The Indy Endorsements 

Head to the polls Nov. 5 with these thoughts in mind

U.S. Senate
In the absence of substance, this year’s race to claim the seat of Democrat Max Baucus has plenty of color. The incumbent gets our endorsement, but it comes somewhat by default. Bob Kelleher, a Butte Democrat, is running on the Green ticket without the blessing of the party, which seems to think he isn’t really Green. Then there’s Libertarian Stan Jones whose skin literally turned blue following repeated doses of a dietary supplement containing silver. The man’s skin is blue. What else can we say?

That leaves Republican Mike Taylor, a husky guy who thinks U.S. Senate seats are handed out to the most heterosexual among us. As a state senator Taylor voted to compromise worker safety, to speed up executions, to abolish affirmative action and to outlaw same-sex marriages.

In his inept run at statewide office he’s once again gone out of his way to marginalize gays and lesbians. Baucus, meanwhile, is doing constructive work for Montana as the Senate’s finance chairman. The senior senator has supported education and child health care, but in the current debate over forest management, Baucus is willing to cut corners on environmental oversights. And given his support of Bush’s tax giveaway/payback to wealthy GOP supporters, it’s clear that Baucus isn’t afraid of protecting himself politically, even when it hurts average Montanans. For that—not the hilarious TV attacks on Taylor—Max should be ashamed.

U.S. House of Representatives
Politically, Gov. Judy Martz and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg are two heads of the same beast. While Rehberg may be smarter than Martz, his rhetoric only repeats what’s being said by the mouth-breathers on AM talk radio. For instance, the former lieutenant governor believes cities and towns should not enact zoning rules unless taxpayers are willing to compensate landowners for any theoretical loss the owner might sustain due to a zoning rule. That’s call-in crazy talk.

To dial the debate up several IQ points, tune into what Democratic hopeful Steve Kelly has to say on everything from abortion to logging to land-use planning. Kelly is an unknown flower shop owner from Bozeman who has slept with nearly every political party, but after Election Day morning, never called any of them back. This time he’s running as a Democrat. The party welcomed Kelly with a pat on the back and some pizza money, but little else. All the more reason, we say, to vote for him. His unabashed support of smart growth, reproductive rights and aggressive protections for the environment are worth saluting even if you’ve never heard of the guy.

Supreme Court Justice No. 4
Here’s the irony: Respected Justice Bill Leaphart is accused of being an activist judge by arch-enemy-turned-activist Rob Natelson, whose former teaching assistant Robert Eddleman is now actively trying to unseat Leaphart. The Stillwater County attorney, Eddleman has never argued a case before the Montana Supreme Court or a federal appeals court. His only qualification, it seems, is his association with conservative UM law professor Natelson, who led the crusade to pass CI-75. The initiative tried to require that all tax increases be approved by a statewide referendum. Leaphart—an attorney from Butte with tons of experience and an impressive resume—wrote the Supreme Court decision that killed CI-75. Natelson has wept over CI-75’s corpse like a Sicilian widow, vowing revenge. Leaphart remains respectably above such grudges and wins our vote.The Montana Legislature
The people who really need your vote in the races for the Montana House and Senate are the mentally ill and the children without health insurance coverage. After years of Republican dominance in Helena, Montana is facing a $250-$400 million budget deficit and the prospect of doing the unthinkable: kicking the mentally ill out of hospitals and taking health benefits away from sick children. These and other basic social services are what Senate and House Republicans are targeting in their scramble to fill budget gaps. Those gaps appeared following a series of tax cuts pushed for by Republicans. A strong Democratic delegation from Missoula—with leaders like Ron Erickson, Dave Wanzenried and Gail Gutsche—could help reclaim some of that lost revenue. That’s why the Indy is endorsing the entire Democratic ticket in races for the Montana Legislature.

Missoula County Commission
Nobody is more surprised than we are to be endorsing Republican incumbent Barbara Evans for Missoula County Commissioner. Ideologically conservative, Evans has a record of opposing even modest curbs on development. She has publicly asserted a God-given right to drive an automobile, and Evans flatly denies that urban sprawl is a problem, which causes us to wonder whether she’s actually living on the same planet as the rest of us.

But as far as we can tell, Democrat Phoebe Patterson isn’t mounting much of a challenge. Patterson has run a superficial campaign that gives us no clue what she’ll actually do if elected. Most disappointing is Patterson’s inexplicable failure to make an issue out of Evan’s poor record on growth management.

