When the Legislature convenes on Jan. 7, one of the first items of business, apparently, will be whether to change the operating rules in the House to allow business to be conducted by a simple majority vote (requiring 51 agreeing representatives) rather than a super-majority vote (requiring 60 agreeing representatives) on the vast majority of bills that come before the House. The House Interim Rules Committee on Dec. 4 chose not to vote on a proposal by some Republican legislators to make this change. The Committee Chairman Derek Skees, a Kalispell Republican, said the issue will be brought up again on Jan. 8.
Earlier in December, the Acantha published a column in favor of the rules change by veteran Conrad Republican legislator Llew Jones. This week, we are publishing two more columns on this topic: one by a group of Republicans who are opposed to the rules change and another by Great Falls Republican Ed Buttrey, who supports the rules change.
The fight seems to be playing out between the moderate Republicans including Jones and Buttrey, and the conservative Republicans.
Both sides make good points in their competing columns, but we think that the moderate Republicans’ most compelling argument is that this rules change would make representatives in the state House more responsive to their own constituents and less likely to be manipulated by party leadership. In many cases, the legislation that will help rural Montanans — like those who live in Teton and Pondera counties — is not the same as legislation that will help places like Kalispell, Bozeman and Billings.
It seems to us that changing the House to a simple majority vote to take action on items would ensure that our elected representatives are free to make their first allegiance to their constituents. The framers of Montana’s 1972 Constitution did not dictate to the House or the Senate how to create its operating rules. The membership does this.
The simple majority rule has worked for decades for the Senate through times of Democratic and Republican majorities. We think the House ought to give this proposal from Buttrey a try for this session. If pandemonium results, the rules can certainly be changed back for the 2021 session. But, if the rules change provides better accountability to constituents and more robust and transparent debate then the change will be a success that should be retained for future sessions.
We encourage our readers to take the time to read both of these guest columns, and then call our local representative, Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, a Republican from rural Fairfield, at 788-1443, and let him know whether you support or oppose the rules change. Make your voice heard in Helena.