By Mark Behnke, Darby
Four years ago here in the Bitterroot, a group of approximately 200 local citizens declared quite publicly just how radical their political beliefs were. It was breathtaking. They revealed themselves to be far-right extremists holding beliefs that almost all Americans would regard as just plain paranoid. If not delusional. They even openly demanded that our Sheriff implement at least one policy that would clearly violate the individual freedoms of each able-bodied adult in the county.
If we all had paid closer attention at the time, and voted accordingly in our local elections, we might have avoided this latest saga culminating with the debacle in the Treasurer’s Office. These folks belonged on the fringe and should have stayed there.
Instead, most of us have squandered our constitutional franchise, our right to vote, by accepting a model that all political candidates can be categorized into one of two narrow categories. We vote for members of either team “R” or team “D” and then, mostly, hibernate from our civic responsibilities until the next election. Apparently confident that the stated ideology of the good guys we put into office is good enough that we can get on with other things in our lives. Voting is not so simplistic. It takes a little critical thinking. Some homework, a little curiosity and willingness to challenge even our own assumptions and beliefs. But not enough of us have acted as responsible citizens and now we’ve reaped what we’ve sown.
I wonder, how many readers have I already lost by now? Will we only be doomed to repeat this? I’ve been forced to learn from it, will enough of the rest of us? How many want to know that you can still read the list of exactly who those roughly 200 extremists are today? To find that not only does the name of our disgraced Treasurer appear to be on that list, but the name of at least one of our sitting Commissioners seems to be there as well?
In response to this radicalized group at the time, the Star generously published a very long Guest Opinion piece (March 24, 2010) that extensively analyzed just one aspect of what they asserted and believed. The fact is though, what I–and we–really should have focused on was not just how ridiculous those beliefs were but rather, exactly who these local citizens were. And how the policies they were advocating were a proxy for how clearly compromised their reasoning skills had become and that the last thing we wanted them doing was holding public office. It was easy to identify most of them, they had all signed a petition that was promptly entered into the public record and that still can be viewed today on the county’s website. With the hubris typical of ideological true-believers, they had proudly provided their names, addresses and even phone numbers in most cases. If only we had kept the list handy and referred to it much more often.
Exercise your civic duty now and look for yourself, don’t rely on me. You can find it all on the official county website (www.rc.mt.gov) where it was correctly placed into the public record after it was received January 13, 2010 as “Commissioner Correspondence.” The text of the cover letter and the “Questionnaire”, as well as the ten pages of supporting signed petition containing the names, addresses and phone numbers of most signatories can all be found, as it should be, online. Using the search terms in any online search engine, “questionnaire agreement for oath of office ravalli county” should place the link at or near the top of the results but here is the full URL: http://www.rc13.mt.gov/commissioners/correspondence/2010/01%20January/01-13%20-%20Questionnaire%20Agreement%20for%20Oath%20of%20Office.pdf. If you don’t have online access or are not adept online, you can visit the County Clerk and Recorder’s office and ask them to print you a copy.
What radical beliefs did these petitioners declare for us all to see? Well, it was quite a laundry-list, take a look for yourself, but the one that caught my attention was the declaration that our Sheriff’s job was to conscript me for at least three weeks each year into a “County Militia.” Against my will. Without compensation, much less due process. That if I refused “to serve” in this new local army, I would be “relegated to noncombat services [elsewhere] in the County.” In other words, all adult citizens of the county would be forced into labor for a minimum of three weeks per year. No exceptions. Even if your expressed free-will was to say, “no thank you,” their stated policy did not allow for that as an option. Constitution be damned, you’re in their army now. Here’s the exact text they submitted:
“It is the duty of the Sheriff to form and command a County Militia composed of all able-bodied Citizens 18 years or older. (Note: Women must serve, but not in a combat capacity unless the men are in danger of being overrun.) It is understood that it is the Sheriff’s duty to supervise the training of the Militia for a minimum of three weeks every year. (Those not willing to serve in the Militia will be relegated to noncombat services in the County.)”
Presumably you women–who, after all, “must serve” just like us men–would be “relegated to noncombat services” during those years we men were not “in danger of being overrun.” What kind of work would they have the thousands of you do for those “minimum of three weeks every year,” ladies? Don’t fret, they’ll find something to “relegate” you to.
