Montana's Redistricting News
Gazette: "Both parties pleased over state candidate
filings." March 7, 2004
With just 14 days left for candidates to file for office, the chief legislative recruiters for Montana's two major political parties are pleased with their prospects so far, even as they search for more before the deadline.
Then again, it is that time of the year for cockeyed optimists. Hopeful politicos have visions of November election victories in their heads, just as Major League baseball managers see their spring training teams as World Series champions in October.
Time is running out, but Montanans interested in running for the Legislature, statewide office or county office have until 5 p.m. March 25 to pay their money and take their chances. They can file on weekdays only.
As of Friday, 182 Montanans had filed for the Legislature for all 100 House seats and 25 of the 50 Senate seats up for grabs this year.
Democrats, who've been in the minority in the Montana House since 1993 and the Senate since 1995, see hope in their roster of candidates.
"It's going very well," said Ted Dick, executive director of the state Democratic Party's Legislative Campaign Committee. "I've put 30,000 miles on my car since coming here in July. I really feel a lot of positive energy, and people really do want to make a change."
Some Democrats are stepping up to run even in some strong Republican legislative districts "because they really feel they've got a shot with the way things are," Dick said. They believe they can make a difference this year as Democrats try to recapture the House and Senate, he said.
Republicans are feeling handicapped by what they contend was an unfair Democratic gerrymandering in redistricting the Legislature that takes effect this year.
Democrats counter that it levels what had been an uneven playing field for them. This bitter debate will probably go on till the next reapportionment occurs in Montana after the 2010 census.
Yet Republicans, too, are hopeful about their chances at the polls this year, even if the consequences of the new Democratic districts leave them slightly less effusive.
"I think it's going pretty well," said House Majority Leader Roy Brown of Billings, who heads the state GOP's Legislative Campaign Committee.
"We've got some great candidates in our strong seats and some good candidates in most of the swing seats in both the House and the Senate."
As Dick reads the tea leaves this year, he sees Democratic success in November, rattling off a number of reasons:
"Ten years of being under Republican control and the economy's not moving forward. People are out of jobs. Not enough investment in education. Skyrocketing health-care costs. Twenty percent uninsured. Skyrocketing tuition rates and skyrocketing utility rates."
Brown, however, says Republicans who've jumped into legislative races are people who want to give something back to Montana. Most aren't the kind of people who complain without doing something about it, he said.
The top issue on Montana voters' minds is jobs and the economy, Brown said. That plays to Republicans' strong suit because their top priority has long been helping small businesses grow to expand the state economy.
"It's been encouraging to see that Montana is in the top brackets in the country for percentage income growth and job growth, and at the same time we have one of the lower unemployment rates in the country," Brown said. "I think it's showing that Montana is starting to turn the corner to a brighter future. It's not time to go back to the (Democrats') tax-and-spend philosophy that's failed us in the past."
While encouraged by the economic progress, Brown added, "We do still have a long ways to go, though."
We will be hearing about this debate over the Montana economy often in the next nine months. Stay tuned. It's outcome may well determine which party controls the Legislature and which candidate for governor is elected.
As for Montana's statewide and state district races, both major parties have nearly filled their slates.
Republicans have candidates running for all state and district races, save for one.
They are still trying to find someone to take on Attorney General Mike McGrath, a Democrat seeking re-election.
Democrats, meanwhile, also have filled all state and district slots except for the Public Service Commission seat from District 2 now held by Commissioner Jay Stovall, R-Billings, who announced he wouldn't seek re-election.
The Montana Supreme Court Tuesday upheld the final portion of a controversial plan redrawing Montana's legislative districts affecting three key Senate districts in northcentral Montana.
The high court unanimously upheld the Districting and Apportionment Commission's assignment of 25 midterm senators to new districts for the 2004 election.
Republican Party leaders, who had protested the assignments and tried to invoke their own, said the ruling essentially gives Democrats a four-seat advantage going into this year's election.
"(Democrats) pick up four seats with this ruling, in my opinion and have effectively taken the Senate from the majority and given it to the minority voters," said Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville.
Democratic leaders, however, said the court properly rejected Republican attempts to overturn the constitutionally protected work of the five-person Districting and Apportionment Commission.
"It's been a gross waste of time from the beginning, when these bogus bills were presented by the Republican leadership to basically ignore the Montana Constitution," said Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy.
"I'm very happy that all this, for lack of a better term, garbage is over with. There are much more important issues that we should have been dealing with, like the economy. I just think it's too bad that we wasted this much time and energy on this thing."
Republicans hold a 29-21 edge in the Senate. Democrats believe the new districts and assignments give them a chance to narrow that gap or take majority control.
Tuesday's order may bring to an end to the political and legal wrangling over the state's new legislative districts, which were drawn by the Districting and Apportionment Commission over a two-year period.
State Republican leaders have accused the Democrat-controlled commission of trying to fashion new districts that would make it easier for Democrats to regain control of the Legislature after a 10-year majority rule by Republicans.
Republican leaders of the 2003 Legislature pushed through several measures to undo the commission's work, but those efforts now have been struck down or invalidated by Montana courts.
Tuesday's ruling concerned the assignment of midterm or "holdover" senators elected in 2002 to the new districts.
The commission assigned a district to all 25 holdover senators, who can't run for re-election until 2006. But only a half-dozen of the assignments caused a partisan stir.
In northcentral Montana, the commission assigned Tester to District 15, a vast rural district that stretches from Highwood to Circle, and Sen. Ken Hansen of Chinook to District 17, which includes Havre and runs along the Hi-Line from Rudyard to Fort Belknap.
These assignments helped Democrats in two ways: They left open District 16, a new Indian-majority district including portions of the Rocky Boy's, Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Indian reservations, and they made it impossible for Sen. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, to run for re-election this year.
Butcher, whose four-year term expires this year, lives in the district assigned to Tester, whose term doesn't expire until 2006.
The commission's assignments also make it more difficult for two incumbent Republican senators in Billings to win re-election and give Democrats a likely pick-up in a district that includes Anaconda.
Butcher said he's not surprised by Tuesday's ruling, but that he's extremely disappointed the Supreme Court allowed the commission to get away with a highly political redistricting plan.
"What (the commission) did was really criminal in this whole redistricting structure," he said. "This is totally absurd. We haven't had this kind of blatant, raw, naked politics in Montana for many years. ...
"For the court to stoop to this level of behavior just totally discredits the court."
The court gave no rationale Tuesday for its order, saying it would issue an opinion later. Parties in the case had asked for a quick ruling because candidates began filing to run in the new districts on Monday.
However, Justice Jim Rice wrote a "specially concurring" comment that said the court must be cautious in any future appointments to the Districting and Apportionment Commission.
The Supreme Court appoints a fifth member and chairman of the commission if the other four politically appointed members cannot agree on a chairman. In 1999, the Montana Supreme Court unanimously appointed Janine Pease Pretty on Top, a Crow tribal member with an extensive background in voting rights.
She also had been active in local Democratic Party politics. Pretty on Top voted with the commission's two Democratic members to forge a 3-2 majority on most key votes regarding the new plan.
Joe Lamson, a Democratic commissioner and chief architect of the plan, has said his plan intended to create more "swing" districts that either party could win.
He also said the new plan appropriately undoes a pro-Republican plan created by the last commission 10 years ago, helping Republicans to create a decade-long majority in the Legislature.
