by Rep. Pat Noonan
State Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Butte, is running for the Public Service Commission’s District 3 seat — which encompasses southwestern Montana.
One of the basic rules of campaigning for elected office is to stay focused on your issues. In the chaotic world of today’s politics, it is easy to be distracted by inconsequential issues and subsequently miss those that you could have solved. This is especially true in my campaign for the Public Service Commission.
The PSC is an increasingly important regulatory body that affects every Montanan’s pocket books. There is much to understand about the power of the Commission most of all the dangers of having the Commission controlled by a single-minded narrow ideology.
I am breaking this basic rule today because I believe the struggle for an open and inclusive democracy is everyone’s responsibility. Promoting civility in public discourse, allowing all issues full review, is in the best interest of everyone -– Democrats, Republicans and Independents. This is why this past week I was alarmed and disappointed by the recent actions of my colleague, Belgrade Representative Art Wittich.
Obviously, since he lost his primary election I am not concerned about his impact on future legislative sessions. What concerns me is Rep. Wittich’s conviction that intimidation and threats are acceptable as means to close the marketplace of ideas. Last week he sued a constituent who wrote a letter to the editor in opposition to his unsuccessful candidacy. An elected official suing constituents who write letters to the editor has a chilling effect on not only that letter-writers’ participate in their government, but also silences others who may want to use the public forum. We all must stand up for our critical First Amendment right to free speech.
Suing citizens who write to the local paper, however, is not Rep. Wittich’s most heinous offense. He is also suing in an attempt to violate the privacy rights of Montana citizens. He is seeking to access critical healthcare data and this cynical ploy should be called out for what it is, a plot to get through intimidation what he couldn’t achieve through the democratic process in the legislature.
I was proud to sponsor the bill on Medicaid expansion and I was proud to work with many of my friends across the aisle to see that it passed. In those deliberations Rep. Wittich wanted to kill the effort to increase Montanans covered with health insurance, but because of bipartisan efforts, a compromise was proposed and subsequently passed. Rep. Wittich obviously could not accept the results of the democratic process at the Legislature, so he decided to sue in an attempt to frighten Montanans into not joining the health exchanges.
Rep. Wittich did make sure that the critical infrastructure bill was not passed and boasts of it every chance he gets. How cynical, how destructive, to work against the public interest when you on don’t get your way. Greg Gianforte has joined in with his own frivolous and dangerous anti-free speech lawsuits. Gianforte is suing radio and television stations, shouting down attempts at public discourse. This is not the political world most of us want, but we will be cursed with it until each of us say enough is enough. I hope you will join me in calling out these dangerous activities that violate our freedoms of speech and privacy.