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Arlyne Reichert reflects on Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention

Arlyne Reichert (October 2022)
Posted at 7:05 PM, Oct 13, 2022

It's been 50 years since the second - and most current - Montana Constitution was put into place by delegates from across the state.

While many of those delegates are no longer with us, there is one that continues to tell her story. That is Arlyne Reichert.

The documentary, For This and Future Generations, was screened at the Orpheum Theater in Conrad. Many of the attendees said this was the first time they saw the program.

"It was a wonderful experience to come to the theater here in Conrad and the community so was wonderful to both see the theater and experience such an important part of our history with community members," said Sarah Murray.

Julie Katana said, "I was just completely blown away by the quality of participation in that and that the people from all over the state and how smart they were."

For Arlyne Reichert herself, however, not only did she know what to expect, much of the documentary was focused on her role.

Arlyne reflected on the efforts spent on creating the new constitution. To put it short, it wasn't easy. There was a lot of time and dedication put on the table.

Arlyne Reichert (1972)
Arlyne Reichert (1972)

Arlyne stated her reasons for replacing the old 1889 constitution with more revised and updated version.

"I have been in the League of Women Voters for years, and having served in the legislature, I was appalled," She said. "Everything was secret. The people didn't know what was going on. It was controlled by the powers that be. What would happen is, you would go to Helena, and go to the committee meeting. They would be very nice. You would sit in and listen. When it came time to vote, the Legislative Chair would say, 'sorry, everyone out of the room. Executive session.' That meant we need secrecy, we need privacy, and they vote, and we never knew how they were voting. Even when they had second reading in the main chamber, you didn't know how they were voting. That was one of the first signals that governments are working in secret. We have to open up the system. There were so many things wrong with the old constitution. It needed redoing and we thought not just an amendment, it needed revamping from the word go. And that's what we did. We rewrote it."

One of the common claims made by delegates about the new Constitution was that it greatly increases government transparency and includes a Bill of Rights. For some, the most notable is the inalienable right to a clean and healthful environment.

Arlyne said there were many challenges that got in the way of successfully establishing the second constitution, but one thing that hasn't been noted before, was some of the more personal struggles."

Arlyne stated, "personally, it was taking my young kids out of school. Children don't like to leave their friends, but it was necessary that I'd move to Helena. That was the biggest challenge. Moving to Helena, finding a house that was adequate and sending the children to school in Helena."

There is some talk amongst other groups to form a new constitution that would replace the one from 1972.

Something that Arlyne stressed was the importance of being actively involved in the community, especially our youth.

"Our future depends on the rights that they have," Arlyne explained. "If those rights are taken away, which might happen if a new constitution were written. We have bought 39 rights in the Bill of Rights. Some of them are not possible, not even in the U.S. Constitution. They're spelled out in our constitution ... And we even had a section of rights of young people, young adults under 18. We rights specifically for them because sometimes they have their own problems, even if they are 14, 15, and they have problems with parental involvement. They have rights and we have those protected in our Constitution. I think it's very important that young people realize, and I hope that young people have a desire to run for office so they can protect our rights."

A statewide vote is held every 10 years to decide whether or not to create a new Constitution. Montana Constitution: https://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0000/chapters_index.html