Montana Politics

The Difference Between AstroTurf and Grassroots Politics

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A few weeks ago, I was in Missoula at Bagels on Broadway watching a couple of high-school age kids engage in some “grassroots activism” on behalf of CI-105, the Montana  Association of Realtors-backed initiative that would prevent Montana from ever raising revenue on real estate sales.

Their efforts were a combination of amusing and somewhat sad: every few minutes, one of the kids was calling their handler to find out when they could get lunch, because they were “hungry, tired, and lost in this town.” Not getting a response, they half-heartedly tried to get some signatures, so I decided to play along and asked what the initiative would do.

When they told me that the initiative would reduce taxes because Montanans were all “being double taxed” right now, I politely said I’d look into the initiative on my own. It’s hard to imagine a John Sinrud-backed organization telling its workers to be dishonest, isn’t it?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has seen these signature gatherers.

I was reminded of this today when I read the story in today’s Independent Record about a couple of people working to pass I-160, to restrict trapping on Montana’s public lands. Instead of a collection of hired hands, misinformed and disinterested about the initiative they are collecting signatures for, the supporters of I-160 are passionate and knowledgeable, exactly the kind of people that the initiative process was designed for:

“I’ve put my life on hold and I’m accumulating debt left and right to do this,” Heister said. “I’m a student and I’m cleaning houses to make ends meet. But this is something I believe in. It’s a true grassroots effort.”
As of last week, supporters of I-160 had gathered 6,232 signatures across the state. They need 25,000 by mid-June to get the measure on November’s ballot.

It’s too bad that people like John Sinrud have done so much to corrupt such a powerful tool for direct democracy.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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