Project Vote Smart, a grant- and member-funded organization providing voters with online information about state and national political candidates, recently struck fear in the progressive heart of Montana Green Party legislative candidate Paul Stephens, of Great Falls, who writes and distributes the Montana Green Party Weekly Bulletin. He relayed the following in the Bulletin’s August 3 issue: “I’ve finally made my decision. I’m chucking the Vote Smart extortion.” He fears that his responses to Vote Smart’s information request form will portray him as “stupid and fanatical.” The form, says Stephens, “didn’t ask any of the hard questions.” He believes it is “a blatant propaganda tool for the benefit of Republicans and [corporate Democrats].”

Project Vote Smart’s Adelaide Elm laughs when she hears the allegation. “I’m just flabbergasted,” she says. Third-party candidates, she says, are “usually thrilled” to be given a forum that reaches so many voters. Each day, she says, three million people seek information on Vote Smart’s website.

Scott Proctor, Montana Green Party coordinator, says that Stephens’ newsletter does not represent the Green Party’s position. “The Green Party is actually highly in favor of getting voter information over the Internet,” he says. He sympathizes, however, with Stephens’ concerns that the form may not solicit information that concern Greens, like candidate positions on voting reform. “That’s a big topic for the Green Party,” he says.

Chuck Denowh, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, doesn’t believe Project Vote Smart is designed to benefit any party. Vote Smart, he says, is “just trying to educate voters,” and he hasn’t heard Republican candidates voice concern about broadcasting their viewpoints via Vote Smart: “They don’t have anything to hide.”


Washington Watch—Part II: You remember Dennis Washington, right? Missoula’s own up-from-his-bootstraps billionaire industrialist? The man who took advantage of his 70th birthday (and city property) to trumpet his own corporate good fortune on the street banners of downtown (see Etc., July 29)?

We were still basking in the afterglow of Washington’s glitzed-out celebrations of a few weeks back when the news arrived that Washington had opened a new park to the hoi polloi, and the city, a Missoulian headline affirmed, was “all aboard.”

“This place is going to get lived in,” Mayor Mike Kadas effused. It’s “a great show of corporate citizenship.”

The great show of corporate citizenship, it turns out, is not so much a birthday present from Washington to the city (Montana Rail Link retains ownership and oversight of the park) as a birthday present from Washington’s family to Dear Dennis. It’s a narrow strip of right-of-way near the Northern Pacific Depot at the north end of Higgins. And while the historical plaque on the depot describes “this splendid symbol of Missoula’s importance,” the adjacent park is a splendid symbol of Dennis Washington’s importance. There’s a courtyard embedded with the Washington Companies’ motto and logo, watched over by a display of the American flanked by the Montana state flag and, you guessed it, a Washington Companies flag.

MRL’s Linda Frost says the company is playing wait-and-see before establishing criteria by which the park will be managed, and confirmed the possibility that private functions may eventually be held there, at MRL’s discretion, and that early talks with the city Parks Department’s Donna Gaukler about how best to manage, or co-manage, the privately owned land had yet to yield definitive fruit.

In any case, the park is now open to the public, and Tuesday evening Farmer’s Market shoppers did seem to enjoy being able to step up on the curb without fear of facing trespassing charges. Say it with us, Missoula: Thanks, Dennis!

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