The Indy's 2016 Election Issue 

Politics as unusual

One good reason—really—to hold your nose and vote

by Dan Brooks

This year's general election has been the most interesting of our lifetimes, I hope. It's surely been the longest. Texas senator and wax sculpture of a dishonest Roman Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president in March of 2015. Sixteen Republicans followed him, composing the largest field of any American primary ever. The Democrats supplied six candidates of their own, two of them actual. Eighteen months later, this panoply has yielded the two most disliked major-party nominees in the history of modern polls.

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Donald Trump, who has never held elected office, has spent the campaign defying one norm after another. He announced his campaign with a speech that called Mexicans "criminals and rapists," a statement the audacity of which was exceeded only by everything he did after that. In the closing weeks of the campaign, he has been telling his supporters the election is rigged. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has methodically executed a campaign built on the promise of the first woman president—and the threat that, if it isn't her, this other maniac will win.

Sometimes it feels like a less-than-inspiring choice. As we approach the end of this slog toward the White House, it's easy to be sick of electoral politics. Maybe the important thing on November 8 is for it all to be over. But if the top of the ballot offers a choice between licorice and lint, there is sustenance and even savor a little further down the menu.

Consider the race between Ryan Zinke and Denise Juneau. Zinke is a former Navy SEAL and Montana's sole representative on Fox News, as well as in the U.S. House. His opponent, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, is the first American Indian woman elected to statewide office in Montana. She is also the first openly gay Montanan to run for U.S. representative. As of this writing, she is running well behind Zinke in the polls, but the mere fact of her candidacy is a kind of victory.

Maybe these firsts do not interest you, though. Maybe the identity you care most about is professional. Perhaps you are one of the growing number of voters who feel the main problem with politics is that it involves too many politicians. Here, too, the 2016 ballot has you covered.

In an eerie mirror of the presidential contest, the governor's race pits multimillionaire Republican Greg Gianforte—who also has not held public office—against Steve Bullock, also the Democratic successor to a more popular executive. As at the top of the ticket, this race entices voters with an option to throw the rascals out. So does the one between Dirk Sandefur and Kristen Juras. Sandefur has been a district court judge for 14 years, while Juras has not sat on the bench. She has cited this absence of experience as a way for her to bring "diversity" to a court overloaded with judges.

The dubious power of claims like that has been the unifying theme of the 2016 elections. In the weeks before Americans choose between the president's wife and Citizen Kane, it's tempting to see this as the year of the outsider. It was the year we got sick of politics as usual and the usual politicians. But to be honest, that is what we usually do.

Every four years or so, we Americans rear up and express our immense dissatisfaction with politics. We excoriate the political class and flirt with the idea of tearing it all down and starting over. We do so in roughly the same way that we object to getting older on our birthdays. We don't really mean it. We complain, but we know it's better than the alternative.

  • photo courtesy Gage Skidmore

If we have watched our potential leaders bring out the worst in one another for two to 18 months, we at least have antagonists among which to choose. If all our options seem revolting, we can consider the plight of our contemporaries in Russia, where the polls insist that everyone has loved the same kleptocrat for 15 years. American politics may be run by jerks, but at least they're in competition for our votes. We get to pick our jerks.

The choice this year is exciting. Our options run the gamut from business as usual to pure nihilism, and there is no voter too alienated to find some oval to fill in. Even if you hate the whole shambolic apparatus, you can still vote for medical marijuana. Decades or maybe just months from now, when you are actively managing your glaucoma and telling shapeless stories to your grandchildren, you'll get to say you voted in this most interesting election. You can say so without frustration or fear, knowing it's all securely, finally, in the past.

Going big

Missoula library sees inspiration in new $30 million building—will voters?

by Derek Brouwer

The campaign to build a new Missoula Public Library faces no organized opposition, but it doesn't take much to quash a local bond measure. Grumbles will do, especially in a county that's already ponied up $200 million in bonds in the last two years. Now that library supporters want $30 million more, those grumbles are getting louder: No new taxes. A new building is too expensive. Who needs a library, anyway? The objections pop up on Facebook, around the dinner table, and on a yard sign planted along Rattlesnake Drive that reads, "No library bond. Build third floor."

The library can't just expand upward, according to a 2010 analysis by Oz Architects. The building's foundation won't support it. Nor can it expand outward, lest it swallow an already undersized parking lot. Besides, the inclination toward a cheaper fix, supporters say, misunderstands the scope of the problem. Missoula's 42-year-old public library isn't just outdated and out of room for more books. With only 38 places to sit, it's grossly undersized to serve a county with more than 100,000 residents.

"The inability for people to come in and find a little place to do their reading does not reflect well on our community," says Barbara Theroux, the library campaign's co-treasurer. "We have to catch up."