On Tuesday, Lamson said the commission's assignment of midterm senators was no less fair than the plan passed by Republicans and rejected Tuesday by the Supreme Court. A handful of senators from both sides of the aisle objected to both plans, he said.
He said it's improper for Republicans to suggest they have a right to represent certain districts.
"These districts don't belong to any individual," Lamson said. "They belong to the people of those districts."
Thomas said Republicans felt they had to fight every aspect of the plan, which they viewed as unfair. He said Republicans will take a look at a possible federal court challenge, but that he's not sure that will happen.
Montana GOP leaders just upped the ante in the
political battle over whether the Legislature or the state redistricting
commission has authority to assign holdover senators to districts.
So there. The Montana Senate, 50 people elected by
Montanans, might oust members who served in the 2003 Legislature, but
whose redistricting assignments differ from the will of the GOP Senate
majority. The Montana Senate might choose to rely on the federal
government to settle a Montana constitutional issue now before the Montana
Eleven state Senate districts are in dispute
because the GOP legislative majority decided to assign senators to
different districts than the redistricting commission assigned.
The Montana Supreme Court has promised a decision
in the case by the first week in February. This is a constitutional
dispute that must be resolved by the state's high court.
The Montana Constitution establishes how the
redistricting commission was to be selected and what authority it would
have in determining the districts of Montana's 150 legislators.
Thomas and Keenan raised the specter of a
constitutional crisis. They must not take the drastic step of seeking to
override the Montana court's authority with federal intervention on a
Montana constitutional issue. They should not try to banish their fellow
midterm senators from the 2005 Legislature.
The Legislature's top lawyer, Greg Petesch, warned
Thomas that such action "would undoubtedly provoke a political and legal
storm of monumental proportions."
GOP leaders ought to heed that warning.
Contrary to the views of some legislators, the Montana Constitution doesn't make the Legislature omnipotent. This latest political attack reinforces the wisdom and necessity of a separation of powers in our republican form of government.
It's good that a court has moved quickly to settle a dispute over where the boundaries of new legislative districts are drawn, and we hope that will be the end of the fight for another decade. As the state grows and its population moves around, it is necessary -- and required by the Constitution -- to adjust such districts after every 10-year census in order to keep the districts more or less equal in size. The job is handled by a five-member Districting and Apportionment Commission whose work is set up under the Constitution to prevent the Legislature from tampering with it. But Republican lawmakers chose to tamper anyway, because they believed the new district lines drawn by the commission were designed to help Democrats in future elections. They passed legislation earlier this year changing the formulas in a way that would invalidate the commission's plan (see inset). The Democratic majority on the commission acknowledges their plan creates more "swing" districts -- areas where the political leanings were more of a tossup -- than the present setup that has produced Republican majorities in Helena since 1995. But they also insist that they have stayed well within the established rules for redistricting. Now District Judge Dorothy McCarter agrees, saying the changes passed by the Legislature amounted to an unconstitutional meddling in the commission's work. Accepting this as marching orders, Secretary of State Bob Brown indicated he would carry the case no further, but he suggested someone else might want to challenge the commission's plan directly in court. We hope the pols will leave well enough alone. For one thing, a protracted court case could interfere with the 2004 election -- which, believe it or not, is just around the corner. For another, there's an element to this dispute that tends to get underplayed in the public discussions. It's that a Republican-controlled Districting and Apportionment Commission did the exact same thing 10 years ago, creating districts that, arguably, have given the GOP the majority it needed to control the Legislature for the better part of a decade. The current, legally constituted commission now has fashioned a legislative map that could tilt the playing field back the other way. The commission followed established rules in doing so, and its work should stand. And we'll all revisit the issue in 10 years.
There probably isn't much chance that Republicans won't appeal Wednesday's dismissal of their reapportionment lawsuit n seldom have feelings run as strongly about a purely political dispute.
But an appeal almost certainly would be waste of time and money.
Incensed by what they called a patently unfair set of legislative districts drawn by the Democrat-controlled state Districting and Apportionment Commission, GOP lawmakers pushed through a bill last winter to change the rules. Under the law, Secretary of State Bob Brown was told to reject the commission's plan because it failed to meet new, tighter rules governing population equality between districts.
At the same time he refused to file the plan, Brown and the Republicans filed a lawsuit asking the courts to settle the dispute in their favor.
But that just wasn't in the cards, which is not to say the Republicans didn't offer solid legal arguments on their behalf. They contended the people's power to enact laws through the Legislature is plenary (that is, absolute). They said the Legislature is mandated by the constitution to "guard against abuses of the electoral process such as partisan gerrymandering." They pointed out that the state constitution calls for district populations to be "as equal as practicable," which the commission's new districts certainly are not.
But those arguments, like mice scurrying about a room, trying to ignore the elephant in their midst, rather miss the big picture. Some legal tenets are simply more basic than others.
Above all, the authors of the state constitution recognized the political volatility of redistricting, and wanted the Legislature to have no part in it (other than to offer recommendations). Their whole idea was to prevent just the sort of lawsuit that Helena District Judge Dorothy McCarter rejected Wednesday.
McCarter, knowing full well that either party always could raise arguments in favor of legislative power to tweak redistricting plans they dislike, said those arguments are beside the point. The power to set new district boundaries lies solely in the hands of the commission, she said, and nothing "validates the legislature seizing discretionary authority from a constitutional body" such as the commission.
We happen to think the tighter rules favored by the Republicans are a good idea, and we hope they are in place before the next commission meets following completion of the 2010 census. But this time around, the horse is long gone, and pounding on the barn door in frustration isn't going to do any good.
County central committees are the foundations of political parties, and Yellowstone County's are returning to the ground level for the coming election cycle.
Heading up the local Republicans is a former legislator, who intends to demonstrate that the GOP is a party for the people, not just the wealthy.
Democrats point to precinct leaders working the neighborhoods to build support, while the Green Party wants to keep its ballot status garnered in the 2000 presidential balloting.
"I see it as a party for the people," said former Rep. Wes Prouse, R-Shepherd, newly elected chair of the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee. "The masses see it as for the wealthy. I'm Republican, and I am not wealthy. Who is it we represent?" he said. "I don't think they know. If I can talk with them one on one, I can get them to vote (Republican).
"Working people think that only the Democrats can represent them," Prouse said. "I want to get rid of that stigma."
Prouse, who served in the 1997 Legislature, took issue with a characterization of him that year as an "ultraconservative constitutionalist" stemming from his challenge to the state's requirement to have a driver's license. He was convicted of two misdemeanors that year for driving without a valid license.
"That's how you (The Gazette) branded me," he said. "You made it sound as if I was a skinhead or something."
Prouse said, "I am a strong conservative, a Christian conservative. I support the Constitution as the foundation of the country. I am not a radical."
Prouse said he wanted more attention paid to party platforms.
"The platform says where you are," he said.
He said most candidates in the two major parties tend to ignore party platforms.
"They should be honest," he said "Win, lose or draw, you don't lie to the people."
Prouse, as chairman candidate, headed a slate of nominations for the YCRCC executive committee, for which only precinct committeemen and committeewomen have a vote.
Democrats also recently elected new executive board members for the biennium. Heading the Democratic Central Committee is Ed Logan, a three-time candidate for the Legislature. He lost by four votes in his 1998 challenge to Rep. Loren Soft, R-Billings, in House District 12. He was out of town, and unavailable for comment.
