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Remembering Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention

Remembering Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention
Posted at 4:07 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 19:12:04-05

GREAT FALLS — In 1972, delegates from across Montana were hashing out the state's second - and still current - Constitution. Many of the people involved are no longer alive, but some of those who are had plenty to say during a meeting organized by Great Falls Rising to reflect on the historic achievement.

After a brief introduction, former state legislators and constitutional delegates began recounting the process of creating a new Constitution for Montana.

"It was written by grass-roots citizens,” said former state legislator Bob Brown.

Brown, who served both before and after the creation of the Constitution, said the state's original Constitution written in 1889 was too detailed and had become outdated.

"To say it's not very progressive is an understatement,” said Brown. "The '72 Constitution was focused more on principles and broad guidelines."

The new Constitution also greatly increases government transparency and includes a Bill of Rights. Perhaps most notable is the inalienable right to a clean and healthful environment.

"It didn't start out that way,” recalled delegate Mae Nan Ellingson, who said the right was added after adding a section to the Constitution about natural resources.

"I thought we were going to have to fight the battle all over again, but no,” said Ellingson. "There is not a single provision in our Constitution that was as hard fought or as controversial as the natural resources article."

The president of the Montana League of Women Voters, Nancy Liefer, said the league and the American Association of University Women played a large role in making the Constitutional Convention happen.

"The League pushed for, initially, a referendum bill by the 1969 legislature which did pass the legislature,” Liefer explained. "Different women from these different organizations went out to talk to their neighbors and we wrote fliers, newspaper articles, bumper stickers, pamphlets at fairs, malls, Crazy Day celebrations. Everywhere we could find people, people went to try to pass out pamphlets and let people know what was going on."

Something every speaker mentioned was the seating of the 100 delegates alphabetically at the state capitol during the Convention.

"This simple act fosters human connections. At the end of the Convention, as was said before, many of us did not even know the political party of the other delegates. It was a great time. Without partisan influence, we based our decisions on the merits of each issue,” Constitutional Convention Delegate ArlyneReichart said.

While time will tell what the next 50 years holds for the Constitution, recently there had been talk among Republicans about calling another convention. Additionally, a statewide vote is held every 10 years to decide whether or not to make a new Constitution.