And the library needs much more than an extra floor to catch up. The same 2010 analysis examined benchmarks developed in a Colorado study and found that Missoula's 42,000-square-foot library is less than one-third the recommended size for a community of Missoula's population. Even under the study's bare-bones "essential" standard—which excludes space for study rooms, kids' story time and group meetings—the Missoula Public Library is 13,000 square feet too small.

Those who use the library can feel it, Missoula Public Library Foundation Director Karl Olson says. Kids' reading programs are "often standing-room-only." Any time a new book is added to the stacks, another one has to be removed. The archive of local records and publications can't grow. Computer stations in the downstairs "Web Alley" are frequently full. The single large meeting room is almost always booked.

Despite the cramped quarters, Missoula's library remains the busiest in the state—busier even than new facilities in Billings and Bozeman. Still, Olson says, the "fishbowl effect"that an organism will grow, or not, to fit its container—keeps it from being the hub for information, activity and exchange that modern libraries have become.

click to enlarge By one measure, the Missoula Public Library is too small to provide even “essential” service to a county of 100,000-plus people, and needs to triple in size to provide comprehensive services. A $30 million bond measure asks voters to support construction of a new facility that would meet modern library standards. - PHOTO BY YOGESH SIMPSON
  • photo by Yogesh Simpson
  • By one measure, the Missoula Public Library is too small to provide even “essential” service to a county of 100,000-plus people, and needs to triple in size to provide comprehensive services. A $30 million bond measure asks voters to support construction of a new facility that would meet modern library standards.

The library board hopes to better fulfill that mission in a 120,000-square-foot, four-story building to be constructed one block east of the library's current location. That plan, made possible through a land swap with a private landowner, would keep the library downtown and allow the existing facility to remain open during construction. If the bond passes on Nov. 8, the new library would open in 2019.

The owner of a $200,000 property would pay about $28 annually for the next 20 years to fund construction. Theroux, who runs Fact & Fiction Bookstore, notes that that's about the average cost of a hardback book.

About half of county residents have library cards, and for some, the facility is a lifeline. Mary Baggaley counts herself among them. Elderly and unemployed, she can't afford home internet service or a smartphone, and is still learning to use email, which she says is crucial in her search for a job. Perusing online job boards, sending applications and checking for replies has become part of her daily routine. Baggaley says she prefers the library computers to those at Missoula Job Service because she can use the leftover minutes of her one-hour reservation to surf the web. She's been searching for a horse rescue group that will let her volunteer. "This is a good thing," she says of the library.

Bond campaign materials point out that a quarter of Missoula residents don't have home internet access. The proportion of people left out of the online age will likely decrease over time, but Olson insists that even ubiquitous digital culture won't render the library's bookshelves obsolete. He began a recent presentation to a community forum with the "news flash" that e-reader use has plateaued, and library science suggests that the relationship between print and digital material is mutually reinforcing. "The more digital access people have," Olson said, "the more print materials they find out in the world and want to have as well."

He was followed at that forum by library board chair Rita Henkel, who emphasized the library's role in promoting childhood literacy, particularly in preparing kids to enter kindergarten (child development research has found that a so-called word gap in exposure to words—through storytelling, for instance—puts low-income children at a disadvantage). Henkel says a larger new building will allow the library to expand its youth programs. Additionally, a planned partnership would provide library space for the University of Montana's SpectrUM Science Discovery Area, Children's Museum Missoula and Missoula Community Access Television, all of which, Olson says, would expand literacy and learning activities for young people. The partnerships would be funded through a $5 million private fundraising effort, $2 million of which has already been raised.

MCAT General Manager Joel Baird says he's excited about the chance to move into the library. He thinks it would lead to more community participation in MCAT's programming, such as a drop-in video animation workshop, and calls the partnership a "great marriage" of overlapping missions. With so many groups under one roof, Baird expects inspiration to flow.

"It seems like there would be a lot of collective energy," he says.

Who could possibly oppose victims' rights?

The other side of Marsy's Law

by Kate Whittle

In a TV ad promoting Marsy's Law for Montana, haunting music plays as two women describe being nearly killed by the same abusive man. "He kept breaking into my home and beating me and strangling me and almost killing me," says Debra Ricci, sitting next to Patty Walters. Patty then describes how the man put her through the same cycle of abuse.

"If someone had listened to me, heard my voice, prosecuted this man, put him away, they could have saved Patty," Ricci says. "She never would have had to go through this."

The women go on to say that Montana crime victims "deserve equal rights" and ask for a yes vote on CI-116, aka Marsy's Law for Montana.