However, there’s one extraordinarily good reason to vote for Evans: She supports the effort to remove the Milltown dam. As the most powerful Republican politician in the county, her stance effectively prevents ARCO, the state and the EPA from turning the debate into a partisan clash of ideologies. Evan’s leadership virtually guarantees that the focus will stay on the toxic mining wastes and the long-term health of the Clark Fork drainage. And that makes removal of the dam and the poisonous sediments behind it more likely.

Missoula liberals should compromise their values on managed growth to vote for Evans and restoration of the river. Over time, dismantling the dam could prove to be one of the most conscientious “developments” in the history of the county. Missoula County Justice of the Peace No. 2
Justice Court is the first turnstile career criminals pass through on their way to prison. It’s the perfect place to catch the young and the potentially felonious, and that’s exactly what incumbent JP Karen Orzech says she’s doing with the Community Circles program. This alternative—and cost-effective—approach to her job earns our endorsement. That might not sit too well with many in local law enforcement who have thrown considerable support behind Orzech’s opponent, R.J. Nelsen, the county’s community service coordinator. Still, we’re sticking with Orzech and hoping all her talk about restorative justice produces results.

Initiatives C-36 and C-39
Together, C-36 and C-39 represent an overly optimistic attempt to place everything from worker’s comp to public education trust funds at the mercy of the stock market. Right now, these public funds are generally on the rise within the bond market. There may be a better way to increase the return on this money, but gambling on Wall Street isn’t it. First there’s the inherent conflict of interest: If the state owns stock in a mining company, for example, would DEQ aggressively enforce regulations that might hamper profits for the environmental good? More importantly, public trusts like these need to provide a predictable, consistent return, and that’s why both C-36 and C-39 warrant an “against” vote.

Initiatives C-37 and C-38
It’s hard enough as it is to gather the signatures necessary to place an initiative on the ballot. But if C-37 and C-38 are passed, both constitutional initiatives and citizens initiatives would be significantly more difficult to put in front of voters. Under C-37 and C-38, groups would have to gather signatures in half of the state’s counties. It would make a signature collected in remote Glasgow more important than one picked up on the corner of Broadway and Higgins. It would also surely lead to fewer initiatives on the state ballot. The signature-gathering advantage would tilt toward corporate-backed groups with enough money to pay for professional canvassers. That would gut the real purpose of the initiative process: To grant access to the ballot, where the public can voice their concerns and shape the state’s agenda. A vote “against” C-37 and C-38 protects this right.

Initiative No. 117
Under HB 474, taxpayers are fed a distasteful mix of higher electricity rates along with the financial risks of the electricity business. That’s because the bill—passed at the 11th hour in 2001—forces taxpayers to underwrite loans to the power companies and cover other expenses incurred due to deregulation. As Rep. Michelle Lee (D-Livingston), the key backer of I-117, tells it: “Deregulation is the hog, and HB 474 is the wrong color lipstick for the hog.” Wipe the state’s lips clean and toss out HB 474 with a “reject” vote on I-117. Initiative No. 145
Deregulation has blessed the state’s private power companies with millions a year in profits. That revenue comes at the expense of Montanans all too familiar with the catchphrase “heat or eat?” If voters pass I-145, the state could both cash in on the power market and significantly lower rates. This initiative is the first step in that direction. A “for” vote on I-145 will place the common welfare of all Montanans ahead of corporate profits. From there, the state must proceed frugally.

Initiative No. 146
Programs aimed at curbing tobacco use are proven to save both lives and money in the long run. But given the dire condition of the state budget, dedicating $9.1 million to the fight against tobacco is like feeding vitamins to a patient with minutes to live. Because right now Montana has some Dickensian social problems brewing: domestic violence, costly prescriptions for seniors and a host of other, more immediate ills. That’s why a vote “against” I-146 is a vote against settling for pennies when other pressing problems demand far more.

Missoula County Referendum No. 2002-081
Fort Missoula has come a long way from a few years back when it looked like the landmark would succumb to encroaching subdivisions. Now the county has an action plan: Pass Referendum No. 2002-081, which authorizes a slight increase in property taxes. Take that money, about $604,000 a year, and fix up Fort Missoula with more places for active and passive recreation (read “soccer” and “feeding ducks”). What’s not spent on Fort Missoula will go toward developing parks in Lolo, Seely Lake and Frenchtown, whose voters should join Missoulians in voting “for” this measure.

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