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Stories about Montana

Montana governor lawsuit challenges U.S. Bureau of Land Management director nomination

On July 20, Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) filed a lawsuit aimed at prohibiting acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) William Perry Pendley from exercising the director powers of the agency. The lawsuit argues that Pendley, who President Trump officially nominated to become director of BLM on June 30, 2020, serves as director in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) and the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
According to the lawsuit, Pendley’s exercise of the director’s powers defies the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which requires U.S. Senate confirmation of presidential appointments. The lawsuit further argues, however, that Pendley continuing to serve as acting director of the agency after his nomination to become permanent director violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA). Bullock argues that, “The Federal Vacancies Reform Act bars Presidents from circumventing the Constitution by putting people in charge of federal agencies before they are Senate-confirmed. But that is precisely what has happened here. Pendley’s tenure—and the actions the Bureau has taken, and continues to take during that tenure—violate the law.”
Bullock asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana to issue an injunction to block agency actions taken under Pendley. Conner Swanson, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior told _Bloomberg Law_, “This is a frivolous and politically motivated claim that has no legal standing.” Swanson said that Secretary of the Interior David Benhardt issued an order delegating the power to exercise the authority of BLM director to Pendley.


Montana county clerks verify that New Approach Montana has enough signatures to qualify marijuana measures for the ballot

On July 17, New Approach Montana reported that county clerks had accepted 52,315 signatures from the 80,000 raw signatures submitted for its constitutional amendment initiative (CI-118) and 35,458 signatures from the 52,000 signatures submitted for its initiated state statute (I-190). A total of 50,936 signatures and 25,468 signatures, respectively, were required to qualify for the ballot.
Together, the initiatives would legalize and tax marijuana. New Approach’s CI-118 would amend the state constitution to allow for the legislature or a citizen initiative to establish minimum legal ages for the possession, use, and purchase of marijuana. I-190 would legalize marijuana for individuals over the age of 21 and tax the sale of non-medical marijuana at a rate of 20 percent. CI-118 must be approved in order for I-190 to be enacted.
Pepper Petersen, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, said, “Every single legislative district submitted signatures for this drive, all 56 counties, every little small town, people contributed signatures to this in Montana. We think that shows a huge level of support out here, and we’re excited going forward.”
In April, the campaign filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that it had violated the right to petition the government by prohibiting electronic signature gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. On April 30, Missoula District Judge John Larson ruled against the petitioners arguing that the state’s “compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on [the] Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
On May 7, 2020, the Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R) issued a declaratory order enabling campaigns to circulate petitions online so that supporters could print, sign, and return them to a county elections office without notarization. Prior to the order, supporters had to take the signed petition to a notary for verification. On the same day, New Approach Montana announced that it would be carrying out a traditional signature gathering campaign with added precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, such as having circulators wear masks and using single-use pens.
In Montana, the deadline to gather signatures and submit them to county clerks for verification was June 19. The county election authorities had until July 17 to submit accepted signatures to the Montana Secretary of State’s office for a final tabulation before the ballot measures are certified.
New Approach Montana was the only campaign to submit a sufficient number of signatures and meet the state’s distribution requirement. The distribution requirement for initiated state statutes is 5 percent of qualified voters in one-third (34) of the 100 state legislative districts. For initiated constitutional amendments, the requirement is 10 percent of qualified voters in two-fifths (40) of the 100 state legislative districts.
Montana Cares, the sponsor of I-187, the Renewable Energy Initiative, also filed signatures with county clerks. The campaign reported on July 17 that it did not meet the signature and distribution requirements. The initiative would have required investor-owned electric utilities to acquire 80% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2035. The campaign filed two similar initiatives in 2016 and 2018 that also did not make the ballot.
Fourteen petitions targeting the 2020 ballot were filed with the Montana Secretary of State, and five were cleared for signature gathering.
The state legislature referred one state statute and two constitutional amendments to the November ballot. LR-130, would remove local governments’ power to regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons. The ballot measure would continue to allow local governments to regulate unpermitted concealed weapons and unconcealed weapons in public occupied buildings. C-46 and C-47 would amend constitutional language regarding initiative signature distribution requirements to match existing practices.
From 1996 through 2018, an average of between four and five measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Montana, 62% of which were approved.
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Montana mayor sues to stop recall election

