Kate Cholewa Commentary: “The New Swing Vote”

In the past, I’ve approached the issue of choosing a candidate for Attorney General based on their position on reproductive privacy and how they will weigh in as a member of the Land Board in managing Montana’s public lands in support of schools.

But as Congress passes, and the President signs, laws allowing for the indefinite detention of citizens; and the news is increasingly filled with tales of children and seniors being shaken down by the TSA; and as incursions into citizen privacy through electronic surveillance escalate; and internet censorship is pursued; and local law enforcement is militarized; and as parents express concern about their children growing up to accept being patted down on-demand as a way of life; and as Montana citizens become increasingly disturbed to find that conflicts between state and federal law are resolved at federal gunpoint and that Montana is denied the diplomacy afforded foreign nations when policies collide, I don’t think I’m reading too much into it to say that this is what losing civil liberties is.

The left empowered the federal government to deal with corporate power and instead they have used that power for their own interest and have partnered with corporations against the citizens. The right has empowered the federal government to invade individual privacy in order to control their fellow citizens and protect their prejudices. The beast that has been created has come back to bite both sides.

I still care about the issues of choice and land management. But I have some additional concerns.

So, first I’d ask candidates, tell me what it means to you to be the state Attorney General in an era where citizens are as concerned about the federal policing of citizens in the course of daily life as they are about local crime. Does Montana’s elected “Top Cop” play any role in representing the people of Montana to the federal government in times of tension between state and federal law, and if so, what is that role, and how would you play it?

I want to know, too, what you think of a criminal justice system with financial incentives for incarcerating citizens. In February of this year, Corrections Corporation of America reached out to 48 states offering to buy and manage their prisons. What they want from states to assure profitability is a 20-year contract and assurances that states will keep prisons at least 90% full. Do you support creation of a system where safer streets lead to the need to create more criminals due to contractual obligations?

Third, will you end the silence in regards to what is happening in our state in terms of federal police action around medical marijuana? I have less interest in whether or not you support medical marijuana than whether you support the lack of transparency as to whether federally indicted Montanans were obeying state law, or not. Yes, federal law trumps state law. However, both state and federal officials have stated or implied that violating state law is what triggered federal raids. But it used to be that people in black robes and jury boxes made determinations of guilt or innocence as to whether or not Montanans broke state laws, and not people with guns and badges.

No state level official has stood up and called the federal incursion wrong. But neither have they stood up to say it was right. If officials believed a threat to Montana communities had been removed and the citizens were relieved and grateful, they’d be tripping over themselves to take the credit, standing shoulder to shoulder at podiums. But they’re not doing that. Yet, they’re not objecting, either. Are they indifferent? Not notice?

It is the silence that betrays the citizens.

These are the issues of the new swing vote and they are concerns that land squarely in the middle class. The new swing vote doesn’t just swing Republican/Democrat. The new swing vote also chooses to withhold votes selectively, affecting the outcome through protest. This is where the right meets the left. A continuum is the wrong geometry. We are a circle, a cluster, a Venn diagram – where the right and left meet is the middle, or what Richard Feldman, President of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, calls the Radical Center. Feldman’s group recognizes the role bad policy can play in promoting gun violence, and in turn, that violence is used as a reason to take people’s guns. The group sees the government’s catastrophe known as the Drug War as a threat to 2nd amendment rights.

When it comes to the state Attorney General race, I have no interest in hackneyed rhetoric about law and order and cracking down. Those who handle conflict with wisdom have less need to crack down. When I look at the candidates I ask, Who is levelheaded? Who has something to prove? Whose ambition could interfere with their integrity? Who owes any one faction too much to stand up for all?

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