Every year around this time we take stock of our lives, our love, our family, our friends, and the fact that we can call Montana home. One of the great joys of living here are the rights and protections provided by the Montana Constitution – and these should never be taken for granted.
If you think about the state of most of the United States, it’s obvious why we’re seeing such a wave of immigrants now. Montanans have long been known for being kind and generous, and the so-called “rat race” has not ruled our lives here. We’re not stuck on 8-lane freeways, crawling in stop-and-go traffic while anger and frustration simmer on the streets. No, in a very short time you’ll be in and out of every town – and when you’re outside, Montana’s true and unique “wealth” will emerge.
Consider, for example, the amazing fact that virtually every native species in existence when Lewis and Clark’s expedition passed through the state over 200 years ago is far from coincidental. In fact, Montana’s long-standing commitment to preserving public lands and waters is guaranteed by our Constitution, which has been internationally lauded for precisely this reason.
As the preamble boldly states, our citizens are grateful “for the serene beauty of our state, the majesty of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains,” which we wish “to improve the quality of life, equal opportunity, and secure the blessings of liberty.” for this and future generations.”
Following this eloquent statement is further mandated, “The State and every person shall maintain and improve a clean and wholesome environment in Montana for present and future generations.” Environment” guaranteed.
And how does it work? First, the legislature is tasked with “providing adequate remedial measures to protect the environment’s life support system from degradation” and “preventing undue depletion and degradation of natural resources.” The constitution also requires that “all lands disturbed by the extraction of natural resources be reclaimed” — and established the $100 million Resource Indemnity Trust Fund to provide “inviolable” revenue for that purpose.
These are guarantees that are simply not in our national constitution. Likewise, the “right to privacy” enshrined in the Montana Constitution was called “the most elegant and uncompromising privacy law ever written” by the Florida Law Review. This fundamental right was further strengthened in the recent election by including the right to digital privacy, which drafters could not have considered in 1972 but which Montanans today recognize as essential.
We also have the “right to know” which states that “no one shall be deprived of the right to inspect files or to attend the deliberations of any public body or office of the state government and its departments.” Again, this is a right not found in the national included in the Constitution, but which has helped Montanans ensure open and transparent government for the past half century.
As we go about our daily lives, it’s easy to forget that the Montana we know and love is no coincidence. Our predecessors had the vision and wisdom to enshrine these rights and duties in the wake of the vast corruption of the legislature, media, local governments and courts at the hands of the Anaconda Company. And we continue to fight to remedy the almost unimaginable environmental destruction in the decades since The Company’s disappearance.
So, this Thanksgiving, take a moment to remember that it is our Constitution that guides and protects us and our beautiful state in so many ways.
George Ochenski is a longtime resident of Helena, an environmental activist, and Montana’s longest-running columnist.