It's no secret that our nation's prisons are overcrowded and failing to keep our communities safe. Compared to peer nations around the globe, no country has more of its population behind bars. Our per-capita incarceration rate is five times higher than Great Britain, nine times that of Germany and 14 times higher than Japan. Almost one-quarter of the prisoners worldwide are in American jails, despite the United States accounting for just 5 percent of the world's population.
The reasons for our prison overcrowding are many, but one factor has been the tough "mandatory-minimum" sentencing laws that were enacted in the 1990s. The intent behind these laws was good—to bring consistency to sentencing. At the time, judges were given wide discretion in sentencing criteria, which led to some disparities in sentences for similar crimes.
But over time those mandatory minimum laws meant that some offenders could get very long sentences for relatively minor offenses. For instance, the federal mandatory minimum sentence for nonviolent drug offenses is currently 10 years.
In fact, most of the offenders behind bars today are nonviolent drug offenders. Instead of using the sentencing to hold them accountable and treat the root of their crime, we are keeping them in jail, making their reentrance into society much more difficult.
I'm not suggesting we should suddenly go soft on crime. What I am suggesting is we become smarter about how we sentence criminals. Because not only is our corrections system the largest in the world, it's by far the most expensive as well.
And believe it or not, there is a very good chance that reform of our justice system could be passed by Congress this year. Already, 34 senators (19 Democrats and 15 Republicans) have cosponsored the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. One of the most recent additions to that cosponsor list is Montana's Sen. Steve Daines.
The SRCA is a good step toward relieving overcrowding while focusing tougher sentencing on repeat and violent offenders. The SRCA would allow judges more discretion in sentencing for lower-level crimes.
Most significantly, it would allow a judge to lower the mandatory minimum from 10 to five years for drug offenses for defendants who have never had a violent offense, do not participate in gang activity, were not involved in the production or "wholesale" level of drug trafficking, and had never distributed drugs to a minor.
Sentencing reform is never an easy task to accomplish. For basic public safety, we need to make sure that the people who should be behind bars are behind bars. But prescribing a sort of one-sized-fits-all approach to sentencing and taking away discretion from judges has produced the new problem of expensive prison overcrowding we have today.
The SRCA is a measured approach that has attracted significant support from Republicans and Democrats alike. That's rare in Washington these days. So let's encourage our congressional delegation to work to keep the momentum going.
Thank you Sen. Daines for taking a leadership role on a difficult issue. It really will make a difference for Montana and our nation.
State Sen. Nels Swandal
This is a plea to all Missoula's residents to not limit your aspirations to a single situation but to look at the broader principles we are standing for and to incorporate them into our community. Projects like Free Cycle's Cycles of Change Campaign, running now until July 1.
Cycles of Change is looking to create new generators of economic prosperity in downtown Missoula. It's our city's opportunity to create the future we want.
Not a day goes by without individuals expressing their opinions on whether to keep the Missoula Mercantile or allow a hotel to rebuild on the property. Arguments against the hotel remind us we do not need another cookie-cutter corporation from outside the community destroying our history in the quest for profit. Proponents of tearing down the Merc point to the needed economic growth and downtown foot traffic. Both points are addressed by the Cycles of Change Campaign.
For $5 per city resident Free Cycles would be able to purchase and transform the property, located at 732 S First St. West, into a unique, dynamic and vibrant hub located at the nexus of the Garden City's trail system for cyclists from around the city, state and country. I urge every Missoulian who is discontent with the Mercantile situation to look to the future and make changes where we are able, perhaps by donating to the Cycles of Change Campaign online at freecycles.org.
I am astonished by the recent news coverage of the bison calf that was euthanized in Yellowstone National Park. I have felt outrage, sadness, anger and the need to cry and the need to laugh. It's just a bison so get over it. There are a lot bigger issues that face our world, our state and our community. That bison calf, gone and destroyed.
The Blackfeet and most other Native American peoples have a different belief system when it comes to animals and the rest of Mother Earth. The animals were placed among us humans as partners. Our lessons in life and survival were taught by the animals. Animals could take on human form to teach and guide us and often save us. And then change back to their animal form. Crazy notion, huh? We Catholics differ from most other Christian denominations because we believe in "transubstantiation." We believe that the bread and wine is "substantially transformed into the body and blood of Christ." Crazy, huh?
