Last week, voters elected the first legislative supermajority since the passage of Montana’s Constitution 50 years ago, electing over 100 Republicans to represent them in the Legislature. The so-called “red wave” may not have happened nationally, but it certainly happened here at home. Supermajority status means Republicans now have immense legislative power and can propose constitutional changes on the ballot without needing the support of Democrats. This could be a historic opportunity for us to see major reforms in Montana’s government.
However, Republicans should remember that with great power comes great responsibility. While it may be tempting to use a supermajority to wield even more political power, polls have consistently shown that a large majority of voters are already incredibly suspicious of our leaders and have lost faith in our governing institutions. Indiscriminate reforms to gain political points in the short term will only backfire in the long run and increase public distrust.
Restoring voter confidence in government requires a legislative supermajority focused on the basic building blocks of a free society. These building blocks require a careful balance by the Montana government that honors our founding principles, promotes compliance with the rule of law, and better protects individual liberties. These issues may not be flashy–indeed, they can be quite mundane–but focusing on getting the fundamental aspects of Montana government right will pay off for us, the citizens, in the long run.
Below I propose three policy priorities on which a legislative supermajority should focus:
1. Protect our fundamental rights
The first priority of a legislative supermajority should be to protect Montanans from big-money radical interests by further securing our rights. When controversial, foreign-funded activist groups try to impose their will on Montana residents, citizens should be assured their rights will be protected. The basic rights of Montanans to peacefully use their property, earn a living, and raise their children deserve clear legal protection.
2. Restoration of the constitutional separation of powers
The second priority of a legislative supermajority should be restoring the proper separation of government powers. America’s founders correctly understood that the separation of powers is the basis for promoting liberty and protecting citizens from state encroachment. For this reason, the American system grants specific powers and controls to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to ensure that each branch of government stays on the right track.
But in Montana, we have seen the separation of powers continue to be undermined and violated. The worst examples of this are when the legislature delegates sweeping powers to executive agencies to write regulations with the force of law, while imposing no real accountability for oversight of what has become a mountain of bureaucracy imposed on Montaners. gov. Gianforte and Lt. gov. Juras have made bold efforts to control excessive bureaucracy since taking office, but it should be recognized that many major, enduring regulatory reforms will ultimately require legislative action.
3. Ensuring the impartiality, independence and integrity of the judiciary
The third priority of the legislative supermajority should be to ensure that the judiciary lives up to its duty to the citizens of Montana to interpret the law independently and impartially. Montana judges should be directly accountable to the people and provide transparency about unethical behavior and conflicts of interest. The judiciary should be subject to a higher standard of fairness that excludes unlawful bias, deference and prejudice against the legislature. And the abuse of our justice system through frivolous lawsuits must be addressed.
Kendall Cotton is President and CEO of the Frontier Institute, a think tank dedicated to breaking down government barriers so all Montanans can be successful.