Episode 19: Legislative Legacy: Big Changes in 1972 Constitution Bring Legislature Closer to the People - In the Crucible of Change
The fulcrum upon which were leveraged many of the dramatic progressive changes in Montana that are documented "In the Crucible of Change" series was the lead up to, preparation, writing and adoption of the 1972 Montana Constitution. As Montana citizens exhibited their concern over the dysfunctional state government in MT under its 1889 Constitution, one of the areas that stood out as needing serious change was the Montana Legislature. Meeting for only sixty calendar days every two years, the Legislature regularly tried to carry off the subterfuge of stopping the wall clock at 11:59 PM on the sixtieth day and placing a shroud over it so they could continue to conduct business as if it were still the 60th day. Lawyers hired by the Anaconda Company drafted most bills that legislators wanted to have introduced. Malapportionment, especially in the State Senate where each county had one Senator regardless of their population, created a situation where Petroleum County with 800 residents had one senator while neighboring Yellowstone County with 80,000 people also had one senator -- a 100-1 differential in representation. Reapportionment imposed by rulings of the US Supreme Court in the mid-1960s created great furor in rural Montana to go along with the previous dissatisfaction of the urban centers. Stories of Anaconda Company “thumbs up – thumbs down” control of the votes were prevalent. Committee meeting and votes were done behind closed doors and recorded votes were non-existent except for the nearly meaningless final tally. People were in the dark about the creation of laws that affected their daily lives. It was clear that change in the Legislature had to take the form of change in the Constitution and, because it was not likely that the Legislature would advance Constitutional amendments on the subject, a convention seemed the only remedy. Once that Convention was called and went to work, it became apparent that the Legislative Article provided both opportunity for change and danger that too dramatic a change might sink the whole new document. The activities of the Legislative Committee and the whole Convention when acting upon Legislative issues provides one of the more compelling stories of change.
The story of the Legislative Article of the Montana Constitution is discussed in this episode by three major players who were directly involved in the effort: Jerry Loendorf, Arlyne Reichert and Rich Bechtel. Their recollections of the activities surrounding the entire Constitutional Convention and specifically the Legislative Article provide an insider’s perspective of the development of the entire Constitution and the Legislative portion which was of such a high degree of interest to the people of Montana during the important period of progressive change documented “In the Crucible of Change.”
Bechtel, Rich; Loendorf, Jerry; Reichert, Arlyne; and Barrett, Evan, "Episode 19: Legislative Legacy: Big Changes in 1972 Constitution Bring Legislature Closer to the People - In the Crucible of Change" (2015). Crucible Episodes (old). Paper 12.