Don’t let politicians and lobbyists destroy our Constitutional rights and freedoms

January 31, 2023 4:17 am

A poster urging people not to change the Montana Constitution (Courtesy of Northern Plains Resource Council; Poster art by Windy Mill Press).

Montanans are blessed with some of the most expansive rights and freedoms of any U.S. state. We have these freedoms because our Constitution was written by Montanans to serve Montanans. In 1972, 100 delegates from every corner of the state – folks elected by their communities – authored this revolutionary document. These were everyday people — ranchers, teachers, homemakers, and even a beekeeper from Lewistown.

They were not politicians. They were not corporate lobbyists. 

Sadly, some politicians and lobbyists want to dismantle our Constitutional rights this legislative session. We won’t let them succeed. But why are they trying to undermine our freedoms in the first place?

To answer that question, we simply need to remind ourselves what Montana looked like before we expanded our Constitutional rights. For much of Montana’s history, most of the power was held by only a few, wealthy elites. They controlled our economy, our land and our resources. They owned and controlled our newspapers. They bribed and coerced our politicians and made secret deals far from public view. These were the Copper Kings and robber barons, routinely buying and selling public officials who fed on perks and proximity to power, aiding the barons by pouring millions into their massive fortunes. 

The tighter the grip these corrupt elites had on our government, the weaker we became. Out of control, toxic pollution rendered many of our communities unsafe. No matter their talent or work ethic, those without wealth and political connections had few economic opportunities.

In an act embodying both courage and democratic values, Montanans rose up to demand new rights, freedoms and liberties. This is the moment we convened the 1972 Constitutional Convention that brought together those 100 delegates from every walk of life to demand a voice in our government’s decisions and an end to the stranglehold of corruption. Thanks to that groundswell of democratic action, the Montana Constitution guarantees at least 17 more rights than can be found in the U.S. Constitution.

This includes the right to a clean and healthful environment, helping us preserve our land and water for future generations. It includes our “right to know” what our government is up to, ensuring accountability and transparency. It protects our democracy by requiring nonpartisan districting measures so that legislators can’t use corrupt gerrymandering tactics to handpick their voters. 

Our Constitution ensures fair and impartial courts to ensure the vital checks and balances between our branches of government and protections for our individual rights. It also recognizes our Indigenous culture and history, preserving Native American languages and education.

Montana is stronger, safer, more just, and more independent because of our Constitution. We have leveled the playing field so that wealthy individuals and large corporations can’t co-opt our legislators behind our backs. Unfortunately, some politicians like the power and perks from the old shady and unethical way of doing things, and they want to dismantle our rights. 

Already this session, legislators have drafted at least 54 amendments to our Constitution, almost twice as many as the document has seen in its entire history. These amendments could take away our right to a clean and healthful environment, undermine the independence of our courts, and dismantle vital pillars of our democracy. 

But we can stop them if we stand together. Let’s honor the spirit of those who worked so hard 50 years ago to gain these rights, honor our friends and neighbors using these protections right now to make contributions to communities and civic life, and honor future generations who will rely on our Constitutional safeguards for protection tomorrow just as we do today. 

On Wednesday, at noon, a broad coalition of individuals and organizations will gather for “We the People: A Rally for the Montana Constitution inside Helena’s Capitol Rotunda. Please join us to let legislators know how fiercely proud Montanans are of our Constitution and how fiercely we will protect it! 

Joanie Kresich is a retired teacher, lifelong educator, Livingston resident, and chair of Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.