PBS NOW, Howie Rich, the initiatives, and the Missoulian

So PBS NOW ran a show on the Howie-Rich sponsored initiatives, focusing on Travis Butcher’s little operation here in Montana. I meant to get to it over the weekend, but I was in Butte…and was waylaid.

Good show. A quick and well-crafted intro on who, how, and where the initiatives were generated, run, and funded.

First and foremost: remember, the initiative process is called a process for a reason. As Jeff Mangan mentioned the other day, changing the state constitution is a delicate thing that should not be easy. And it should be democratic along every step of the way, from genesis to signature-gathering to election day.

The process used to attempt to put Rich’s little trio of social experiments on the ballot was riddled with fraud and notably un-democratic. Travis Butcher was no more than a front-man for an operation birthed and born by an individual or handful of individuals. If you think this kind of operation is kosher, perhaps you also believe we should scrap the whole signature-gathering process altogether and just auction off ballot space every year to the highest bidder, because essentially that’s what Rich tried to do. Well, now the initiatives have been scrapped; let’s hope there will be some fines all around.

In the Missoulian’s ever-constant quest to tarnish its reputation as a fair newspaper and thus endear itself to the right, in an article this Sunday, the paper downplayed the origin of the initiatives, and gave equal credence to Butcher et al.’s notion that these initiatives had grassroots support.

That is, if your grassroots can be found on the Astrodome infield.

Let’s face it: most people like the services the government provides. Education. Law enforcement. Infrastructure. They also like the idea that they can help shape their communities through their democratic institutions. And to counter all that, a small, determined, and insanely wealthy band of ideologues want to conduct their laboratory-cooked economic experiments on communities where they don’t live. Fine. This is a democracy. But follow the law. And follow the process.

If enough Montanans are interested, we’ll see the initiatives again. Other than maybe the regulatory-takings bill, I’m not holding my breath.

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