"We want to bring back grass-roots organization," said Emelie Eaton, vice chair of the YCDCC. "We want the precinct people to be trained, get to know the neighborhoods."
Eaton, of Laurel, said the new board comes from across the county. The focus on neighborhoods will help in having a feel for the county and candidates, she said.
How the new reapportionment law will affect the local efforts remains in limbo. The work of a five-member redistricting commission was challenged by Republicans in the Legislature with a bill changing the formula for assigning new legislative districts to conform with the shift in population from the 2000 census. Secretary of State Bob Brown refused to accept the commission's work until the courts tell him the reapportionment plan is constitutional. The new districts are to take effect for the 2004 elections.
"The court case throws a wrench into the system," Eaton said. "In the meantime, we'll accept the status quo until informed otherwise."
She said the committee is not focusing on the governor's race next year, but "we're looking at the local side of things."
The Yellowstone County Green Party elected officers in late May. Christine Frazier, who ran for the Legislature in 2002, was chosen county coordinator, with Carol Tasset, secretary and Scott Proctor as treasurer. Efforts to contact Frazier were unsuccessful.
The Green Party gained ballot status in 2000 by getting enough signatures for Ralph Nader to run for president in Montana. Nader gained 6 percent of the vote in that election, thus giving Greens official party status for the next four years.
Joining Logan and Eaton on the Democrats' executive board are Janice Munsell, secretary and Jeanne Forrester, treasurer.
Other officers for the YCRCC are: Carlyn Fulton, vice chairwoman; Scott Williams, second vice chair; Russell Nemetz, third vice chair; Caroll Smith, fourth vice chair; Clarice Habener, secretary; and Shirley Blome, treasurer.
It wasn't all that surprising last week that a Republican lawsuit challenging a plan for restructuring Montana's legislative districts met a cool judicial reception - even though both sides in the dispute are "right" in their arguments.
As is often the case in law, some highly defensible positions go deeper than others.
The once-a-decade redistricting effort, necessary to ensure that the state's districts comply with one-person, one-vote requirements, is performed by the state Districting and Apportionment Commission. It has five members, two appointed by each party. The fifth member is named by the initial four members, and if they can't agree, the state Supreme Court makes the appointment.
This time around, the commission ended up being controlled by Democrats. Republicans took one look at their map and started to sizzle. Before long, legislation had been passed to make the new plan illegal. The law, noting that the state constitution directs legislative districts to have as close to the same population as practicable, required districts to be within 1 percent of the "perfect" size. The commission's plan didn't meet that standard, so Secretary of State Bob Brown refused to file it and asked for the court ruling.
The commission agrees that the constitution calls for districts as "equal and practicable," but contends earlier rulings have determined that a variation of up to 5 percent meets the standard.
But beyond that, the commission insists the basic point is that the authors of the constitution, well aware of how politically charged the commission's work would be, intentionally set up a system that was beyond the Legislature's control. The commission must submit its map for the Legislature's comment, but it doesn't have to listen to a word the lawmakers say.
Last week Helena District Judge Dorothy McCarter said the Legislature can't enact laws contrary to the constitution, and in this case it appeared to be "taking discretion away from a constitutional body."
Republicans are convinced the new map favors Democrats, and they're no doubt right. They insist the Legislature not only has the power to ensure that fraud doesn't enter into the redistricting process, it has the duty to do so. And, said their attorney, "fraud and gerrymandering are very closely related."
McCarter has yet to make a formal ruling, but eventually the state Supreme Court is sure to end up with the case. It will have to decide whether the Republicans' impressively argued case is "right" enough.
HELENA (AP) -- A judge was skeptical of arguments made Thursday by an attorney defending the Republican-run Legislature's effort to kill a Democratic-sponsored plan for redrawing legislative districts.
During a hearing, District Judge Dorothy McCarter challenged the assertion that legislators were acting within their constitutional power in changing the criteria for the plan after it was adopted by the Districting and Apportionment Commission in February.
She said constitutional provisions giving the commission its authority appear to be self-executing and, therefore, lawmakers cannot meddle by enacting laws contrary to the constitution.
"That's what they're doing here," McCarter told Rob Cameron, a lawyer representing Secretary of State Bob Brown and defending a law passed by the 2003 Legislature. "Either the commissioners have the authority to act on their own or they don't."
She said the Legislature appeared to be "taking discretion away from a constitutional body" and told Cameron to find any Montana court rulings to support his claim that it was proper.
The hearing was the latest development in the ongoing partisan fight over the political mapping of Montana following the 2000 census. Legislative districts get redrawn every decade to reflect population shifts.
The Republican majority has branded the plan as an effort by Democrats to fashion districts that will give party candidates an edge in future elections.
Democrats on the commission have acknowledged the plan gives Democratic candidates a better chance, but they insist the blueprint is legal.
The Legislature passed a law imposing new criteria on how much populations of districts can vary, and ordered Brown, a Republican, to reject any plan that did not comply.
The proposal developed by the Democratic-controlled commission exceeded the new population limit, so Brown complied with the law. He then asked McCarter to decide whether the law is constitutional.
Cameron claimed the law was a proper exercise of the Legislature's duty to ensure fraud doesn't seep into elections. "Fraud and partisan gerrymandering are very closely related," he said.
McCarter said the Legislature appears to be claiming for itself the power to tinker with districting plans for partisan reasons.
The apportionment commission appears to have a healthy representation of different political interests, she said. "Can't they be trusted to do a good enough job without political gerrymandering?"
Cameron said authors of the 1972 Constitution had anticipated the Legislature would play a role in the districting process and nothing in that document prevents the kind of action taken by lawmakers this year. So long as the law doesn't conflict with anything in the constitution, it should be upheld, Cameron said.
Brian Morris, state solicitor, said the Legislature went too far. The constitutional creates a comprehensive process for crafting a districting plan and lawmakers have bestowed upon themselves the power to veto that procedure, he said.
The constitution provides "the last word on redistricting," he told McCarter. "This is something with which the Legislature cannot tamper."
Legislators did not have the authority to transform Brown's constitutional obligation to merely file the plan submitted to his office into the power to reject any proposal he feels is illegal, Morris said.
McCarter said the Legislature put Brown in a tough position of having to choose between following conflicting directions in the constitution and a newly passed law.
Beth Brenneman, a lawyer for Montana's American Indian legislators and tribal leaders, said Brown made the wrong choice and should have carried out his constitutional duty to file the plan.
She said the Legislature is on shaky ground contending the population differences among districts was too large to be constitutional, since the average in this plan is less than in the previous three plans.
HELENA -- The battle over the new map for Montana's 2004 legislative races has its first court hearing this week, as competing state officials argue whether legislative Republicans broke the constitution in attempting to redraw the map.
State District Judge Dorothy McCarter of Helena will hear the legal arguments Thursday, but the dispute is fundamentally political, with control of the next and succeeding Montana legislatures at stake.
No matter how McCarter rules, her order likely will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The high court would decide whether the Legislature can reach back in time and change the rules on a new 10-year plan for legislative district boundaries in Montana.
The dispute is over the new plan devised by the Districting and Apportionment Commission, a five-member panel that worked 18 months to draw new boundaries for Montana's 100 legislative districts.
The boundaries, drawn to reflect population changes reported in the 2000 Census, are supposed to take effect for the 2004 elections.
