montanans in different parts of the state responded to a question about whether they felt more tourism would increase Montanans’ quality of life. It shows a notable regional divide on that question. While more than half of survey respondents in southeast Montana, for example, were bullish on tourism, the same was true for only 27% of respondents in northwest Montana around Glacier National Park.
—Eric Dietrich, Reporter
It’s time to test your listening skills on Season 2 of our Shared State podcast.* Anyone who sends in correct answers to the three questions below will be entered to win MTFP swag: hats, mugs, sweaters and more. Let’s get started.
Episode 3: Who decides the future of the Badger-Two Medicine?
1. How many oil and gas leases in the Badger did conservation activists find out about in the 1980s?
2. Which company sued over the federal government’s attempted cancellation of its lease?
3. What is the designation that some members of the Blackfeet Nation use to refer to the Badger-Two Medicine and portions of land now encompassed by Glacier National Park?
Submit your answers using this form by 5 p.m. Mountain Time on Monday, March 28, and we’ll randomly select one winner from the correct entries to send some sweet MTFP gear. Special shout-out to Ali from Helena, winner of last week’s quiz competition!
*Yes, we know, there are transcripts available to just look up the answers. We trust you to listen first and verify later. Have fun!
—Mara Silvers, Reporter
On Our Radar
Amanda Eggert — Subscribers to the old “you manage what you measure” saw might be interested to learn that the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a rule this week that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their climate risk and greenhouse gas emissions as well as efforts they’ve undertaken to decrease their carbon footprint.
Mara Silvers — What kind of health and human services nerd doesn’t enjoy comparing child welfare systems in her free time? Even if your answer is “not me,” it’s worth looking at what’s going on next door in Idaho. After a series of stories from the Idaho Capital Sun, that state’s budget is now poised to include a $96.6 million investment in the child welfare system — dollars that will, in part, help retain burned-out and undercompensated case workers.
Alex Sakariassen — With all the chaos unfolding at the national and global levels, it’s easy to forget that individual communities here at home are facing their own unique challenges. Prime example: a story from the Havre Daily News this week chronicling the town’s discussion about problems posed by urban deer, and why people feeding them isn’t helping matters.
Eric Dietrich — Washington Post writer Eli Saslow is a national treasure, one of the best journalists working anywhere in the country when it comes to compassionate, narrow-lens stories that show what national trends mean for the lives of individual Americans. In a piece published this week, he profiles a Michigan family that’s fighting a losing battle to keep a toehold in America’s middle class.
* Some articles may be behind a paywall.