There is a natural order that all animals follow. A grizzly bear attacks and mauls a tourist who comes upon her and her cub feeding on berries. We euthanize her for the attack because she has become sensitized to the taste of tourist. On her part she was protecting her family, following the natural order of things (and getting rid of that annoying ringing bell). My Judeo/Christian, European DNA inherited from my Irish father, born in Butte, cheers for the justice gained for the tourist. My mother's Blackfeet heritage cries for the needless death of this creature.
We can cite the bison cow for child endangerment and abandonment and sentence her to death (sorry, we already did that). Or we could have sentenced her to a life of domestication, eating in a corral, posing for tourist cameras in an environment safe for both, continuous petting by children and maybe becoming ground bison for meals. Maybe the park could have raised her and displayed her and her story of abandonment for the next tourist that believes it is a good idea to put wildlife in their car! At least they had a seat belt in place.
Blackfeet Tribal Business Council
I have worked with Gail Gutsche in one capacity or another for more than 20 years. Most of that time was spent promoting policy and programs that protected women and their families from the ravages of environmental degradation. I don't know anyone who is as committed to a cleaner environment, and more specifically to a cleaner energy future, than Gail. I also don't know anyone with more integrity. That is why I wholeheartedly support her candidacy for the Public Service Commission.
I have watched firsthand as she stood up for protecting our wildlands and wildlife; for improving river habitat; for eliminating harmful pesticides; and for the transition to renewable energy during her numerous years working in the nonprofit world, eight years serving in the House of Representatives and during her term on the PSC. That's not all. She has also championed the rights of women, workers and low-income people.
Gail is always on the right side of the right issues, especially when it comes to conservation and protecting the environment. Her extensive legislative know-how and policy-making experience, plus a term on the PSC under her belt, put her head and shoulders above the other Democrats running for election to this office in the primary.
Another thing that sets Gail apart from her competitors, she has a tremendous ability to work across the aisle, a skill exemplified by her partnership on the PSC with Commissioner Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls. Working with another Democratic commissioner, the trio formed a bipartisan majority that brought clean, renewable wind online and bolstered energy conservation. Gail honed her skills working with Republicans during her tenure in the legislature where she passed numerous bills with their help. Yet she never compromises her principles or values. In my opinion, Montana could use a lot more bipartisanship right now.
Political acumen, uncompromising principles and a clear vision toward moving us to a cleaner energy future! That's what you get with Gail Gutsche. Please join me in voting for Gail for PSC on June 7.
I live in a rural area of Missoula County where sometimes it's de rigeur to complain about the policies, directions and goings on "in town." But I love Missoula and I fiercely love Missoula County. Our issues do not have black and white solutions, nor even gray ones. Our solutions must be more kaleidoscope in nature, structured but brilliant and varied. Missoula County is diverse, complicated, and our county commissioners maintain the necessary tension that makes this place so livable.
Dave Strohmaier is endorsed by Montana Conservation Voters. A lifelong hunter, fisherman and conservationist, he knows the importance of public lands and healthy habitats. He is concerned about food security and understands the struggles of farmers and ranchers. As county commissioner, he will promote our agricultural heritage and protect our prime agricultural soils. He was a wildland fire incident commander for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service who will promote public safety and sound land use planning in the wildland-urban interface. He was a supervisor, project manager and business partner in the private sector in addition to serving eight years on Missoula City Council. He values the connection between good planning and economic prosperity.
In a time where vitriol and poor behavior are demonstrated on the national political stage, it is a welcomed relief to support a candidate who is not a politician, but a statesman. Dave Strohmaier is able to authentically bridge rural and urban concerns. He is thoughtful, a great listener, collaborative and, above all, kind. While these may sound like qualities we were taught to strive for in kindergarten, they are the qualities that will keep us together while grappling with issues such as planning and development, climate change, public safety, human rights, justice, culture, land stewardship and conservation.
For eight years, Dave Strohmaier was my representative on Missoula City Council. For six of those years, I worked alongside him representing Ward 1. There aren't many people who saw Dave work the way I did: regularly replying to constituent emails after long days of work and family life, spearheading initiatives like neighborhood infrastructure planning because his leadership was needed to get it going, always being ready to offer a thoughtful and conciliatory explanation of his position—especially when he dissented. Dave is a rare combination of consideration and concentration; he will be a formidable county commissioner and I urge your support for him in the June 7 primary.
As citizens in Missoula County, we have a critical choice to make in this year's June primary election. The best choice for the Missoula County Commission is Dave Strohmaier. As a lifelong hunter, fisherman and conservationist, Dave knows the importance of wildlife, wild places, healthy habitat, public lands, pure water, clean air and food security in Missoula County. Dave will fight against any efforts to privatize public lands in Missoula County.