State Republican leaders have denounced the plan as unabashedly tilted toward Democrats, who haven't been in majority control of either house of the Legislature since 1994.
Democrats held a 3-2 majority on the commission, and devised a statewide plan on a series of 3-2 votes spread over several months.
Joe Lamson of Helena, one of the Democratic commissioners and chief architect of the plan, has said he intended to create more "swing" districts, giving either party a more equitable chance at gaining control of the Legislature.
The commission also made no bones about its intent to create more "Indian majority" districts in Montana, giving greater voice to the state's growing Indian population. The final plan has nine districts where Indians make up a majority of registered voters: Six House districts and three Senate districts.
Republicans, who control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, vowed to undo the commission's work and passed a law in February that required Secretary of State Bob Brown to reject the new plan.
House Bill 309, sponsored by House Majority Leader Roy Brown, R-Billings, also would force the commission to reconvene and draft a new plan.
At Thursday's hearing, state Solicitor Brian Morris, arguing the case for Democratic Attorney General Mike McGrath, will say the 2003 Legislature overstepped its power in trying to overturn the plan.
"The Legislature would exercise virtual veto power over the commission's work if the court allows HB309 to stand," Morris said in written arguments last month. "This legislative veto must not stand."
The state constitution defines the Legislature's role as "advisory only," he said.
On the other side is Brown, a Republican, whose lawyer will argue that the Legislature properly exercised its power to define rules for drawing the new districts.
"The Montana Legislature has a ... constitutional mandate to enact such laws as are necessary to guard against abuses of the electoral process," wrote Rob Cameron of Helena, hired by Brown's office to work on the case. "House Bill 309 inhibits partisan gerrymandering, and thereby aids in guarding against abuses of the electoral process."
Also appearing Thursday will be Beth Brenneman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.
The ACLU is representing Montana's Indian leaders and legislators, who say the new plan should stand.
The ACLU's national voting rights leader, Laughlin McDonald of Atlanta, had planned to argue the case. But McCarter last week refused to grant him an exemption to practice before a Montana court, saying he lacked "exclusive expertise" on the matters before the court.
Boundaries for the new districts aren't the only aspect of the new plan that the 2003 Legislature attempted to change.
On party-line votes, the Republican-led Legislature also assigned senators elected in 2002 to the new districts - thus overruling assignments made by the five-member commission.
Morris said Monday that move wasn't an issue when the legal battle over HB309 began, but that it could come into play if the courts rule that the commission's original plan must stand.
HELENA ñ The Legislature exercised its legitimate power in passing a law putting new requirements on redrawing legislative districts this year, a Republican state official argued in defending a law blocking a Democratic-written districting plan.
In legal documents filed Wednesday in District Court here, Secretary of State Bob Brown said the new law should be upheld because nothing in Montanaís Constitution prohibits the Legislature from taking such action.
He said the commission responsible for writing the plan is wrong to claim the law should be overturned. The Legislature is free to do anything not barred by the constitution, he said.
Brownís arguments are the latest developments in the political and legal battle over state Districting and Apportionment Commissionís effort to draw new House and Senate districts following the 2000 census.
Republicans are irate over the commissionís plan, believing it was crafted by Democrats to benefit their candidates in future elections. Critics contend the commission used wide and unconstitutional variances in district populations to accomplish that gerrymandering.
Democrats have insisted the plan is constitutional, but acknowledged it creates more districts giving Democrats a better chance of winning.
The GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law imposing tighter population criteria on the new districts. The law also ordered the secretary of state not to accept for filing in his office any plan that doesnít comply. Brown complied Feb. 6 and filed the court case asking for rulings on validity of the districting plan and the law.
The commission, represented by Democratic Attorney General Mike McGrath, has urged the law be overturned because it goes beyond the districting process authorized in the constitution.
Robert Cameron, a Helena attorney hired by Brown, said thatís not the issue. The question is not what the constitution authorizes, but what it forbids, and it doesnít forbid the law at issue in this case, he said in his legal brief.
The law merely fleshes out the constitutional provisions on redistricting and gives Brownís office a new responsibility, he said.
The Legislatureís power to enact laws is derived by the constitution and is absolute, Cameron said.
ìSuch constitutional authority includes not only the power to implement provisions and define terms in the Montana Constitution, but also the authority to impose legal duties upon executive offices, including the office of the secretary of state,î he wrote.
The law is a proper effort by the Legislature to carry out its constitutional duty to ensure the purity of elections by preventing gerrymandering in drawing new district boundaries, he said.
HELENA (AP)--A lawsuit questioning the validity of the plan to redraw legislative districts should be rejected because it's brought by a state official who shirked his constitutional duties, Montana's tribal leaders have argued.
In documents filed in District Court here, 16 leaders and Indian legislators also said a law passed by the Legislature to block the plan was an improper attempt to amend the constitution through a law.
The allegations were part of the tribal officials' request to have a voice in the court case that was filed by Secretary of State Bob Brown last month.
The leaders, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, said they should be allowed to intervene in the case because the attorney general's office, which is defending the plan, cannot adequately represent Indian concerns.
The attorney general has not raised key issues important to the tribes, including the claim that the new law targeting the plan violates the federal Indian Rights Voting Act, the said.
District Judge Dorothy McCarter has not yet ruled on the Indians' request to be involved in the case.
The dispute centers on the plan for remapping House and Senate districts after the 2000 census. Republicans say the plan, drawn by a Democratic-controlled Districting and Apportionment Commission, is an unconstitutional effort to create an advantage for Democratic candidates.
Democrats on the commission acknowledge that the plan gives their party's candidates a better chance to win in more districts but insist that the plan is legal.
The GOP-run Legislature passed a law changing the criteria for district populations in the plan and ordering Brown, a Republican, to reject any plan that doesn't comply. Brown did so and asked McCarter to determine the constitutionality of both the districting plan and the law.
Attorney General Mike McGrath is defending the plan and attacking the law as an attempt to change the constitutional process for redistricting.
In their court documents, officials from each of Montana's seven reservations endorsed those stands.
The Legislature has inserted itself into a process despite constitutional provisions designed to prevent such interference, the tribal leaders said. They also said it gives Brown the power to reject a districting plan when the constitution demands that he merely accept it.
But following the new law, Brown has "refused to discharge the duties of his office" and, therefore, doesn't have legal standing to go to court, they said.
The ACLU also said the Indians, including six legislators, should be allowed into the suit because they need to make sure that the plan complies with federal law by providing six Indian-majority districts that reflect the proportion of Indians in Montana's population.
The attorney general's office cannot represent Montana Indians' interests in this case because it has a conflict, the ACLU said. The office still represents Brown in the long-running lawsuit filed by Indians over the districting plan adopted a decade ago, it said.
"Plainly, the attorney general and tribal members in Montana disagree over the standards for redistricting and what constitutes the dilution of minority voting strength," the ACLU said.
Brown is expected to respond next week to the attorney general's request that the case be dismissed.
HELENA -- Sixteen prominent Montana Indians are asking a judge to allow them to join the lawsuit over the constitutionality of a controversial plan redrawing Montana's legislative districts.
In documents filed in state court last week, the 16 tribal leaders, legislators and educators from Montana's seven Indian reservations said their interests may not be adequately represented by Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath. "As voters of Montana, no individuals or entity could have a greater interest in the subject matter of the litigation," wrote Beth Brenneman, an attorney in Helena for the American Civil Liberties Union.
