Montanans Rally for Public Lands

Statues of Mike and Maureen Mansfield at Montana State Capitol

Mike and Maureen Mansfield had lots of company when supporters of Montana’s public lands visited Montana’s state capitol on January 11.

Of course, it was the bronze statues of Montana’s former senator, ambassador to Japan, and revered elder statesman, and his beloved wife, whom Mike Mansfield always credited for whatever success he had in public life.

The Mansfield statues are on a third floor gallery overlooking the main floor of the capitol rotunda where advocates for public lands crowded in to hear from Governor Steve Bullock, Senator Jon Tester and others proclaim their support for Montana’s Federal public lands.

News reports estimated that about 2,000 people came to the rally. I can’t verify that count, but I can say that the capitol, from the ground floor entrances to the top galleries near the capitol’s dome were jam-packed with people from all over the state, who came by bus or car pool to show their support for public lands, and to send a message to the Legislature that they’d better not take up any legislation that would tamper with those lands.

Part of the crowd at the capitol, and the many signs.

Many of the people in the crowd came with signs, some supplied by organizations, plus many that were probably created on kitchen tables the night before the rally. The signs bore various messages, such as “I (heart) Public Land,” “Montana is for Public Land Owners,” or “Keep Public Lands in Public Hands.” One sign bore a photo of President Theodore Roosevelt, saying, “What Would T.R. Think?” Another asserted, “Cliven Bundy owes you and me a lot of money.”

People came to whoop it up a bit, with lots of cheering and yelling when speakers put out applause lines. There were also some varying agendas, as occasionally a voice would ring out, “Let the buffalo roam free!”

Senator Tester was a surprise speaker, who was able to be on hand because Congress, in deadlock on funding the federal government, took a recess for the weekend.

While there were great messages from many speakers, Governor Bullock sent the audience members home cheering. Here are a few of his applause lines.

“We’re here to celebrate our public lands, and we have something to celebrate. There are over 3,000 bills in the legislative hopper and not a one would take away our public lands.”

“Make your voices known. Our public lands are our heritage and birthright!”

“We estimate that our public lands generate some $7.1 billion dollars for our economy.” Noting numbers of people who visit Montana, he added, “They ain’t coming here for our Walmarts!”

The governor, who will be term-limited in 2020, is considered a dark horse candidate for the 2020 presidential race though he hasn’t made any formal announcements, addressed some actions by the president, including the downsizing of some National Monuments, “We have a president who consistently attacks our public lands. An attack on public lands anywhere is an attack on public lands everywhere.”

Bullock ended with a pledge of opposition to any actions that could transfer ownership of Montana public lands, “It ain’t gonna happen on my watch,” adding, “It’s not just on my watch, it’s on OUR watch.”

Governor Steve Bullock greeting well-wishers following his speech to the crowd.

While some legislators made a point of circulating through the crowds, State Senator Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls), vice chair of the Montana Republican Party and an activist for transferring Federal public lands, was likely not one of them.

As reported by Don Pogreba of the online politics junkie site, The Montana Post, Fielder asked for and received a security detail from the legislature’s Sergeant at Arms to protect her from what she described on Facebook as “possible hostilities at a large protest at the State Capitol.” She had edited out a previous post referring to the crowd as “rabble.”

That makes me wonder what’s going to happen when Steve Bullock leaves the governor’s office in 2021. Regardless of which political party the next governor comes from, will he or she have the same commitment and passion for Montana’s public lands?

That’s something we need to keep in mind as gubernatorial candidates start popping up in coming months.

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