Series discusses state constitutional convention milestone
February 24, 2022
Sanders County Democrats hosted February’s installment of their virtual cinema series, “What Unites Us” which centered around celebrating the 50th anniversary of Montana’s State Constitutional Convention. The hour-long event saw around 20 attendees. “We are here to discuss topics of unity as opposed to division,” said Sanders County Democrats Chairperson Mindy Ferrell, before introducing John Thorson, Vice-Chair of Sanders County Democrats and the evening’s master of ceremonies.
The year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Montana’s Constitution. The constitution was approved by voters on June 6, 1972, and has since then been amended 33 times. The event featured a video of retired state Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson and his review of what he considers to be one of the strongest and best written constitutions of the 50 states. The video was originally produced by the Lewis and Clark Library and the League of Women Voters.
“It’s important for people to realize that democracy is not a spectator sport,” Nelson said. “It has to be nurtured and fought for and supported and protected and defended if we are going to keep our democracy. Democracies die from within, not from without and that’s the threat we face.”
The importance of understanding and acknowledging Montana’s history and the fight to be recognized as a state was credited throughout the evening’s event. “The United States and Montana constitutions are our fundamental law,” Thorson said. “Unless prohibited by the United States Constitution, states can create different models of governance. So, a state constitution may provide ‘independent state grounds’ for a protection not recognized by the United States Constitution or the United States Supreme Court.”
Thorson continued, “Montanans should know the constitution for those reasons, but also because they are asked every 20 years whether a constitutional convention should be held to reopen the constitution, Article XIV, Section 3, and should be knowledgeable to make an informed choice.” Thorson noted 2030 will be the next time residents will see the option to reopen the constitution on the voter ballot.
“The Montana Constitutional Convention Question, also known as CC-2, was on the November 2, 2010 ballot in Montana as an automatic ballot referral, where it was defeated,” according to Ballotpedia. “The measure asked whether or not to hold a Constitutional Convention in the state of Montana. The question appears every twenty years on the ballot. In 1970, residents voted nearly 2-1 in favor of rewriting Montana’s original 1889 constitution. The vote resulted in a convention that included 100 elected delegates and 56 staffers. In 1990, voters voted 82 percent to 18 percent against another convention.” 2010 results were 58.51 percent no and 41.49 percent yes.
Thorson says for those who watched Justice Nelson’s video, he hopes viewers take away a broader understanding of the personal liberties the Montana constitution provides to its citizens. “The Montana document also provides opportunities to enhance the common good, such as through the protections of the environment and the encouragement of local government,” Thorson added.
Montana State University will host a panel discussion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the state’s constitutional convention. The March 22 event will feature former governor Marc Racicor, former U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus and others. The event is free and for those not able to attend in person, it will be livestreamed by MSU on YouTube and available for viewing later online.The event will feature the first-person accounts of Mae Nan Ellingson, who was the Constitutional Convention’s youngest delegate, as well as convention staffer Baucus and longtime state political journalist Charles S. Johnson. The event will also feature new video interviews with the surviving convention delegates and staff. Racicot and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau will discuss the Montana Constitution’s legacy.
For information on the future installments of “What Unites Us,” visit http://www.sanderscountydemocrats.org.