McGrath is defending the legislative district plan created by the Districting and Apportionment Commission during the last 18 months. The plan, which creates nine new districts with Indian majorities, is being challenged by Secretary of State Bob Brown.
Brown took the issue to court after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law forcing him to reject the commission's plan.
Brown has asked District Judge Dorothy McCarter of Helena to decide whether the plan or the law is constitutional.
Republicans say the Democrat-controlled commission drafted a partisan, illegal plan designed to give Democrats the advantage in elections beginning in 2004. The plan is supposed to take effect for that election and be in place the next 10 years.
Democratic commission members concede that they tried to create more "swing" districts that either party could win, but said they followed all applicable rules when drawing up the 150 districts.
The Indian leaders asked McCarter to allow them to become "intervenor" defendants in the case, thus allowing them to make their own arguments in defense of the plan.
McGrath may have a conflict of interest because while he's defending the current plan, his office also is defending the 1992 plan, which was challenged by Indian voters as failing to consider Indian voting rights, Brenneman wrote. That case is still before federal courts.
Laughlin McDonald, head of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project in Atlanta, said the Legislature's attempt to invalidate the 2002 plan is a "blatant attempt by the Legislature to intrude once again into the redistricting process and is, we believe, unconstitutional."
Brenneman also said that minority voting rights are at stake in the case.
House Majority Leader Roy Brown, R-Billings, the sponsor of the 2003 bill that prompted the legal battle, said Thursday that minority voting rights are not in danger because of his bill.
Indians could still have majority districts under the parameters dictated by his bill, he said.
"Anyone who wants to sit down with a calculator can sit down and figure this out," Brown said.
He also said he's requested to speak with tribal leaders about the issue.
The 16 Indians seeking to intervene in the lawsuit include all seven Indian state legislators, representatives of the tribal councils on all seven Montana reservations and two additional members of the Salish and Kootenai Confederated Tribes.
HELENA (AP) ñ The Legislature overstepped its constitutional bounds by trying to give itself and the secretary of state greater roles in the redrawing of legislative districts, the attorney generalís office has told a district judge.
A law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature should be declared unconstitutional, and the new mapping of House and Senate districts by the Districting and Apportionment Commission should be pronounced law, state Solicitor Brian Morris argued in documents filed this week.
The new law ìusurps the commissionís sole authority to develop a plan for legislative districts and imparts to the secretary of state the discretion to refuse to file the commissionís plan for legislative districts,î none of which is authorized by the Constitution, he said.
ìThe Legislature lacks the authority to obtain by statute what the constitution does not grant,î Morris told District Judge Dorothy McCarter of Helena.
She is presiding over the legal battle that has become the focus of a partisan dispute over the effort to carve new legislative districts after the 2000 census.
The Legislatureís GOP majority is irate over what it considers a scheme by the Democratic-controlled apportionment commission to create districts that will benefit Democrats in future elections. Democrats acknowledge that the plan creates more districts where their candidates have a better chance of winning.
Republicans claimed that the effort was unconstitutional and passed a law changing the criteria for district populations and ordered Secretary of State Bob Brown, a Republican, to reject any plan that doesnít comply.
Brown obeyed the law and filed a request asking McCarter to decide whether the law or the plan is constitutional. Brown hired a private attorney for the court case, and the commission asked Attorney General Mike McGrath, a Democrat, to defend its work and challenge the law.
Morris said the law is based on the misguided assumption that the Legislature has more of a role in the districting process than the constitution allows. Other than appointing four of five commission members and providing its recommendations on the proposed plan, the Legislature is allowed no other involvement, he said.
The constitution ìprescribes an advisory-only role for the Legislature in the redistricting process,î he said.
A review of the Constitutional Convention records shows that delegates rejected proposals for a greater legislative part, and for good reason, Morris said.
The Con-Con delegates knew that, under the old system, the Legislatureís two previous attempts at redistricting hit legal snags, he said. Partisan bickering led to a federal court doing the job in 1965, and a federal judge ruled the 1971 effort unconstitutional.
ìThe Legislature cannot interpose itself into the process of creating legislative districts in a manner expressly rejected by the delegates to Montanaís 1972 Constitutional Convention,î Morris wrote.
Likewise, he said, lawmakers cannot give Brown the discretion to reject the districting plan, when the constitution says he has only a ministerial function of filing the plan as submitted.
The constitution says the plan becomes law and the commission is dissolved when the plan is filed with the secretary of state, but the law allows Brown to extend the life of the commission indefinitely, Morris said.
HELENA (AP) ñ The partisan gloves came off in the Senate on Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans traded accusations of playing politics with the process of redrawing legislative districts.
The GOP majority found itself on the receiving end of the charges, after months of criticizing the Democratic-controlled commission for adopting what Republicans consider a districting plan designed to favor Democrats.
The fight was over the Republican decision to change the assignment of newly drawn districts for those 25 senators not up for election in 2004, the first election under the new districting plan.
Six senators ñ including four Democratsñ should be reassignegned, the GOP decided in a resolution that is part of the Republican assault on the plan. The resolution was endorsed 27-23, with two Republicans joining all 21 Demcorats in opposition.
Democrats denounced the changes as unfair and contrary to the criteria the Republicans said should be used to match the ìholdoverî senators with new districts.
îThis resolution has introduced politics into the process,î said Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy. ìYouíve done just what you accused the apportionment commission of doing. This is totally unacceptable, but since weíre in the minority, I guess weíll have to eat it,î Tester said.
That riled Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, who defended the altered assignments.
îTheyíre not made by political gerrymandering as was done before,î he said. ìThis resolution significantly corrects the grievous errors that were made for political benefit in the commissionís work. This if far less political than what was done before.î
Thomas said the changes remedy a problem created when the Districting and Apportionment Commission assigned some Democratic senators to what would otherwise be sure-win districts for GOP candidates.
Tuesdayís debate was only a small part of the controversy that has brewed over remapping legislative districts following the 2000 census.
To derail the work of the Democratic-controlled commission responsible for developing the plan, the GOP-run Legislature passed a law changing the population standard for the districts and ordering Secretary of State Bob Brown, a Republican, to reject any plan that didnít comply.
Brown obeyed the law and asked for a court ruling on the new law and the districting plan.
The Legislature also passed a law giving itself the authority to assign holdover senators, something traditionally done by the commission. Two other pending bills would change the way the entire districting process is conducted.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats said the changes in assignment of senators to districts failed to follow the Republicansí own guidelines because none of the six affected lawmakers live in their new districts.
îRepublicans have put me in the wrong district,î said Sen. Kim Hansen, D-Harlem. ìI wonít be an incumbent in District 17. I need to stay where Iím at (in District 16). I live there. Thatís where my votes are.î
Democrats also said the changes failed to take into consideration where the affected lawmakers received a majority of their votes in the last election, another GOP criteria.
Thomas said Democrats have only themselves to blame, because they refused to participate in the process by returning questionnaires used in reassigning districts.
Sen. Mike Cooney, D-Helena, said Democrats did voice their wishes by saying they prefer the original district assignments made by the commission.
îYou didnít provide the details as to where you wanted to be,î Thomas replied. ìThatís the point.î
With all the important needs facing Montana families, we should not be having a partisan dispute over redistricting. That's why House Bill 309 has been signed into law. HB309 takes politics out of redistricting so that in the future we never have to go through this ugly debate again.
