Letters to the Editor

Billings Gazette

July 31, 2012

In 1942, the quick mobilization of the U.S. military seemed almost miraculous considering the beating it took at Pearl Harbor. Winning the war would depend on an abundant supply of oil for ships and gasoline for planes. Waging war in the vast Pacific required access to easily produced petroleum reserves.

Montana voters played a surprising role in our military preparedness. In 1912, Montanans passed a one-sentence Initiative. “We, the people of Montana instruct the legislators to vote for and elect the U.S. Senate candidate receiving the most votes at the general election.” Back then, legislators chose U.S. senators by political whim or the highest bribe. But this time, they dutifully sent Thomas J. Walsh to Washington.

Soon Walsh got wind of Washington-style political corruption. Oilmen H.F. Sinclair and E.L. Doheny (major contributors in presidential campaigns) leased the Naval Oil Reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyo., and Elk Hills, Calif., without competitive bids. Instead, they bribed the secretary of the interior. Walsh tenaciously gathered evidence to convict the lawbreakers. Because of his doggedness, the naval reserves remained unmolested by robber barons and was available for a quick response to the Japanese attack.

Now let me predict the outcome of Montana’s next election. Initiative 166 will start the process to ban corporate money from our elections. It will be on the ballot even though corporate opponents are determined to squelch it. And just like in 1912, the voters will instruct their legislators by Initiative. Survival as a nation may once again depend on it.

Carole Mackin


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