Prairie Lights: Forget Trump, here are 2 key state races


Ed Kemmick

If I thought it would make the slightest difference, I would urge readers of Last Best News to vote for Hillary Clinton, given the mountain of evidence that Donald Trump is completely unfit to be president.

But it appears that Montana voters are going to favor Trump in any case. Fortunately, it appears just as likely that the country as a whole will reject him by a large margin.

So, instead, let me weigh in on just two Montana races about which I feel most strongly, for a variety of reasons.

The first is Greg Gianforte’s campaign to oust Gov. Steve Bullock. There are more than a few troubling things about Gianforte, including his views on stream access and his disgusting attempts to make political fodder of desperate refugees fleeing war and terror.

Note to Gianforte and his handlers: For people fleeing from Syria, the risks of staying there really were like being handed a bowl of Skittles and being told that three of them were poisonous. In this country, the risk of being killed by a refugee is so small that you are more likely to be killed by having your clothes melt or catch on fire.

But what really disqualifies Gianforte for me is his unwillingness to say a word about how his strongly held religious views would influence his actions as governor. Before the campaign, a large part of Gianforte’s life, and a sizable amount of his charitable giving, was devoted to deeply conservative, deeply religious endeavors.

He was a major supporter of the Glendive museum that presents a series of childlike fables as alternatives to conventional biology, astronomy and other sciences. When Jack Horner recently denounced Gianforte for promoting the idea that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, Gianforte’s spokesman pointed to an earlier statement from the candidate:

“I believe young people should be taught how to think, not what to think, and a diversity of views are what should be presented.”

In a political science class perhaps, but not in classes dealing with the hard sciences. We might as well allow some students, at one of the computer coding classes Gianforte is promoting, to learn actual programming, while the others would be allowed to wave a magic wand over the computer.

Gianforte has also been a major supporter of the Montana Family Foundation, which has fought tooth and nail against marriage equality and other forms of gay rights. Gianforte and his wife also strongly opposed a nondiscrimination ordinance that eventually passed in Bozeman.

But whenever he is asked about any of these subjects on the campaign trail, Gianforte retreats to his one stock answer: He is running for governor because he wants to create jobs and improve the economy, period.

On what basis should we accept that statement? What if he were really running because he wants to promote creationism, private schools and the rollback of gay rights? These are things a governor could act on, as opposed, say, to federal immigration policy.

This is all speculation, granted, but what else is supposed to fill the void left by his refusal to comment on anything but a few key topics of his own choosing?

For similar reasons, I find the campaign of Supreme Court candidate Kristen Juras troubling. Her opponent, District Judge Dirk Sandefur, has come out squarely in favor of equal protection and freedom from discrimination.

Juras has said that while she believes as a Christian that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, she would be bound by the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right to same-sex marriage.

All well and good, but as reported last week, Juras said in an email to a colleague,
“I think there are going to be a lot of cases affecting religious freedom that arise over the next several years, and I’d like to be part of the decision-making body that will be addressing those issues.”

This is much like her stance on stream access. The public’s right to use streambeds between the high-water marks is established law, which she will abide by, she says. But she is also on record as calling the Montana Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing such access “a monumental erosion of property rights.”

If you are opposed to stream access and gay rights, by all means vote for her. But let’s not pretend we don’t know how she’ll vote on these issues.

I have to say that being opposed to Juras isn’t nearly as easy and satisfying as it was being opposed to the ideologue who ran for the state high court in 2014. Juras is a Montanan with deep roots, a good family and apparently sincere beliefs. I just happen to disagree strongly with her beliefs.

Bonus endorsement: Please do vote in favor of Initiative 182, which removes most of the worst restrictions the Legislature imposed on the medical marijuana system in Montana.

The system was flawed, but the Legislature appeared intent on crippling rather than reforming it, ignoring the wishes of the large majority of Montanans who first approved a medical marijuana initiative back in 2005. The changes were also very cruel to thousands of Montanans who had come to rely on marijuana to deal with terrible diseases and medical conditions.

I-182 would enact the kind of reforms the Legislature should have adopted to begin with.

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