Every 10 years, new population census figures become available. Montana's population is now 902,200. Therefore, each of our 100 legislative districts should ideally have 9,022 people. With current computer technology, it is feasible to come close to the ideal population. Nine states already divide their districts within 1 percent, and California, with its 25 million people, divides its 100 districts so closely that the deviation from ideal is negligible. However, federal law has allowed a 5 percent deviation either way to give the redistricting commissions leeway to keep communities of interest together and for other non-political criteria.
There lies the problem. Instead of using the 5 percent deviation to keep communities of interest together, the Democratic majority on the Redistricting Commission used the 5 percent deviation as a tool for political advantage. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Division prepared three plans to redistrict the state. Those plans were ignored and a plan (Plan 300) financed and created by the Democratic Party was selected despite huge opposition around the state.
The Democratic Plan packs "Republican" and rural districts with extra population up to the maximum of 5 percent. The "Democratic" districts and inner city districts were underpopulated by nearly 5 percent. The effect of this gimmickry results is "Republican" districts having nearly 9,500 people while "Democratic" districts have nearly 8,500. A commission guided by logic would have underpopulated the inner city areas so the population discrepancies over the 10 year cycle would not be so great. By 2010, these already overpopulated rural districts could grow to 15,000 people while the inner city low growth districts could still be at 8,500 people. Yet each would have but one representative. This Democratic plan makes a mockery of the principal of "one person, one vote."
HB309 sets the maximum population deviation at a 1 percent deviation to stop the political trickery and return the process to its nonpartisan history. Opponents say the bill is unconstitutional because it changes the criteria accepted by federal courts. The federal criteria was never to be used for political advantage. It was to be used to keep communities of interest together. The only community of interest that Plan 300 keeps together is the community of Democrats. It is unconstitutional to "interfere and prevent the free exercise of the right to vote" (Montana Constitution, Article II, Section 13).
Opponents have tried to divert attention from the partisan nature of the Democratic plan by playing the race card. Even the inference that the change in allowable population deviation to 1 percent is racially motivated, is offensive. Look at the current members of the House. The census shows 6.2 percent of Montanans are Native American. Six percent of the Montana House are Native American. The process works. There will still be six majority Native American districts with HB309's 1 percent criteria. Thoughtful Native Americans, such as the President of the Original Rocky Boy Band of Chippewa, are concerned about the Democratic plan because it limits their legislative influence and creates dependence on the Democratic Party while eroding their sovereignty. Democratic Plan 300 concentrates Native American votes into six districts they already hold.
Republicans have offered to defend the Native American majority districts so any racial statements are purely to divert attention from the facts.
Any belief that this Plan 300 for redistricting follows the Montana Constitutional mandate that "all districts shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable" (Article V, Section 14) is purely delusional. HB309 gets the politics out of redistricting and lets us get on with the work of the people.
Rep. Roy Brown, R-Billings, is House majority leader at the 2003 Legislature .
HELENA (AP) - The Legislature will force the state into a constitutional crisis if it meddles with the redistricting commission's work, Democrats argued Saturday, but they did not sway the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Senate voted 27-21 to endorse a bill that sponsors say will force the redistricting commission to redo its final plan. Two Republicans, Augusta Sen. John Cobb and Glasgow Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, voted against the plan.
A final vote on the issue is still needed in the Senate.
The Districting and Apportionment Commission adjusts Montana's legislative districts following each decennial national census.
Democrats assailed the bill as unconstitutional tinkering. But Republicans countered that partisan gerrymandering by the redistricting commission runs afoul of the state Constitution.
Republicans also said the state Supreme Court was guilty of creating the problem by exerting "undue influence" with its appointment of a Democrat to lead the redistricting commission.
"We are not going to stand by and let this commission's work stand," said Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville. "It is blatantly out of compliance with the constitution."
House Bill 309, sponsored by House Majority Leader Roy Brown, R-Billings, changes the criteria used for mapping new district boundaries. The bill also allows Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown to reject the plan unless it complies.
"The majority is saying, 'We don't like the reapportionment, so we are going to change it,' " said Sen. Dan Harrington, D-Butte. "That's why the constitution doesn't allow the Legislature to enter into this."
Despite the quick moves in the Legislature, the Districting and Apportionment Commission scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to adopt its final plan.
Republicans have said their bills, including one endorsed Saturday by the Senate that formally critiques the commission's work, will be completed before the commission meets.
The GOP insists the plan drafted by the commission is drawn with the intention of allowing more Democratic candidates to be elected, beginning in 2004.
Republican leaders have complained about districts that stretch across the Continental Divide or divide towns in half.
HB309, which has already cleared the House, directs the commission to make new districts with populations that deviate by just 1 percent - instead of 5 percent - from the ideal, and orders the new districts to be "compact and contiguous." The ideal size for the 100 House districts would be 9,022 people. Each of the 50 Senate districts includes two House districts.
Sen. Mike Cooney, D-Helena, told senators they were setting up a lengthy court battle over separation of powers by allowing the secretary of state to reject the plan.
"We are placing, as a result of this bill, an independent elected state official in the position of having to choose between upholding his oath of office and the Constitution or the law we pass as a Legislature," Cooney said. "This will end up in court. We are creating a constitutional crisis. We all understand where this is going."
Thomas said "skullduggery" by the redistricting commission forced the Legislature to take action.
"It is the commission's work that brought this before us like never before," he said.
Thomas said the plan crammed extra residents into GOP districts and kept populations small in Democratic districts to give that party's candidates a better chance at being elected in areas that have been traditionally dominated by the GOP.
"The citizens in our districts are being disenfranchised and cheated," Thomas said.
Senate Resolution 2, endorsed 29-19 Saturday, heavily criticizes the redistricting plan but doesn't force any changes. An identical measure is working its way through the House.
We have looked into the future, and it is litigious.
One issue surely shaping up for a court battle is redistricting. Republicans, unhappy with the way the Democratic controlled Districting and Apportionment Commission has re-drawn boundary lines for legislative districts, are intent on passing measures to change the rules ó retroactively.
That doesn't sit well with Democrats, who insist the process was entirely legal and note that the state constitution expressly prohibits the Legislature from messing with the process. Nonetheless, Republicans are expected to enact a law asserting that the current commission must come up with districts that vary by no more than 1 percent from the ideal size of 9,022 people, rather than the 5 percent maximum that was used. The bill would give the secretary of state the authority to reject the plan if it doesn't comply.
We're sure lawyers already are at work on their briefs.
Another lawsuit almost certainly would be filed if the GOP achieves its goal of tapping principle from the coal tax trust fund. (As of now, Democrats have the votes to block that goal, but that could change if enough Democrats, forced to weigh their principles against the need for social services, end up choosing the services.)
In that event, protectors of the trust fund would argue that the transfer is really a loan, and that the state cannot legally pay for its day-to-day activities with borrowed money. Republicans would argue it is not a loan because, while the intent is to eventually replace the money, there is no promise to do so. The lawsuit would try to convince a judge that that's a distinction without a difference.
We can even imagine a lawsuit if legislators reject November's 65-35 percent vote of the people to spend nearly a third of the state's tobacco settlement on comprehensive tobacco-use prevention. Given the Legislature's clear power over the state's purse strings, such a suit might be tilting at windmills, but it would have plenty of support.
