The statue of Thomas Francis Meagher in front of the stairs of the Montana Capitol (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan).
All of us who love Montana are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the state’s Constitution that keeps the power of Americans’ right to vote in the hands of Montana’s citizens.
Montana’s Constitution is championed throughout our increasingly imperiled free world for how it protects democracy for its citizens from Fort Peck’s to Flathead’s lakes, from Browning to Billings, from Livingston to my hometown of Shelby.
I’m lucky. I was straight out of Missoula’s University of Montana, way back when, and was part of the staff who helped delegates from all over the state on the Constitutional Convention’s General Government Committee as they ushered into law the power of suffrage and elections that most of us believe protects an obvious truth: People have to be able to vote if we are to live in a democracy.
That simple truth was the sole of my shoes during my Shelby high school and UM days as politics’ foot soldier, from being a TAR — Teenage Republican — who served on the 1964 Republican Party’s state convention’s state Platform Committee in Helena to standing with thousands of other UM students in constructive anti-Vietnam war movements. In those days, the killed-in-action ghost of a childhood friend named “Mike” walked with me. He still does.
My work researching suffrage and elections for the Convention covered villains who throughout America’s history sought to steal elections, pervert politics and slap voters in the face. Chicago’s Mafia rigging elections. Big Bucks bulldozing anyone who didn’t believe that money should rule our temples of power. Machine politics that ground independent voices into the dust. False prophets and con artists who maneuvered and corrupted government. States that prohibited you from voting if you were too broke to pay a poll tax, too rural, couldn’t pass a rigged test or had any shade of skin besides Stalin’s or Hitler’s.
Montana’s history is shotgunned by election-targeting corruption, including one of our Copper Barons in 1917 offering a political murder contract to now-globally famous author, then-Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett. Hammett refused the job. Days later, he saw the contract’s target lynched in uptown Butte.
Montana’s Convention delegates in 1972 who authored the Constitution’s suffrage and election clauses were schooled on all that.
More importantly, they’d experienced life on the 406’s Main Streets and gravel roads; in Glacier’s pine forest and the wind over golden prairies. They were decent, hard-working and honorable representatives of their folks back home.
They wrote clear, complete, concise, clean and conscious provisions protecting every Montanans’ right to vote — not just “philosophically,” but in common-sense practicality.
While all of them hoped that there would never dare again be anyone who would be so evil or wacky as to challenge Montanan’s right to vote, the delegates from both political parties knew their history — and they wanted to guard against democracy’s perverters.
Thank God they did.
We’re in a world gone mad.
And truth twisters who want to steal Montanans’ right to vote are back.
As The Montana Standard reported this April, last year in 49 state legislatures, more than 400 bills were introduced to restrict the rights of patriotic voters like you.
Doesn’t that boggle your mind?
Worse, a clique of so-called Republicans in Montana’s legislature seem intent on handcuffing your right to vote to their extremist wagon.
Go marvel at our Big Sky. Give thanks for our great Constitution.
And don’t let any slick bad guys hornswoggle freedom’s right to vote away from you.
Shelby native James Grady is a novelist whose prose The Washington Post compared to George Orwell and Bob Dylan.
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