Archive for November 4th, 2010

by Pete Talbot

It appears you can buy the Montana Constitution. Witness CI-105.

Here’s how it’s done: select your special interest initiative; make sure there isn’t an organized, moneyed constituency to oppose it; spend a ton on TV, radio and mailings; threaten a loss of equity in your home and a tax increase, and do it during a recession.

The stars aligned for Montana Realtors and their mouthpiece, the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors. (It was the national association that pumped more than $2 million into this race, which is something like 99% of the money spent on this campaign.)

Now we have a constitutional amendment that benefits a narrow, self-interested industry. And we’re hamstrung if we ever want to use a real estate transfer tax to balance a budget or mitigate other, more onerous taxes or maybe get a few dollars out of those second or third million-dollar McMansions that sprout up in exclusive Montana resorts.

Speaking of the Montana Constitution, it did my heart proud to see voters reject the initiative to rewrite our constitution. Our constitution is an excellent document that was hammered out in a bipartisan manner in 1972 and it endures. And fiscally speaking, a rewrite is an expense we don’t need during these tough budgetary times.

I was pleased to see I-164 pass. This ballot initiative put a 36% interest cap on payday loans. The libertarian voice in my head said, hey, if someone wants to pay an exorbitant interest rate for a short-term loan, what the heck. But, Wulfgar! summed up my final thoughts on this initiative:

Yes, 300% (more) interest is way too high. I get that. There still needs to be an alternative for the working poor … (snip) … Hopefully, I-164 will open a gap into which others will move. As a society, we often focus on the fact that these folks are poor, and ignore that they are working, very hard most often. They need a safety net as much as anyone else. Payday lenders have given them that. Passing I-164 won’t alleviate the need for such. It will only appease a symptom, and certainly not cure the disease.

Finally, I-161, the outfitter v. local hunter initiative. I called hunter friends and family members, and got opinions all over the map, literally and figuratively. I heard more dissension and debate on this initiative than the other three combined … but this is Montana, after all.  To be honest, since I’m one of the few Montana males who doesn’t hunt, or so it seems, I didn’t lose any sleep over this one. I voted against it and my wife voted for it, so we canceled each other out. The initiative passed 185,546 to 159,346, apparently freeing up more licenses for resident hunters but not really dealing with the bigger issue of hunter access.

By Duganz

Ronald Smith is set to die on January 31, 2011. That’s 88 days.

His final sentence came down yesterday in Deer Lodge, Montana, two days after a Helena judge imposed an injunction staying Smith’s execution.

But there are many more issues behind this: the state doesn’t have any sodium thiopental on hand to kill Smith, nor does the state have a place to execute Smith since they took Montana’s least homely trailer off its foundation–not to mention that Smith’s attorney’s filed papers back in January arguing that executing someone in a trailer, without medical staff was wrong (thus the injunction). So there’s that.

So what will happen now? District Judge John Larson says it’ll be up to the State Supreme Court to figure out which order needs to be followed.

Meanwhile, Smith’s attorneys will send a clemency request to the Board of Pardons within the next 10 days. The BoP will recommend to Brian what they think is the correct choice. Ultimately Brian will decide what to do. And we already know his answer: Kill.

It’s going to be a long couple of months for Ronald Smith, and it will be interesting to see how everything works out legally–and with international relations. It’s also interesting to read the international spin on this. From  the Toronto Sun:

“We’ll have to start a fairly elaborate planning process which begins with identifying staff to volunteer,” said [Montana State Prison Warden Mike] Mahoney.

Executions aren’t in the prison job description, so Mahoney needs people willing to work the equipment.

“We’ll have a meeting to ask for volunteers — by law, the only one who’s required to be involved is me.”

You might expect the warden to be a man hardened to the task, but Mahoney admits his three visits to the death chamber have been the worst part of his job.

“It’s without question the most difficult thing that I have to do as the warden,” said Mahoney.

“I can’t speak for other people who witness it, but you walk into a room, and when you walk out again, someone has lost their life.

