When Canyon Resources Corp. sought to build a huge open pit cyanide heap leach mine in the Blackfoot River watershed, Missoula scoffed. When the company tried to overturn the state ban on such a facility, Missoula voted against it. When Canyon Resources and its lawyer, Ron Waterman, asked the state Supreme Court to reverse the public decision, Missoula rejoiced at the lawsuit’s failure.
Two years then passed and, on March 19, guess who filed papers to run for a chief justice seat on what? That’s right—Waterman now plans to vie for the Montana Supreme Court slot vacated by Karla Gray, leaving some Whos down in Missou-ville shaking their heads in wonder.
It’s difficult to begrudge a corporation (or its lawyer) for seeking to democratically topple a ban prohibiting its livelihood. And, certainly, the proponents of I-147—which aimed in 2004 to torpedo Montana’s cyanide heap leaching injunction—faced a mammoth marketing challenge. A cyanide-anything process sounds about as hard to sell as a Filet-o-Narwhal Happy Meal with a lead-laced Curious George toy.
The biggest source of the bad blood seems based on what came afterward when, instead of gracefully accepting popular defeat, Canyon Resources decided to litigate. The courtroom is also where Waterman really played a role. “I think the voters were pretty clear,” says former MontPIRG staffer Matt Leow, who campaigned against I-147. “People were very much opposed to it, across party lines.”
To be exact, 73.6 percent of Missoula County voters expressed a community value that no corporation may defile the Blackfoot River. Period. That right belongs solely to the guy Robo-tripping on an inner tube.
But don’t put Waterman in his watery grave just yet. The attorney’s long and fruitful career includes points more palatable for Missoula voters, like his advocacy for a statewide public defender system and opposition to capital punishment. Waterman argues that his Canyon Resources work only proves his dedication to law over politics. “Everyone deserves equal justice under the law,” he says.
Still, in knocking off a Democratic icon like Attorney General Mike McGrath, the alienation of Blackfoot advocates appears a huge handicap. We recommend no more ill-advised affiliations for Waterman unless he’s got a GOP fixer in his pocket—but that’s extremely unlikely. There’s just one Karl Rove, and he only appears when somebody exhumes a cemetery and buries the bodies upside-down.