McGrath Blocks Right to Amend State
Constitution - National Expert Says
Constitutional Initiative Process is now "Effectively Voided" in
Montana USA - March 26, 2002 - Attorney General Mike McGrath has used his power to write ballot wording to keep the state constitution largely unamendable.
A national expert said McGrath had done this by "misrepresent[ing] the facts" and that his ballot wording was "unfounded." The expert, Dane Waters of the Initiative and Referendum Institute, added that, "recent actions by [Montana state officials] ...have been designed to effectively kill the people's ability to use the initiative process."
Montanans for Better Government (MBG), a grass-roots group, had been preparing Election Protection Amendments, two constitutional initiatives that would have restored to voters flexibility in amending their constitution. That flexibility was taken away by the state supreme court in 1999. One initiative would have allowed voters to alter different parts of the constitution to achieve their purpose -- a right they enjoyed for 110 years before the 1999 supreme court decision. The other initiative would have done the same thing, but also would have protected previous public votes from being overturned for violating the court's new rule.
The Election Protection Amendments already had cleared a daunting set of hurdles imposed by statute: Submitted to the legislative bill drafters, sent to the secretary of state, cleared legal review by the attorney-general's office, and cleared fiscal review at the budget office. Drafters also had received and reviewed fairer ballot language proposed by an assistant in McGrath's office.
That's when things changed. Apparently as a result of intervention from others [McGrath himself?], the final draft of ballot language turned out to be so hostile and misleading that MBG concluded the voters would be denied an informed choice.
Pointing out that its inaccuracy and hostility made the new ballot language illegal, MBG asked secretary of state Bob Brown to intervene to have the A-G issue better language. (Brown's office oversees the initiative procedure). For several days, Brown refused to help, but finally offered assistance only a few hours before the deadline. However, McGrath refused to negotiate, citing the lateness of the hour, and Brown's staff said they didn't have the legal authority to reject McGrath's ballot wording outright.
In a strongly-worded letter, Waters took McGrath to task, and pointed out that this was the latest in a long line of actions by Montana officials designed to take away the people's right to act through initiative. We hope to provide you with a copy of Waters' letter soon. Waters' organization, the Initiative and Referendum Institute, is non-partisan, and not identified with either the right or left side of the political spectrum.
Note: Due to the serious nature of this issue we are waving our customary request that permission be granted before our bulletins are reproduced or forwarded and encourage readers to forward this message to as many Montanans as possible.
If you would like to learn more about Montana Conservatives please e-mail MC Secretary Judy Norman at: JudithN602@aol.com
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