Here are the complete press releases and statements issued by lawmakers and political parties in the wake of Friday’s actions on the Senate as Democrats attempted to prevent the passage of two referendum proposals aimed at altering Montana elections. I’ve made edits, changes or alterations to emphases.
4:53 P.M., Senate Democrats issue statement
Democrats stand up for transparency in Montanans’ democracy
Helena, MONT. – The Republican leaders of the legislature today abused the legislative process to push through irresponsible attacks on Montanans’ constitutional right to vote.
Led by Sen. Jeff Essmann, the Republican leaders made good their promise uncovered in secret emails released earlier this year: pass the buck through the referendum process so they don’t have to be held accountable on allegedly controversial issues, like same day voter registration.
“Enough is enough,” said Senate Democratic leader Jon Sesso. “Montanans deserve a democracy that works, but abusing the rules and shutting Montanans out of the ballot box is against everything our constituents value.”
Republican leadership forced the legislative process on yet another referendum despite points of order called by Democrats, ignoring vociferous protests from the floor as well as Montanans in the gallery.
“Someone had to stand up for Montanans' right to vote,” said Sesso, “Republican legislators want to make it harder to vote, and they showed today they’re willing to use every legislative tactic to do that.”
SB 405 would put on the ballot an initiative to eliminate same-day voter registration. Republicans felt they would stand up for Montanans' right to participate in our democracy, and that includes allowing Montanans to register and vote on election day.
“We will hold them accountable. That's what Montanans want us to do, especially when they are trying to take away our cherished right to vote,” said Sesso.
Montana GOP response:
Democrat mob rule tactics fail to intimidate
Today at the Montana Legislature, chaos erupted when Democrats tried to bring the process of self-government to a grinding halt.
In danger of losing a crucial vote, Democrats in the Montana State Senate arranged for one of their Senators to disappear, so they could use a parliamentary tactic called "Call of the Senate." That tactic would have stopped all business of the Legislature until the "missing" Senator could be found.
If business had stopped, a number of good Republican bills would have failed to meet a crucial deadline, and would have died.
When the "missing Senator" was exposed as a ruse, and Republican Senate President Jeff Essmann went to proceed with business, Democrats shouted and pounded on their desks, trying to drown out any opposition to their views. They packed the Senate gallery with lobbyists and partisan operatives to shout and try to silence the majority of Senators who were doing the job they were sent their to do. Republican Senators refused to allow the mob rule tactics to intimidate them, and continued doing the people's business.
The Montana Republican Party released a statement on Democrat efforts to bring the legislature to a halt.
Bowen Greenwood, Executive Director of the Montana Republican Party, said, “Today Democrats in the Montana State Senate reached a new low. Trying to stop a crucial vote from happening, they shouted and pounded their desks and packed the gallery with partisan allies trying to drown out their opposition. Thank God mob rule did not prevail. Senate President Jeff Essmann did the right thing by refusing to be intimidated by anti-democratic, mob rule tactics.”
Senate GOP responds:
Statement by Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich Regarding Democrat Gamesmanship the Montana Senate
(Helena, MT) -- In response to today’s obstructionist actions by Democratic members of the Montana Senate, Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich has released the following statement:
“The actions by the Democrat members of the Senate were unprecedented. They intentionally mislead Montanans and the Senate about a member’s absence to stage a piece of political theatre.
Today’s political gamesmanship was designed to try and deny Montanans the right to vote on two issues that would improve the integrity of our elections. Republicans worked diligently to conduct the people’s business.
Montanans expect their elected officials to work with one another. I expect all members of the Senate come together and honor our commitment to work for Montanans,” said Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich.
Gov. Steve Bullock addresses the media at 5:20 p.m.:
Readout of Governor Bullock’s Statement
Montana State Capitol – April 5, 2013
Today was a disappointing day for the State of Montana.
Since I was sworn in as your Governor, I’ve sought to change the tone in this building. In my State of the State address, I asked the legislature to “act in a manner that we’re not ashamed to have our kids watching, because they are.” I won’t let my kids watch the news tonight.
I’m saddened by what we saw today – it’s worse than Washington, DC. I’m not embarrassed by men and women demanding a right to speak – I’m disappointed by those who denied it.
Today, we saw elected Senators, people who have been entrusted by their neighbors to represent them, prevented from speaking – because they were trying to speak for those who are too often silenced.
The Senate sought to eliminate the right to vote for senior citizens who may have moved into an assisted living facility. Active duty military members who were overseas during voter registration. Students, who simply moved down the hall of their dormitory.
Every week I meet with the House and Senate pages. I tell them that there is no more important right, than the one to vote. Because every vote matters. I encourage them to stand up and be counted. To stand up and make their voices heard.
The hyper-partisan nature of the Senate leadership is interfering with our good government.
When our ancestors passed the Corrupt Practices Act – a measure that sought to ensure some degree of confidence in our elected leaders – they weren’t acting as Democrats or Republicans. They were acting as Montanans.
We live in a democracy – the greatest on earth. A Democracy where a majority rules, but a minority has a voice and a right to be heard.
The minority has rights – not only rights that were adopted by this legislature, but the right to be respected. Respect is a Montana value - one that should be inherent in all of us who call this place our home.
I strongly encourage Sen. Essmann to reconsider every vote made today. And I encourage the leaders in this body – not just those elected to leadership positions – to stand up and start acting in a way that would make our ancestors and our kids proud.
We have a lot of work to do tonight. I’m sure I’ll see everyone tomorrow.
Montana Democratic Party spokesman Chris Saeger issues statement at 5:44 p.m.:
"The same extremist Republican leaders of the legislature who broke the rules to silence the minority today are the same ones who were exposed for plotting against moderates in secret emails."
"Sen. Essmann won't stop silencing dissent until he gets all the way to the ballot box. Republican party bosses in the legislature have made it clear that their own political gain is more important than Montanans' right to have their say in our democracy."
"We're proud that Montana Democrats stood up to make sure the everyone in our democracy plays by the same rules, and has the same right to access the ballot box."
That’s all for now. Be sure to check out the Great Falls Tribune for all the latest on this fascinating turn of events at the Montana Legislature.