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Montana GOP has a supermajority. What now?

| November 30, 2022 12:00 AM

Earlier this month, voters elected the first legislative supermajority since Montana’s constitution was adopted 50 years ago, voting in over 100 Republicans to represent them in the Legislature. The so-called “red wave” may not have happened nationally, but it sure happened here at home. Supermajority status means that Republicans now have immense legislative power and can propose constitutional amendments on the ballot without requiring the support of Democrats. This could be a historic opportunity for us to see substantial reforms to Montana government.

However, Republicans should remember that with great power, comes great responsibility. While it might be tempting to wield a supermajority to exert even greater political power, polls have shown over and over again that a vast majority of voters are already incredibly distrustful of our leaders and have lost confidence in our institutions of government. Haphazard reforms to score short-term political points will only backfire over the long term and worsen public distrust.

Restoring voters’ trust and confidence in government will require a legislative supermajority to focus on the fundamental building blocks of a free society. These building blocks will entail striking a careful balance of Montana government that honors our founding principles, promotes adherence to the rule of law and better protects individual freedoms. These topics might not be flashy — in fact they can be rather mundane — but focusing on getting the fundamental aspects of Montana’s government right will yield dividends far down the road for us, the citizens.

Below I suggest three policy priorities a legislative supermajority should focus on:

Protect our fundamental rights

The first priority of a legislative supermajority should be to protect Montanans from radical, big-moneyed interests by further securing our rights. When controversial activist groups with big money backing from out-of-state seek to impose their will on Montanans, citizens should be able to rest assured that their rights will remain safe. The fundamental rights of Montanans to peacefully use their property, earn a living and parent their children deserve unequivocal protections in law.

Restore the constitutional separation of powers

The second priority of a legislative supermajority should be to restore the proper separation of government powers. America’s founders correctly understood that the separation of powers is foundational to promoting liberty and protecting citizens from government overreach. That’s why the American system grants specific powers to the legislature, executive and judiciary along with checks and balances to ensure each branch of government stays in its proper lane.

But in Montana, we’ve seen the separation of powers be undermined and violated again and again. The worst examples of this are when the Legislature delegates sweeping authority to executive agencies to write regulations with the force of law, while imposing no real accountability for controlling what has become a mountain of red tape imposed on Montanans. Gov. Gianforte and Lt. Gov. Juras have led a bold effort to begin to control excessive red tape since assuming office, but it should be recognized that many big, permanent regulatory reforms will ultimately require action from the Legislature.

Guarantee the impartiality, independence, and integrity of the judiciary

The third priority of the legislative supermajority should be to guarantee the judiciary upholds its duty to Montana citizens to interpret the law independently and without bias. Montana’s judges should be directly accountable to the people with transparency about unethical conduct and conflicts of interest. The judiciary should be held to a higher standard of fairness that eliminates wrongful bias, deference, and pre-judgement of legislation. And the abuse of our judicial system with frivolous lawsuits must be addressed.

Kendall Cotton is president and CEO of the Montana-based Frontier Institute.

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