“That, I think, is a life-changing experience — you know what will happen, but when it does, it’s a very profound moment.”

A callous killer of killers, Mahoney isn’t.

As an aside, I think it should be mentioned that Mike Mahoney is carrying a terrible burden on his shoulders, and I can’t imagine how difficult his day is just knowing that he’s going to go through it. Again. I truly wish that even if you’re a person for executing Smith, you take a moment to think of Mr. Mahoney, and how this will weigh on him.

And while you do that, read this:

The warden expresses sympathy for staff at the prison where Smith has lived since 1983, when he pleaded guilty to the murders of Thomas Running Rabbit Jr. and Harvey Mad Man Jr..

Twenty-seven years is a long time to get to know someone. In a facility filled with difficult criminals, Mahoney says Smith — now a grandfather — has always been an easy inmate to work with.

“This is a guy who we’ve provided custody and care for years, and that’s another dimension people don’t often think about,” said Mahoney.

“You’re not satisfying the order of a court on some total stranger — this is a person that all of us have dealt with for a good number of years, and staff would tell you he’s been a fairly easy inmate to deal with.”

If Mahoney is worried about his staff, the warden is also concerned about Smith’s reaction to the looming execution date.

“We obviously will be concerned about his state of mind, so we’ll have the mental health staff go around, to see if he has a desire to speak to anyone in that capacity, or a clergyman,” said Mahoney.

Those are some tough words to read, and I think a tough concept for people “on the outside” to understand. Having worked with incarcerated felons (several summers working at Montana State Hospital) I can say that eventually, for the most part, you stop thinking about people as murderers, and criminals, and start thinking of them as “the guy really good at cribbage” and “the one with the dirtiest jokes.” It’s the only way you can deal with that population: by remembering each day that no matter what they did, they are here now, and you’ve got to deal with them or find a new job. In Deer Lodge, Butte, and Anaconda, a “new job” is sometimes not gonna happen, especially with the benefits the state provides, so people adapt.

So whether or not you see Ronald Smith as human, someone working at MSP does. They may even see him as a person that — in another situation — they’d count as a friend. That’s a price for the death penalty that we’re not wont to talk about, and I’m glad the Sun brings it up.

But no matter what we all still have one question to answer: Is state-sanctioned murder okay?

A loss to the ‘sphere

by Pete Talbot

While trying to write a post on the Montana initiative contests, I surfed some of the other blogs for insight. Jay Stevens over at Left in The West is always my first go to guy. So it was disheartening to see that he is retiring from LiTW.

Jay’s writing was well-reasoned and researched. His posts were based on fact, not rumor or innuendo. Also, Jay wasn’t above self-reflection or re-thinking a stand on the issues. And his links were some of the best in the biz.

He’s a Democrat, to be sure, but he isn’t a party hack. He’s criticized just about every elected Democratic figure when they deserved it.

It’s usually the other way around. The old dude mentors the young dude. This was not the case here. Young Jay offered me a slot at 4&20. He proffered encouragement but also a free rein. Then there was the technical advise, which was sorely needed.

He left 4&20 in the capable hands of jhwygirl and the site continues to perform. His work over at LiTW is the standard by which other progressive Montana blogs are measured.

This post reads like an obit, which it is not. Here’s to Jay’s sabbatical. I’m sure we’ll see his writing some other time in some other place. Til then, thanks buddy.

(Update: it appears Matt Singer is leaving LiTW, too. Seven years isn’t a long time in the realm of most things but it’s an eternity in the world of the blogosphere. If the word “institution” can apply to blogs, then LiTW comes closest to fitting the definition. Founding father Singer set the tone for political blogs in this state and his voice will be missed. There is now a void where political junkies, elected officials and just regular folks who like to stay informed can go for news and commentary. Best of luck, Matt, on your future endeavors.)

(Final update: when the MSM reports on the blogs, well, that’s news in itself. Here’s Chelsi Moy’s take on the shuttering of LiTW.)

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