Uncommon Ground

Here We Are

Buckle up for the upcoming state Legislature. It’ll be a bumpy ride for reproductive freedom, basic rights, and local control.

By Mike Jopek

The first winter storm to rage throughout the Flathead knocked out power and water to thousands of rural and urban residents, breaking trees and limbs which still held summer leaves. That didn’t stop people from voting days after.

On the anniversary of our statehood, many Montanans once again went to the polls to exercise a fundamental right to choose the next leaders to guide us forward through a time of economic and social turbulence.

Most take the voting tradition seriously as the consequences of inaction are dire to freedom. We can demonize others, or find some of that old-fashioned common ground politics which makes our local communities great.

Americans across the nation stopped the most recent wave of political attacks on reproductive freedoms. The power to choose remains firmly vested in the hands of voters.

Voters passed measures guaranteeing reproductive freedom in California, Michigan and Vermont, while antiabortion proposals in Montana and Kentucky lost. Montana, once again, shunned the partisan recommendations for Supreme Court justices. 

In Bozeman and Missoula, young voters stood in line for hours to simply exercise a right to vote. Thank goodness for the rest of Montana they did. The overwhelming number of under 30-year-olds voted for their reproductive freedoms. In Michigan, a student reportedly waited in a voting line over six hours and was finally allowed to cast her ballot after 2 a.m. 

When I went to my polling location at a Whitefish church, a big cross hung outside while a sign by the door read “no electioneering.” There was no line for entry. 

For Montana, not much seemingly changed. It’s more of the same, more Republicans in charge, now with new powers. The fervor of the upcoming Legislature escalated and safe-seat politicians still won’t quite understand members elected from swing districts.

Republicans had been hungry to earn new constitutional powers from voters like the supermajority ability to send constitutional amendments to the electorate for simple majority vote, bust the trust, and that coveted veto-proof Legislature.

How the upcoming legislative districts are drawn and paired into state Senate seats remains key to how Montana moves forward. It’s really how we got here in the first place. It’s why our Legislature remains busy trying to draw new political maps to make even justice partisan. 

When Montana created our new Western Congressional District, the historic voting models pointed Republican even before millions of dollars were spent on advertising. Poor redistricting in New York by Democrats was immediately blamed for the majority change in the U.S. House. 

Montana’s redistricting committee decides how legislative districts look for the upcoming decade. If they draw it like the new congressional district, expect a turbulent decade where one-party rule dictates future rights and values for all Montanans.

The redistricting committee should stop packing Democrats into urban legislative districts and quit drawing urban-fringe districts to be solely Republican. That’s not how our towns or communities work. Draw equal districts that match our lives, include places where people live, work, and recreate, regardless of how they vote.

Safe districts serve politicians. Some politicians never had to really campaign or knock doors. The outcome seems predetermined. The candidates that come from safe districts routinely work the wings of politics, except in Butte where moderation still rules.

Montanans didn’t appreciate making justice partisan. Republicans blew it bigtime when Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson was handily re-elected. Dave Fern easily won a fourth term in the state Legislature as Whitefish turned bluer after all the newcomers moved into town.

Buckle up for the upcoming state Legislature. It’ll be a bumpy ride for reproductive freedom, basic rights, and local control. There’ so little time to do right by our hometowns during the 90-day Legislature and endless ways to get distracted in Helena.

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