Individual testimonies for Marsy's Law vary, but little of the constitutional amendment's language differs among the several states that are considering Marsy's Law ballot initiatives this election cycle, including Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The multistate effort is largely driven by the grief of one California billionaire, Henry Nicholas. In 1983, Nicholas' sister, Marsalee, nicknamed Marsy, was shot in the head by her ex-boyfriend. In the weeks after her death, not knowing that her killer had been released on bail, Marsalee's family ran into him in a grocery store. Nicholas went on to strike it rich after founding semiconductor company Broadcom. Since then, California and Illinois have enacted Marsy's Law after campaigns bankrolled by Nicholas. The law's primary intent is to make sure that victims and their families are notified of changes throughout the judicial process and to reduce the traumatization of victims during depositions and trials.

"Marsy's Law doesn't take away defendants' rights, but gives victims stronger rights to privacy before the trial process," says Chuck Denowh, director of Marsy's Law for Montana.

Opponents say the boilerplate initiative is unnecessary, expensive and potentially even harmful to victims. Legislators from both parties—including Republican Rep. Brad Tschida and Democratic Rep. Ellie Hill, who don't typically agree on much—oppose the measure.

click to enlarge Marsy’s Law initiatives throughout the nation are being funded by California businessman Henry Nicholas. Opponents of the law say it could be an expensive disaster for the state. - PHOTO COURTESY MARSYSLAW.US
  • photo courtesy
  • Marsy’s Law initiatives throughout the nation are being funded by California businessman Henry Nicholas. Opponents of the law say it could be an expensive disaster for the state.

ACLU Montana Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann sees Marsy's Law as a California billionaire's attempt to "buy a victory" in states like Montana, where it's relatively cheap to run a statewide campaign, toward the long-term goal of eventually passing a federal victims' bill of rights. But the dramatic ads featuring heartrending testimonies mask several potential pitfalls, she says.

"I think it's very misleading," Borgmann says. "It sounds like it's just expanding victims' rights, or establishing them. It's not at all clear from the description how broad the definition of 'victim' is."

CI-116 expands that definition to include a crime victim's family and close friends, and requires that all such parties be notified of every step in the legal process. The law also guarantees victims the right to retain an attorney in addition to representation provided by the state—but doesn't indicate who might pay for that attorney, Borgmann says. CI-116's fiscal note describes the cost of implementing the law as "unknown."

"If it's left up to the victim to hire an attorney, that's going to vary a lot depending on the resources of victim," she says. "There is no way the state can afford to hire attorneys for all victims. It's not even meeting federal constitutional requirements to provide attorneys for all defendants right now."

Borgmann says provisions of CI-116 even threaten the state legislature's bipartisan effort to reduce Montana's incarceration rate by requiring courts to consider victims' input during sentencing and parole hearings.

"Understandably, most victims are going to feel opposed to measures that might keep people out of jail or prison, but that's why we don't create an adversarial system that pits criminal defendants against victims," Borgmann says. "The system is supposed to work by the state representing society's interests. [CI-116] just upends that whole process by turning it into victim versus defendant."

What's worse, Borgmann says, is that CI-116 proposes a constitutional amendment, not a statute. "If it turns out to be a disaster, we're stuck with it in the constitution," Borgmann says. "It would need a constitutional amendment to get it changed."

Marsy's Law director Denowh defends CI-116, saying the initiative's vague wording gives courts "latitude" on the particulars. He acknowledges that the costs haven't been determined, but he thinks prosecutors' offices could tap into federal funds to beef up their victims' services.

"It depends on who you ask," Denowh says. "Some county prosecutors are worried about how this might affect their budgets, some might add staff to comply. We're not sure that's necessary."

Regardless, Denowh doesn't have much reason to worry about detractors—the initiative recently polled at 72 percent approval, and the campaign is blanketing Montana with mailers, TV ads and canvassers. Actor Kelsey Grammer appears in the latest TV spot in support of CI-166. No group has filed with the state to mount an opposition campaign. And Marsy's Law has been endorsed by Sen. Steve Daines, which Denowh describes as an important step toward a lofty goal.

"He's the first U.S. senator to endorse Marsy's Law anywhere," Denowh says. "The big deal for us is to enact an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to put a crime victims' bill of rights in the U.S. Constitution. Senate support is going to become really critical."

As of October 26, Marsy's Law for Montana reported $2.4 million in campaign donations. The campaign's sole donor is Henry Nicholas.

Fur or against

The fiscal argument over I-177

by Alex Sakariassen

A decade ago, most Montana voters weren't especially familiar with trapping on public lands. That's when Footloose Montana spokesperson Connie Poten first began advocating a ban on the practice, and many people thought she was referring to speed traps. Efforts by Footloose and others to get the issue on the ballot in 2010 and 2014 proved unsuccessful, and Poten's organization turned its attention to public education, presenting trap-release workshops and youth forums statewide.