It's notable that legislative disputes tend to end up being decided in court rather than in conference committees during times when one or the other party controls the government. When there's really no need to compromise, there's seems to be less incentive to listen to the other side as carefully. When there's more of a balance in the control of government, it seems the more contentious or radical proposals usually give way to middle-of-the-road solutions.
A split Legislature can be a messy affair, but in some ways it beats having to put much of the legislature's business before a judge.
HELENA ó Gov. Judy Martz signed two Republican-backed bills Tuesday evening that try to force a redistricting commission to redo its plan.
But a member of the Democratic-controlled Districting and Apportionment Commission said the new laws are unconstitutional ó and will be ignored at a Wednesday commission meeting.
"We believe that the constitution clearly delineates our authority and duties and these bills are an infringement with them," said Joe Lamson, a key architect of the plan. "We are going to proceed with our constitutional duties to submit a plan to the Secretary of State's office tomorrow."
House Bill 309 demands the district populations vary no more than 1 percent from the ideal size of 9,022, instead of the 5 percent standard the commission used. The measure also gives Secretary of State Bob Brown, a Republican, authority to reject the plan if it doesn't comply. He has said he will shoot it down.
Senate Bill 258 gives the Legislature ó not the districting commission ó the power to assign certain senators to their new districts.
"I signed House Bill 309 because I agree with the Legislature that the process by which redistricting apportionment occurs is paramount for the state's electorate," Martz said in a brief written statement. "It has a direct impact on their ability to make their voices heard ó one person ó one vote."
Also Tuesday, the House gave its endorsement, along party lines, to a Republican resolution criticizing the redistricting plan as partisan gerrymandering.
House Resolution 3 cleared the House on a 53-47 vote. An almost identical Senate resolution has already passed the Senate.
"HR3 is a rejection of a purely political plan," said sponsor Rep. Debby Barrett, R-Dillon.
The resolutions can't force the commission to make changes, but are the formal legislative response to the redistricting plan.
Republicans claim the commission misused the population deviance to overpopulate Republicans into some districts, allowing a higher number of Democratic-controlled districts. They also say it was inappropriate to use race as a criteria in establishing six House seats and three Senate seats with a majority of American Indian voters.
Republicans struck down a move by House Democrats Tuesday to remove strong language from the resolution, specifically a portion calling the redistricting commission's work "mean-spirited" and "blatantly unethical."
HELENA (AP) - Several American Indian legislators complained that communication between Gov. Judy Martz and the state's tribes is lagging, and said the administration is offering little help on legislation important to Indians.
The change is particularly notable, some said, because Martz began her term with visits to all seven of the state's Indian reservations and pledges to help tribes address their needs.
"Governor Martz seemed to really care, and Native people were looking forward to a good, productive working relationship with her," said Rep. Carol Juneau, D-Browning. "But our relations with the governor are strained now, and I don't anticipate us having too much success in getting financial measures passed this session that will help the Indian people."
Martz, however, told the Great Falls Tribune she remains sympathetic to Indians.
"My heart has not changed toward them one bit," she said. "If we can help bring economic development to the reservations, it will not only help them, but the whole state benefits."
Martz said it was unfortunate that she, tribal leaders and legislators don't seem to get together very often, but added: "Communications is a two-way street, just like in a marriage."
Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said he plans to introduce a bill that would require daylong quarterly meetings between Martz and tribal leaders.
The measure also would call for annual training and field experience on reservations for all state managers and employees who deal regularly with tribes, he said.
A record seven Indians, all Democrats, serve as lawmakers during this legislative session. They've asked for a meeting with Martz, which officials at the governor's office said could come later this week.
The lawmakers' first concern is lack of consultation on budget cuts, which hit reservations with steep unemployment rates particularly hard.
"A large number of Indian families on and off the reservation really need help," Juneau said. "As many as half the people on some reservations qualify for temporary assistance for needy families."
Tom Beck, Martz's chief policy adviser, said few outside the administration were consulted because major parts of the plan were being worked out until just days before its release.
"No outside groups, including the reservations, had much input into the budget," Beck said.
Indian lawmakers said they also are concerned with the governor's support for Republican measures attempting to overturn the state's redistricting plan.
As written, the plan would create additional legislative districts with a majority of Indian voters.
Bixby said Republican challenges could end up placing three Indian lawmakers, including her, in districts with a majority of non-Indian voters.
There also is some distress over a meeting in which Martz tried to persuade tribal leaders to support her effort to transfer $93 million from the coal-tax trust to the general fund.
Juneau and Bixby said circumventing Indian legislators was divisive. But Windy Boy, also a member of the Chippewa Cree Business Council, said it was legitimate for the top state leader to go to top tribal leaders.
"And it was up to each tribe to decide whether to support her on the issue," Windy Boy said.
Chuck Butler, Martz's communications director said the governor "was respecting the tribal leaders by meeting with them to discuss issues.
The growing influence of American Indians on the Montana political scene is apparent this Legislative session. Seven American Indian legislators, a record number, serve and a record amount of legislation that would affect American Indians is under consideration.
In response to this relatively recent growth, many tribal and urban Indian community leaders had high hopes Thursday for the annual State of the Indian Nations address before a joint meeting of the House and Senate.
The address was presented by Fort Belknap Tribes President Benjamin Speak Thunder and Crow Tribal President Carl Venne.
All seven American Indian representatives were in attendance. Rep. Veronica Small-Eastman, D-Lodge Grass, and Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, are two of the newest American Indian legislators. The other legislators are Sen. Gerald Pease, D-Lodge Grass, Rep. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, Rep. Norma Bixby, D-Lame Deer, Rep. Joey Jayne, D-Arlee, and Rep. Frank Smith, D-Poplar.
All have been busy during the first weeks of the session. According to the legislative automated workflow system, more than 171 pieces of legislation that will affect Montana's American Indians - the number is growing - are either in draft stages or assigned bill numbers.
The American Indian legislators are not carrying all these bills. But Juneau is carrying at least 17 pieces of legislation, including House Bill 26 - a mandate to place an American Indian on the state parole board - and a joint resolution to study dropout issues with regard to Indian students. The system also showed Jayne sponsoring more than 10 pieces of legislation.
Some of the bills address aid for schools and clarify ethnic, cultural and religious maintenance in children removed from homes. Others include a ban on minors in establishments serving alcohol and an increase in penalties for serving alcohol to minors.
Juneau is sponsoring a joint resolution to address the high dropout rates among American Indian students in high schools throughout Montana. The American Indian rate is three times that of non-Indian students.
"This is a very important issue in education and we need to find some solutions," Juneau said. "I am advocating for new strategies for our schools - prevention programs are great and needed but are long-term and there are many students leaving today, yesterday and probably tomorrow from our schools."
Andrew Huff, a newly elected board member at the Helena Indian Alliance and attorney for the Indian Law Resource Center, said tribes will benefit by having American Indians there to respond when the state government tries to exercise its power over tribal sovereignty or government.
"The biggest impact will be the Indian legislators having the opportunity to educate other lawmakers about Indian issues and the importance of state government respecting tribal sovereignty," Huff said.
Jonathan Windy Boy said that the top issues surround economic development and health and human services. Unemployment rates on reservations range from 37 to 85 percent, according to tribal statistics.
Tribal leaders said another big issue for American Indians statewide is the attempt by the Republican leadership to prevent a proposed legislative redistricting plan from becoming law. The plan would establish a record nine majority American Indian voting districts.
