Soon 150 legislators, selected by their constituents, will meet in Montana’s capitol to represent the diverse interests of our state and to ensure all the voices of the people of Montana will be heard. Our challenges and opportunities will be unique to our state and its people.
One of our first tasks will be to agree on a set of procedural rules to guide our deliberations during this session. Article V, Section 10 of the Montana Constitution states that each house shall make rules for its proceedings. To be clear, we won’t be voting to change the constitution or the limits placed on our authority by it. These rules will not change super majority or greater rules required to accept debt, to access the Coal Trust corpus or any other limits placed on us in our constitution.
While our founders intended to make it difficult to legislate they did not make it impossible. They did not apply those same super-majority standards to passing most bills out of committee, or moving most bills from one house to the other — issues the drafters of our constitution clearly considered and applied to specific processes.
Some have suggested that our rules and legislating should look more like they do in Washington, D.C. where super-majority rules and consolidation of power contribute to an agenda that is dictated by special interests and the parties. These rules have contributed to gridlock, to over $20 trillion of debt, and to a condition where power is centralized in the hands of a few. If you love what this centralization of power has done for Washington you’re going to love what it can do for Montana. There are, however, those of us who don’t agree.
That’s why I support simple majorities in the Montana House on those rules that weren’t designated for super majorities by our founders. These limits will support a process, in my opinion, that provides a better opportunity for Montanans to have their voices heard through their representatives and reduces the chance that only a handful of opinions will prevail.
A lone legislator should not have the power to prohibit the majority of legislators from considering and debating a policy. This is a practice that has occurred in previous sessions and that has served a few while disenfranchising the rest. This centralization of power does not respect the thoughtful deliberation of committees or the will of the people. Simple majorities work well in Montana’s Senate and will work equally well in the House.
As for me, I intend to support a set of rules that allows me to represent my constituents. Rules that respect the careful work of committees while still honoring the diverse interests and opinions of Montanans. Whether you live on the plains or in the mountains, in our urban or rural areas, whether you are young or old or rich or poor, I am going to support a set of rules that honors your participation in our government and that helps our Legislature look more like Montana and less like Washington.
Frank Garner is a Republican state representative from Kalispell.