REPORT/Hal Herring

Pols Just Say 'No' to Voters in Montana

Times may have changed in Montana, with the voters choosing to ban the cyanide heap leach gold mining process, but the politicians and the Montana Mining Association like to harken back to the good old days, when the residents did what they were told.

On the very day that I-137, the citizens' initiative to ban the cyanide mining process, passed by a margin of over 22,000 votes, the Montana Mining Association filed suit in state and federal courts to overturn the new law. The Association filed the suits on behalf of two mining companies, claiming that the new law represented "takings" legislation. The Association was emboldened by a victory, just two weeks before, in toppling another citizen's initiative, I-125, which limited the amount of money that a for-profit corporation could pour into a campaign to support or oppose citizen's initiatives. I-125 was overturned on the grounds that it placed unconstitutional limits on a corporation's right to free speech

The miners are certain that, with I-125 no longer binding their pursestrings, they can overturn the new ban.

Leading politicians were quick to tip their hands after the votes were counted and the cyanide ban became reality. Lt. Gov. Judy Martz, addressing the Northwest Mining Associations in Spokane, said that both she and Gov. Marc Racicot were dedicated to overturning the law. Racicot's press secretary later said that this was a mistake, and that "the governor's office respects the vote." Republican Senator Chuck Swysgood, of Dillon, had no such worries. "I'm tired of seeing the good paying jobs kicked out the door because of the actions of a few," he told the Helena Independent Record. He added that the only way to address the issue was "through the legislative process."

Bonnie Gestring, of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said of Swysgood, "As a Montana legislator, he should respect the people's voice."

A Federal Judge in Helena has rejected the first pleas of the Mining Association to block enforcement of the cyanide ban.

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