"We have a Republican leadership who is willing to disregard the Montana Constitution in order to deprive Montana's Indian people of our voting rights," said Northern Cheyenne President Geri Small.
American Indians on the Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, Blackfeet, Flathead, and Rocky Boy reservations would benefit from the new plan because it adds a new House District and two new Senate Districts in their areas.
"For 20 years we have fought to enforce our federal voting rights," Rocky Boy Chairman Alvin Windy Boy said. "For the first time in Montana history, the proposed redistricting plan would grant Indians proportional representation. It's about time."
However, the American Indian legislators said if proposals like HB 309 - which would reduce the allowed population deviation between districts and let the secretary of state reject the plan if it doesn't meet that standard - pass, American Indian voters will have much less of a chance electing candidates of their choice.
"My opponent didn't even come onto my reservation, he just put a sign on the road near the reservation border," Bixby said Friday in a hearing on the bill in the State Administration Committee.
Other measures that affect American Indian Montanans have already begun to be addressed in the Legislature.
One example is House Bill 64, introduced by Rep. Stan Fisher, R-Bigfork, regarding the 1999 creation of the State-Tribal Economic Development Commission. The bill was heard last week in the House Appropriations Committee and was tabled. It would have transferred the remaining $153,000 of the State-Tribal Economic Development Commission's funding to the state general fund.
The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, which represents tribal governments throughout Montana, told legislators they didn't support the bill. The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council is made up of nine federally recognized tribal governments and one formally recognized Montana tribe in both states. Northern Cheyenne President Geri Small is the council's current chairwoman.
Many American Indian leaders see the legislators' perspective as an important part of the debate at the Capitol.
"The Indian legislators will bring more awareness to concerns on reservations such as in the areas of health and social, like mortality rates for Indian children, high rates of diabetes, and economic disparities on reservation lands," said Daniel Pocha, chairman of the Helena Indian Alliance Board of Directors.
Henrietta Mann, a Southern Cheyenne, taught at the University of Montana for 29 years, then took over the Native Studies Program at Montana State University in 2000. Mann said Juneau's leadership is a great value for American Indians.
"Montana is a politically progressive state," Mann said. "The Indian legislators look at economic and natural resources, like the coal-bed methane, but they want to maintain our sacred grounds, also."
Another Helenan, Daniel Fox, a grant writer and communications consultant, appealed to the idea of having a greater voice for the less fortunate population throughout Montana.
"Having an increased number of Indian legislators will certainly help Montana's Indian population by giving them a voice in policy and decision making, but those benefits clearly extend to Montana's low income and working poor as well," Fox said.
THE NUMBERS: The 2000 U.S. Census shows Montana with an estimated 56,000 tribal Indians, representing 6.2 to 7 percent of the about 900,000 Montanans. Since 1933, 19 American Indians have served in Montana's state legislatures. Of that number, 17 (or 89 percent) have been Democrats. In 2001, The National Conference of State Legislatures reported 46 American Indian legislators nationwide. Alaska was first with 12, Montana had six, New Mexico and Arizona each had five, and Oklahoma and South Dakota had four. Altogether, American Indians were represented in 14 of the 50 states. In 2001, Montana represented 13 percent of the 46 American Indians serving in state legislatures. The NCSL doesn't yet have a complete count of 2003 American Indian legislators. However, five states have reported: Alaska, with 10; Montana, 7; New Mexico, 4; Colorado, 4; and Arizona, 3. Oklahoma and South Dakota have not filed reports. Of those 28 American Indian legislators who responded, 79 percent were Democrats.
HELENA -- Montana Republican Party leaders Tuesday night ripped into a plan to redraw state legislative districts for the 2004 election, accusing the plan's Democratic architects of carving up the state for political advantage. They said the Districting and Apportionment Commission should throw out the districts adopted during the past eight months and start anew.
"I'd start over if I were you, and I'd be fair to Montanans, especially rural Montanans," Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, told the commission. "That's what you were elected to do, is be fair."
"What I see is our communities sliced up like strings of bacon," added Bruce Simon, a former state representative from Billings. "This is wrong. It is disenfranchising people."
The five-member commission, however, declined to turn back the clock, and did what it has done all summer and fall: adopt the plan proposed by its Democratic members.
On a 3-2 vote, the panel tentatively approved new Senate districts proposed by Democratic commissioners Sheila Rice of Great Falls and Joe Lamson of Helena.
Lamson said some of those districts may be adjusted before the commission sends the plan to the Legislature for comment in January.
Rice also answered the panel's Republican critics, saying the majority of those who testified on plans across the state favored the plans being adopted.
"To suggest that the Democratic members of this commission are not listening is a bald-faced lie," she said.
The panel will adopt its statewide plan for new legislative districts Dec. 6 in Helena, after holding its final public hearing.
The plan then goes to the 2003 Legislature for comment, but the final decision belongs to the commission next spring.
Senate districts adopted Tuesday night include two new northcentral Montana districts where Indian voters hold a majority.
Janine Pease Pretty on Top, chairwoman of the Districting and Apportionment Commission and a member of the Crow Tribe, said Montana's Indian population has increased the past 10 years, and should have proportional representation in the Legislature.
She had a testy exchange with Thomas, who ridiculed one of the new Indian districts as being shaped like a "muskrat."
"I'm wondering which one you're calling a muskrat," Pretty on Top asked.
"I didn't come here to answer your questions tonight," Thomas replied. "I came here to tell you my thoughts."
Pretty on Top said the hearing is like any other, where those who testify are subject to questioning. She said Thomas should feel no more uncomfortable than anyone else on the losing end of a political argument.
"Are you trying to lecture me?" Thomas said. "Is that what you're doing?"
Other Republican leaders and officeholders blasted the commission during testimony Tuesday night, making personal digs at Pretty on Top and the Democratic members.
Rice admonished those at the meeting to keep a civil tone, saying the "rudeness of walking away from the podium, the rudeness of sarcasm" should not be part of the proceeding.
"We disagree in this room, but we do not have to be disagreeable," she said.
But Sen. Ken Miller of Laurel, chairman of the Republican Party, said he and others felt the commission had ignored their comments and concerns about the new plan: "What's happening to them, they see as disrespectful."
Not everyone who testified opposed the plan.
Democratic Rep. Carol Juneau of Browning, a Native American, thanked the commission for its work. She said the plan adopted Tuesday will give Montanans the chance to elect three Indian senators to the Montana Senate for the first time in history.
"I think your work will encourage the people of Montana, all of the people of Montana ... many of us who've been disenfranchised for many, many years," she said.
Republicans weren't universal in their criticism, either.
Sen.-elect Jerry Black, R-Shelby, said he favored the Senate district created by the plan adopted Tuesday night. The new district covers most of the Golden Triangle and its communities, he said.
"We feel this is really the only option that we would recommend," Black said. "It's a common denominator for a lot of voter satisfaction."
On one of the few light notes of the evening, Black also said the district includes perhaps the largest single concentration of Montana State University football fans in the state.
"We'll either stand together miserable or be elated," he said, referring to Saturday's Montana State-Montana football game.
But most Republicans repeated their allegations that the plan has been drawn to favor Democrats in the 2004 election.
"This commission is strictly partisan,
and we're going to have to live with (its) program for the next eight
years," said Commissioner Jack Rehberg, a Republican from Billings.