In Montana, Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey has filed a lawsuit in Ravalli County District Court seeking to stop the recall election against him. The lawsuit argues that the recall petitions did not include important context about the allegations against him and that the recall therefore shouldn’t have been approved for circulation. The recall election is scheduled to take place via mail-in ballots on August 4, 2020.
The recall effort is being organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh in response to Dewey signing a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. Petitions accused Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of that size would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.
Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”
Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving petitioners until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot. Petitions were accepted by Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg on May 22, and 254 signatures were found valid.
Dewey sent a letter to Plettenberg after the signatures were verified. He wrote that the recall petition is “invalid and should be rejected on the basis of unsworn falsification and tampering with public records or information. These facts presented in the meeting by City Attorney Scott Owens conclude that there was no merit to the allegations brought forth, now presented in the recall petition, and that no illegal action had been taken by the mayor or administration. Ms. Rodabaugh was aware of these facts when submitting the petition and further omitted the authority given to the Mayor in the purchasing policy from the language in the petition she submitted. Therefore, she has knowingly submitted false allegations and information in the recall petition.”
In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did not commit an illegal act because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.
In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.


Mayoral recall effort scheduled in Montana

An effort in Stevensville, Montana, to recall Mayor Brandon Dewey was initiated in March 2020. Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving petitioners until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot. Petitions were accepted by Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg on May 22, and 254 signatures were found valid. The recall election is taking place by mail-in ballots on August 4, 2020.

The recall effort is organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh in response to Dewey signing a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. Petitions accuse Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of that size would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.

Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”

Dewey sent a letter to Plettenberg after the signatures were verified. He wrote that the recall petition is “invalid and should be rejected on the basis of unsworn falsification and tampering with public records or information. These facts presented in the meeting by City Attorney Scott Owens conclude that there was no merit to the allegations brought forth, now presented in the recall petition, and that no illegal action had been taken by the mayor or administration. Ms. Rodabaugh was aware of these facts when submitting the petition and further omitted the authority given to the Mayor in the purchasing policy from the language in the petition she submitted. Therefore, she has knowingly submitted false allegations and information in the recall petition.”

Dewey provided a written statement that will be included on the recall election ballot:

“The Mayor did not violate Montana Law, Stevensville Code, or his oath in authorizing the purchase of IT services needed for the Town. The Town’s Attorney investigated and determined that all purchasing activities were done legally and compliant with laws.

“Montana law has a process for bidding when dealing with other than professional, technical, engineering, or legal services.[“] This process does not apply to IT services. According to MCA 7 5-4301 contracts for professional, technical, engineering, or legal services are excluded from certain provisions.

“The Council adopted a Purchasing Policy in 2014 to delegate authority to departments and the Mayor for purchases in varying dollar amounts. Though this policy, the Council puts trust in the Mayor to spend within the budget without direct oversight.

“The purchasing policy states that for other professional services, including non-construction services totaling between $1,501 – $25,000 per agreement, purchases contained in the current fiscal year budget …, Departiment Supervisor’s need only get confirmation by the Mayor prior to purchasing.[“]

“With Council’s approval in the 2019-2020 Budget, the services totaling less than $25,000 in FY2019-2020 was consented to by the Town Council. The Council had authorized several payments to the vendor after the Mayor authorized the purchase.”

In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did nothing illegal because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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Jacobsen wins Republican nomination for Montana Secretary of State

Christi Jacobsen defeated state Sen. Scott Sales, former Secretary of State Brad Johnson, and three others to win the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Montana. Jacobsen received 29.4% of the vote compared to Sales’ 25.3% and Brad Johnson’s 23.1%. No other candidate received more than 15% of the vote.

Jacobsen currently serves as Montana’s deputy secretary of state. She said, “I’m running because I’m the most qualified candidate. I have the experience of the job, so I can hit the ground running on Day One.” She received endorsements from Susan B. Anthony List and current Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R).

Jacobsen will face state Sen. Bryce Bennett (D) in the general election, which is expected to be competitive. The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State listed Montana as a target office.

In addition to overseeing elections and business filings, the secretary of state in Montana serves as one of five members on the Land Board, which is responsible for overseeing the state’s public lands held in trust for schools. The five seats are filled by five state executives: the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, and superintendent of public instruction. Republicans currently hold a 4-1 majority. In 2020, four of the five positions represented on the Land Board are open.