The strategy worked.

"Most people in Montana are fully aware of trapping now and what it does to animals and how it makes [public lands] unsafe," Poten says. "We had a much easier time getting signatures this time because people already knew the issue."

Those signatures, gathered by Montanans for Trap-Free Public Lands, put Initiative 177 on the 2016 ballot. Proponents argue that a ban would benefit people, their pets and non-target species like mountain lion, wolverine and lynx, which state data shows are prone to incidental capture during trapping season. Poten and her fellow advocates are also careful to point out that I-177 does not limit trapping on private or tribal lands, or restrict trapping by wildlife managers for purposes of public safety or scientific study.

As with any proposal affecting activities on public land, I-177 has attracted a wide array of opponents. The Montana Trappers Association calls it "the most egregious form of ballot box biology the animal rights groups have ever proposed," claiming it would negatively impact ranchers, hunters and wildlife. The association is also a primary donor to Montanans for Wildlife & Public Land Access, which has spent more than $221,000 fighting the initiative and last month produced a television ad featuring two retired Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees.

"Wildlife managers could be forced to use poison, even in parks and on school properties, causing real danger to pets and children," former game warden Craig Jourdonnais says in the ad. (Montana Trappers Association President Toby Walrath explains that state law gives public land managers three options—firearms, traps and poison—to control problem wildlife, and that removing one option increases the chances that others will be used. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim says poison is not employed by the agency's wildlife managers.)

But one of the most damning criticisms of I-177 also happens to be the most dubious. The argument against the initiative in the Voter Information Pamphlet published by the Montana secretary of state includes an estimate that I-177 will cost Fish, Wildlife and Parks "at least $422,000" annually. A cost breakdown posted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation—another I-177 opponent—indicates the total was reached by combining numerous expenses FWP could incur if trapping on public lands ceases. The foundation attributes those figures to FWP chief legal counsel Rebecca Dockter, who, according to records provided to the Indy, compiled the information in July for trapping advocate (and co-drafter of the Voter Information Pamphlet's anti-initiative argument) Paul Fielder. Fielder is the husband of state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the federal lands transfer nonprofit American Lands Council and supporter of a bill, passed into law in 2015, that includes trapping as a constitutionally protected form of hunting.

Dockter's numbers reflect a host of potential employee and operational costs. Her estimates reveal that the agency derives 12 to 20 percent of its verified wolf locations annually via wolves harvested by trappers on public lands—data the agency would have to collect by other means. Dockter also reported that Fish, Wildlife and Parks could require additional staff to respond to property or livestock damage caused by species that would otherwise be removed by trappers.

click to enlarge An initiative to ban trapping on public lands has generated an uproar among sportsmen’s groups across Montana. Proponents of the measure question assertions about how much a ban would cost the state. - PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN
  • photo by Alex Sakariassen
  • An initiative to ban trapping on public lands has generated an uproar among sportsmen’s groups across Montana. Proponents of the measure question assertions about how much a ban would cost the state.

Aasheim clarifies that the information Dockter provided to Fielder was neither reviewed nor approved by the state budget office and was simply presented as the agency's best guess as to how I-177 might affect its expenditures. Some of Dockter's information was included in a fiscal note approved by the budget office projecting an estimated $61,380 annual loss in trapping license revenue if I-177 passes. But Aasheim says he's unaware how the initiative's opponents arrived at the $422,000 conclusion.

"We can't take a position on an initiative," Aasheim adds. "All I can tell you is we will provide any facts that we have that don't have an opinion associated with them. The best information we have, we have provided to anybody that's asked for it."

Walrath defends the figure used by I-177's opponents and suggests that the actual impact could be much higher. An estimate of income tax associated with fur sales submitted to Walrath by FWP furbearer coordinator Bob Inman last fall indicates the trapping industry generated more than $2.8 million in taxable income in 2013-2014revenue that's not reflected in the fiscal note.

Poten alleges that Montanans for Wildlife & Public Land Access and its allies inflated the economic consequences of I-177 by tallying the alternative-scenario costs of adding staff, increasing monitoring efforts and boosting problem-animal management presented in Dockter's email. She points out that even the fiscal note approved by the budget office is based on assumptions, citing FWP's admission that it has conducted no studies on how many trappers utilize public land versus private.

Despite her annoyance at what she considers a misleading fiscal attack, Poten thinks insinuations about poison in schoolyards are more likely to stick with voters. Even so, she's confident that after a decade of work, I-177's proponents have finally gotten their message across.

"I don't know about the fence-sitters, I think they're vulnerable to these false claims," she says. "But I think most people know where they stand."

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