As a Missoula County commissioner, Dave Strohmaier will adopt an open-door policy with staff and the public, nurturing a sense of respect and teamwork. He will collaborate with elected officials and the public to set a clear vision for Missoula County and then implement that vision. He will acknowledge the reality of climate change as one of the greatest moral challenges of our time and work to make Missoula County carbon neutral through energy conservation, smart development and sustainable transportation. Dave will ensure adequate public involvement and respect for neighborhood plans and historic resources and will continue my advocacy for the return of passenger rail service through southern Montana.
I met Stacy Rye five years ago and I have been grateful ever since (see "Heart and soul," May 19). She is a strong friend and an even stronger leader. I supported her when she put in her name for the appointment of Missoula County commissioner because I knew she would work harder than anyone else at the job. She is extremely passionate about local government and making Missoula a better place to work and live.
While I could repeat other letters about openness and transparency, helping families and partnering with local governments, all things Stacy ardently believes, my biggest reason for supporting Stacy is her kindness and loyalty. Stacy has a youthful sense of loyalty that is hard to come by for those in politics. She cares deeply for those around her, including those she represents.
I have watched as she has faced harsh backlash from standing up to the status quo. Through all of this, she has maintained her love of local government and wanting to continue as a commissioner with the hopes of making Missoula better. I hope you will join me in supporting Stacy and know that she will work her hardest for you once she is retained as the incumbent.
I encourage you to support Dave Strohmaier for Missoula County commissioner (see "Something new," May 19). Dave and I have been friends for close to 20 years. I know him as a person of integrity, compassion, discernment and intelligence. There is no one I trust more than Dave to act according to the values he publicly articulates and keep his role as a servant of the public central to his actions. His long public service has demonstrated Dave's intelligent, honorable and responsive approach to leadership.
One of the most important issues for me is securing long-term affordable housing in a manner that also promotes environmental principles and fosters a strong sense of working together. Dave Strohmaier has been one of the central influences in helping me explore and refine this commitment through his practical and ethical perspectives. Dave shares these values. He believes we can develop effective policies promoting vibrant, healthy and sustainable human and physical environments.
Dave was a colleague of mine when we both worked for the U.S. Forest Service. Dave was an exceptional supervisor and manager—skills that he's since demonstrated in municipal government and the private sector, and skills that set him apart in this race.
Also, I was very pleased to learn that he was the only candidate endorsed in this race by the Montana Conservation Voters, which is no surprise given his solid record of conservation both in elected office and with federal land management agencies. Dave's exceptional communication skills and balanced approach to complex issues has served him well—demonstrated in the two books he's published on the subject of wildland fire, a topic very important to those of us who live in the Northern Rockies.
Dave has my wholehearted support and is the clear choice in this year's Democratic primary.
I fully support Mark Sweeney in his bid for the Montana Public Service Commission. Mark will aggressively defend Montana ratepayers and bring a fresh, innovative approach to energy development in our state.
As a former chief executive of Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, I had the honor to work with Mark when he was an ADLC commissioner. While we didn't always agree on the issues, we worked diligently together, with mutual respect, for the betterment of the community. Mark was fair, unbiased and always did his homework when making informed decisions, and he listened to the concerns of his constituents.
Mark was a leader on energy and environmental issues on the county commission. During his tenure, NorthWestern Energy completed the 150 megawatt David Gates Generating Station near Anaconda. This innovative, gas-fired generating station is integrated with wind energy and can be "ramped up" very quickly to supplement electricity supplies when the wind is not blowing.
Mark was instrumental in working with Pintler Power and ADLC to allow the installation of anemometers to evaluate the potential for locating wind energy projects in the county. He also championed the development of a "pump and store" hydroelectric project at a county-owned reservoir high above Anaconda. While this project has not come to fruition, it shows the type of innovative thinking that Mark brings to the job at hand.
As a retired fish hatchery manager, Mark champions clean water and the environment. He serves on the governor's Upper Clark Fork River Advisory Council, which is tasked with evaluating and recommending proposals to remediate and restore areas damaged by past mining and smelting activities throughout the river basin. He was also appointed to a BLM advisory board to evaluate routing proposals for the MISTI power transmission line.
I urge you to join me by voting for Mark Sweeney for PSC commissioner.
Ms. Tompkins -- thank you.
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