After hearing from Kendra Miller (Districting and Apportionment Commissioner) and the discussion that followed, Linda Semones wrote the following letter. Thank you SO much Linda! We need letters like this flooding the Commissioners inboxes.
Dear Chair Smith,
I want to thank you for the incredibly hard work that you completed to create Montana’s two new congressional districts. The work was contentious and time consuming, but at the same time you and the committee completed a public service for which you cannot be thanked enough. Your dedication to your mission was unwavering, and your willingness to listen to all public comment, through emails, letters, Zoom meetings, personal attendance at meetings, and on line map sources was above and beyond fair practice. Thank you.
I attended the public hearing on October 19 during which a large number of the public were on Zoom, as was I. During this meeting I was one of the very last to testify, so I heard nearly all the public comment, the majority of which was respectful, useful, considered and presented in a civil manner.
My concern is that the large group of people who arrived to testify in person, and a few on Zoom, under the auspices of Derek Skees, created a threatening and intimidating environment. I am sure you felt it, as some of the threats were aimed specifically at the Districting and Apportionment Commission. I hope that you will consider putting some side boards on what is appropriate for public comment and what is not. As a former Speech and Drama coach at a local high school, I can tell you that some of the remarks made by individuals in the room and on Zoom would have caused a Speech and Drama participant in debate to have lost their round. Here are my specific concerns:
1. Threatening the committee with lawsuits over and over again if a certain path were to be followed which did not follow the path of the speaker’s personal choice, in my mind created an environment of harassment and intimidation.
2. Stating that all Zoom participant comments should have been disregarded because “they don’t care enough to be here” also was intimidation of the public on line and completely disrespectful of the system set up to garner the most comment possible.
3. Stating that the Native Americans on reservations should have little to no influence on the redistricting decisions because they considered themselves “entitled” was against the Voting Rights Act and in the future any kind of comment against the provisions of this act should be shut down immediately. This is bigotry.
4. Wearing clothing that had political logos on them was a blatant political act inappropriate at a bi-partisan meeting.
5. Calling out individuals by name and running their ideas and personal actions into the ground was offensive, and a blatant act of intimidation.
6. Running way over the time limit for public comment would seem to give more weight to the ideas of the specific person talking. A time limit is a time limit for both sides.
I personally find intelligent debate to be a way to see the path to consensus, and a way to show a willingness to listen openly to the other side of an issue. The six incidents described above are not a part of intelligent debate, and lead to division and the inability to create compromise. I am pretty thick skinned, but after approximately six hours of comments was exhausted, saddened, and sickened by some of the comments I heard. I am neither Republican nor Democrat, and tend to vote in a very independent manner. These kind of incendiary comments from either political party are unacceptable to me. On the other hand, I was also heartened and encouraged by comments from both sides that presented actual facts, personal details and well thought out ideas. Please consider putting up strict side boards on future public comment sessions. I think as adults we can keep our comment civil and topical.
Again, thank you for all you have done to build our new congressional districts, and for all the time and energy you have expended to create a fair map. Now on to legislative districts!