Rosendale wins Republican primary for U.S. House in Montana

State Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) defeated five other candidates including, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton (R), to win the Republican nomination for Montana’s at-large U.S. House seat. Rosendale received 48.4% of the vote to Stapleton’s 33.2% with 94% of precincts reporting. None of the other four candidates—Joe Dooling, John Evankovich, Debra Lamm, or Mark McGinley—received over 10% of the vote.

Rosendale will face Kathleen Williams (D) in the general election. The national branches of both major parties have targeted this open seat. The current officeholder, Greg Gianforte, won the Republican nomination for governor.


Kathleen Williams wins Democratic nomination for Montana’s At-Large District for second cycle in a row

Kathleen Williams (D) defeated state Rep. Tom Winter (D-96) to win the Democratic nomination for Montana’s at-large U.S. House seat for the second election cycle in a row. As of 10:33 p.m. Mountain Time, Williams had received 89.6% of the vote to Winter’s 10.4% with 43% of precincts reporting.
Williams was the 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. House in Montana when she faced incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte (R). Gianforte defeated Williams 50.9% to 46.2%, the seat’s narrowest margin of victory since 2000 when Denny Rehberg (R) defeated Nancy Keenan (D) 51.5% to 46.2%. Gianforte is not seeking re-election, leaving the seat open.
On May 28, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named Williams one of its Red to Blue candidates, targeting the at-large district as one Democrats are hoping to flip in 2020. Williams will face the winner of the Republican primary in the November general election.


Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney wins Democratic gubernatorial nod

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney (D) defeated businesswoman Whitney Williams (D) to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Montana. As of 11:03 p.m. Mountain Time, Cooney had received 55.7% of the vote to Williams’ 44.3%. Cooney campaigned as a continuation of Gov. Steve Bullock’s (D) two-term administration. As lieutenant governor, Cooney ran with Bullock on a joint ticket in 2016. Bullock faced Greg Gianforte (R) in the general election and won with 50.3% of the vote to Gianforte’s 46.4%. The 2020 general election will feature Cooney versus U.S. Rep. Gianforte, who won the GOP nomination for the second cycle in a row.
The general election is expected to be competitive with major race forecasters rating it as a toss-up. The 2012 and 2016 gubernatorial elections were decided by margins of 1.6 and 3.9 percentage points, respectively.


Greg Gianforte wins Montana Republican gubernatorial nomination for second cycle in a row

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) defeated Attorney General Tim Fox (R) and state Sen. Al Olszewski (R-06) to win the Republican nomination for governor of Montana. As of 9:05 p.m. Mountain Time, Gianforte had received 52.8% of the vote to Fox’s 28.7% and Olszewski’s 18.5%.
Gianforte was also the party’s nominee for governor in 2016. He lost the general election to now-Gov. Steve Bullock (D), 50.2% to 46.4%.
Bullock is term-limited and cannot run for re-election. Gianforte will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the general election.
The general election is expected to be competitive with major race forecasters rating it as a toss-up. The 2012 and 2016 gubernatorial elections were decided by margins of 1.6 and 3.9 percentage points, respectively.


Montana mayoral recall effort advances to the ballot

An effort in Stevensville, Montana, to recall Mayor Brandon Dewey was initiated in March 2020. Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving petitioners until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot. Petitions were accepted by Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg on May 22, and 254 signatures were found valid. Dewey has until June 4 to provide a written statement that will be placed on the ballot. Plettenberg has said that the recall election will likely take place on August 4.

The recall effort is organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh in response to Dewey signing a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. Petitions accuse Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of that size would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.

Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”

Dewey sent a letter to Plettenberg after the signatures were verified. He wrote that the recall petition is “invalid and should be rejected on the basis of unsworn falsification and tampering with public records or information. These facts presented in the meeting by City Attorney Scott Owens conclude that there was no merit to the allegations brought forth, now presented in the recall petition, and that no illegal action had been taken by the mayor or administration. Ms. Rodabaugh was aware of these facts when submitting the petition and further omitted the authority given to the Mayor in the purchasing policy from the language in the petition she submitted. Therefore, she has knowingly submitted false allegations and information in the recall petition.”

In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did nothing illegal because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

Additional reading:


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