The Healthy Montana Initiative announced to volunteers and supporters across the state that it will not qualify I-170 for the November ballot, but Montana advocates will continue the fight to provide health care for low income Montanans.
Personally I wonder if it is even possible to qualify an initiative in a non-presidential election year any more–especially because the percentage of Montanans who vote by mail continues to skyrocket. High mail vote numbers are usually a good thing for democracy because it’s a convenient way for many people to vote, but it makes it difficult to collect signatures. That’s because in a true citizens initiative driven by volunteers, the bulk of the signatures gathered come from standing outside polling locations on primary Election Day.
UPDATE: The best way to see how turnout and mail ballots has changed in recent years is to go look at the striking graphics up on James Conner’s Flathead Memo. This chart tells the story best.
GOP Attorney General Tim Fox was another big part of the reason this ran out of time– he stalled the initiative effort by demanding that campaign organizers re-write the ballot language–forcing the citizens groups to spend time re-doing the initiative language that could have been spent gathering signatures–which may have been his intent.
But that wasn’t the only time opponents used stall tactics to prevent the ballot measure’s backers from having time to gather the necessary signatures.
They also had to fight off a lawsuit by TEA Party AG Tim Fox and a TEA Party legislative candidate named Matthew Monforton to block the popular citizen’s initiative to accept federal funding for health care for the working poor and veterans.
In a unanimous ruling, the justices of the MT Supreme Court ended up ruling that Fox’s and the TEA Partier’s attempt to invalidate the initiative fiscal statement was wrong. This fiscal statement was written by Fox himself and is supposed to explain how muh the measure could cost and save. Fox and the tea party tried to have it rewritten–an attempt to force the pro-Medicaid expansion signature gatherers to throw out thousands of signatures already gathered and start over at a later date, thereby severely restricting the amount of time they have to gather signatures. So the opponents failed, but in terms of time, money and resources used up to fight the legal challenge, the damage was severe.
It’s also worth noting that TEA Partier Monforton’s own attempt to block Medicaid expansion and nullify the entire Affordable Care Act had virtually no support. While the pro-expansion initiative got between 20-25,000 signatures, Monforton has never had enough to even report–which means so few signatures as to be embarrassing. I couldn’t find a Cowgirl tipster who had ever seen a Monforton signature gatherer.
Nor do I expect two anti-trapping ballot initiatives to qualify, nor the initiative to require a new appointment process for U.S. Senators, nor the initiative John Bohlinger proposed, nor the measure to require that half of our state legislators be women, nor the ban on medical cannabis, nor the measure to change how dentists are paid, nor the measure making it a right to access natural food and medicine, and not the several others out there that slip my mind right now either.
Most importantly however I think worth reading the statement from Montana’s leading field organizer and veteran human rights advocate Kim Abbott, who was the President of the Healthy Montana Initiative. If anyone could have qualified a citizens initiative ballot measure in this climate, it would have been Abbott. Nobody else even came close. (Charter’s paid signature gatherers bankrolled by corporate money hardly count, and it would not surprise me if Abbott bests them too.) Here’s Abbott:
“We are disappointed that the clock ran out on this effort, but we know that Montanans overwhelmingly support expanding Medicaid for 70,000 Montanans. Over 300 volunteers worked tirelessly over the past eight weeks. Because of their work, the movement to expand Medicaid grew by over 3,000 voters each and every week this spring. We are over 25,000 people stronger than we were when we started, and make no mistake, the momentum for this will continue to grow until Medicaid is expanded. There is too much at stake for Montanans, our hospitals and clinics, and our state to slow down now.
When we started this campaign in late March, we acknowledged that it was an uphill battle. We were forced to start over on the 30th day of our 30 day initiative review process. We faced obstructionism in the form of a legal challenge at the Supreme Court that threw our campaign in to legal uncertainly. We recognized that our grassroots team would be up against enormous, dark, outside money in November.
Even with all of these obstacles, we knew that it was truly a try or do nothing situation. We knew we would have to run a unique, grassroots campaign in order to compete. We knew doing nothing was not an option because 70,000 lives and the stability of hospitals and clinics depended on us. So we tried. Over 300 volunteers across the state – from Rexford to Red Lodge – donated their time to this effort. In eight weeks, our volunteers collected over 25,000 signatures. Unfortunately, the delays were simply too much. The June 20th deadline is the one barrier that we cannot work around. Our effort doesn’t get more time because we faced delays. Those are the rules and our campaign plays by them.
We are saddened that the citizens of Montana will not be able to vote in November on this critical issue. We want to be clear that our work will not end until 70,000 of our friends and neighbors have the health care they need and deserve. Montana cannot afford to stop until we get this done.”
Additional Information on I-170:
The Healthy Montana Initiative would have expanded Montana’s existing Medicaid program and provide health care to 70,000 low-income Montanans including veterans and their families, home health care workers, working parents, and other uninsured people. According to the Montana Budget and Policy Center, the Healthy Montana Initiative would have created 12,000 new jobs and give the state’s economy a $5.4 billion boost by accepting federal funds. Each day Montana does not expand Medicaid, our state turns away $1.84 million in federal funds.
To qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot, signatures of five percent of the total number of qualified voters in the state (based on the number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last general election), including five percent of the voters in each of 34 legislative house districts must be obtained (a total of 24,175 signatures).
Supporting organizations include: AARP Montana, Blue Mountain Clinic Family Practice, Child Care Resources, MEA-MFT, Montana Budget and Policy Center, Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, MHA – An Association of Montana Health Care Providers, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Nurses Association, Montana Organizing Project, Montana Primary Care Association, Montana State AFL-CIO, Montana Women Vote, Rural Dynamics, Inc., Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, and Western Native Voice.
Our thanks are due to them all. The upshot here is that the pro-expansion movement now has a large base of informed, motivated and active volunteers that will be able to apply considerable and awe-inspiring pressure on the 2015 legislature to do the right thing. This power and pressure will only continue to grow.
For more information on the Healthy Montana Initiative, go to www.healthymontanainitiative.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.