Chronic council watchdog and sometime-candidate Kandi Matthew-Jenkins walks purposefully, silently, across the Missoula City Council chambers and begins distributing copies of two petitions along the long arc of tables. As she passes Mayor Mike Kadas, who is leaning over the table concealing his expression behind his hand, she neglects to give him a copy of either. She continues on to the remainder of the council as if he wasn’t there—which is more than wishful thinking on her behalf.
“These are recall petitions for Mayor Kadas,” she announces for the public record.
Smiles and puzzled looks break out across the faces of those gathered in the room, but Matthew-Jenkins’ countenance is impassive. She’s not kidding around.
Matthew-Jenkins’ campaign isn’t the sole recall effort in the state. A couple of hundred miles away, Rep. Michelle Lee (D-Livingston) is drafting her own petition. But Lee’s effort is aimed even higher—she looks to take down Gov. Judy Martz. And she isn’t kidding around either.
Even as local, state and national elections entered the home stretch, both women had decided to circumvent traditional routes and take the road almost never traveled to correct what they see as the failures of our representative democracy. According to state and city law, respectively, recalls of governor and mayor require the gathering of signatures. If the required number is collected, the official in question must resign or face a special election.
The greatest difference between the two efforts isn’t their respective targets, but their feasibility. Matthew-Jenkins’ recall effort has a pie-in-the-sky tone. Last year, Mayor Kadas overwhelming defeated his two challengers (one of which was write-in candidate Matthew-Jenkins) with 57 percent of the vote. But Matthew-Jenkins insists her election defeat has nothing to do with her petitions. “This is based on law,” she says. “This is not based on any personal agenda.”
The meat of Matthew-Jenkins’ complaint lies in what she sees as Kadas’ misrepresentation of problems at the municipal wastewater treatment plant and an alleged violation of the Montana Constitution when the mayor brought out-of-state police officers to Missoula during the 2000 Hells Angels rally.
Unlike Kadas, Martz isn’t very popular—her approval rating hovers around 20 percent—which may make Lee’s quest for support easier than Matthew-Jenkins’.
“An interesting thing is starting to happen,” says Lee. “All the sudden people from all over are starting to call me and e-mail me saying, ‘Gosh, we’d really like to do this.’”
The recall idea came to Lee after she wrote the governor a lengthy and detailed letter about heath and human service budget cuts that are intended to offset an expected $200 to $400 million state deficit. When Lee received Martz’s reply—a tiny, index-card-sized response curtly thanking the representative for her concern—Lee made up her mind.
“All I know is that as a Montana citizen, I could not at all in good conscience be silent about what could happen to some of the people in this state,” she says. “Health, a good quality of life, safety, these are all things guaranteed to people under the [state] Constitution.” When Lee discovered that cuts meant the foster care program was losing 90 percent of its funding and as many as 85 individuals could die because of a loss of kidney dialysis treatments, she became confident she had grounds to recall the governor. “I think that some of the cuts violate federal law,” says Lee. “No, I know that they violate federal law.”
Grounds for recall at both the state and city levels follow roughly the same logic. Both can be based on reasons varying from commission of a felony to mental incompetence to violation of an oath of office. It is this last reason that provides Lee and Matthew-Jenkins with their best ammunition—both women allege constitutional violations.
Matthew-Jenkins’ petitions against Mayor Kadas have already passed through official channels and begun to circulate. Lee’s petition is currently being reviewed by an attorney to make sure it will withstand legal challenge, which Lee anticipates.
But Lee says a legal challenge won’t dissuade her because her reasons are just and there’s a burgeoning groundswell of support behind her.
“I had a medical insurance company call me and say, ‘We want it,’” she says. “When an insurance company calls, that’s a pretty good sign that, gosh, people really do want something like this.”
Lee won’t name the insurance company because she hasn’t asked their permission. Nor will she name the handful of state legislators she says are behind her, for the same reasons. But she’s confident she can find the necessary 62,455 disgruntled Montanans from both parties to trigger the recall.
“I’m sure that there will be lots of accusations that this is partisan and ‘look at those damn Democrats, they’re just tax and spend,’ but that’s not the case,” says Lee. “The issue is that this is intolerable to all people of this state.”
Matthew-Jenkins has fewer signatures to gather—7935—but no less daunting a task.
“I think that there are enough people in Missoula that are probably asking the same questions that I am,” she says. “How can you get away with breaking constitutional laws and federal laws and not be held accountable for it?”
Mayor Kadas says that Matthew-Jenkins’ allegations are unfounded and border on absurd. The allegations are issues voters knew about before voting to reelect him, says Kadas. “She got 6 percent [of the vote]. I got 57 percent.”
From local to state election offices, no one can remember a successful recall effort leveled at any major public official in Montana. “There was an attempt in 1989 to recall [former Governor] Stan Stevens, but it didn’t get very far,” says Secretary of State public information officer Gayle Shirley. “The petition was rejected by this office because they didn’t have sufficient grounds.”
While Lee doesn’t think she’ll have any problem proving sufficient grounds, it’s not her call to make. That’s the purview of Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown, whose working relationship with Martz may be one of the few good ones the governor has left.