Does that sound like some crazy conspiracy theory normally to be found in a junk email forwarded to you from your addle-minded uncle? Another of his exclamation-mark-filled-rants about internment camps that Obama has waiting for us all? Well, this wasn’t quite that easy to dismiss as paranoid rubbish. After all, the document ended with what almost seemed to be a threat to our elected county officials: “I further understand that failure to execute my lawful obligations will result in immediate suspension and a Grand Jury hearing. The outcome of the Grand Jury investigation may result in recall or a trial if criminal charges have been levied.” And this screed sure wasn’t coming from anyone on the supposed left. This was a loyalty oath, of sorts, supported by a petition signed by roughly 200 representatives from our local Tea Party predecessor, Celebrating Conservatism. They marched their “Questionnaire/Agreement” into the county building and demanded a response within 30 days from all five Commissioners and the Sheriff affirming that they would swear to “restore lawful government to Ravalli County” and stand behind a whole list of paranoia-fueled beliefs. It was real enough that Sheriff Chris Hoffman and some of the Commissioners at that time felt compelled to respond in the local media. Fortunately, they were all solid enough Americans that not one of them signed it. Sanity and adherence to our Constitution still prevailed amongst our elected leaders at the time. I suppose those are the good old days now.
Who are the people who supported these demands of our local officials? Look for yourself. It takes just a little homework. I had noted some time ago what appears to be the name of one of our now sitting Commissioners. Right there near the bottom of the 8th page of the petition, third from last page, is the name, address and phone number of what appears to be Commissioner Burrows. The name appears legible and corresponds to the public record of his mailing address. Further, it is flanked immediately above and below on the petition by the names and addresses of his neighboring family. Maybe a reader with better eyes can find the names of other current Commissioners amongst the rest of the names I find illegible. Will Commissioner Burrows be asked by the voters in his coming reelection effort to explain his beliefs in light of this past declaration? Or have too many of us returned to our hibernation again?
As the Treasurer’s Office began to fail recently, I returned to the petition once again. I hadn’t previously known the name Valerie Stamey. But there, near the bottom of the fifth page of the attached petition I found what appears to be the signed names of Valerie and Richard Stamey. Could I be certain of this? Don’t take my word for it, look for yourself, you decide. The address and phone number listed for both names does not appear in my local phone book. But as the Star has demonstrated, public records can be useful in these matters. In just moments online I found the complaint filed against Mr. Stamey with our State Commissioner of Political Practices stemming from the 2010 primary election and where the address on the petition matches with the Stamey address on the official Complaint. Here’s the link to that cross-check: http://politicalpractices.mt.gov/content/2recentdecisions/MacLarenvStameyComplaint
As best as I can tell from these documents, we’ve apparently allowed at least one person holding these extremist views onto our Commission and yet, a couple years later, we sat back and allowed this Commission to appoint what appears to be another off this list as our Treasurer. And the Commissioners who voted her in didn’t even seem to have a moment of pause given this history. Quite to the contrary, according to past coverage in the local press detailing how this all took place, Commissioner Foss actually interceded to add Stamey’s name to the final list of candidates to be interviewed. Her name apparently got private handling from a sitting Commissioner and entered into the interview process in an unorthodox manner. And yet, Foss now claims to have had no awareness of Stamey’s political ideology. Even though Stamey had run as a Republican for the office in the previous primary (and lost big) and also served as a local Republican Precinct Captain.
You see, this is how extremist ideologues operate: Wait for an opening and appoint an unqualified radical who couldn’t formerly get a majority of the voters to put them in office. Then they run as an incumbent in the next election and the voters (who’ve been completely propagandized by now to simply treat their franchise as worthless by reflexively voting by party affiliation) anoint them to make it all official.
When you find ideologues this radicalized, what you can usually count on is that they are acting out of extreme emotion. And if they are acting out of emotion, they are likely not spending much time thinking critically, objectively. They’ve suspended their reasoning skills and reverted to primordial emotions. How else can one explain a bunch of American-freedom-loving, Ronald-Reagan-devoted, self-proclaimed conservatives publicly declaring that the Sheriff must conscript each of us into uncompensated forced labor for a few weeks every year?
How did we not only end up with a Treasurer who apparently advocates this anti-American radicalism but also with at least one Commissioner who appears to have publicly proclaimed the same? That’s easy, just as the Treasurer got her position, this Commissioner got his by nomination from the local Republican Central Committee and subsequent appointment by the remaining four Commissioners. That’s right, the GOP and four GOP Commissioners, appointed to the Commission a fifth member who openly believes in enslaving you in servitude for a minimum of three weeks each and every year. Whether you agree to it or not. And simply knowing the election results from 2012 tells us that more than half of the voters actually voted for this ideologue when it came time to actually have to run for the office.
We got exactly what a solid majority of us voted for, radicals who are ruining the reputation of a once respectable national party, a Grand Old Party. And making our own county look like something out of China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Extremist ideologues fail. Usually, spectacularly. But we all pay the price.