Twelve of Montana’s Legacy Press outlets (older, more established paper publications largely characterized by financial death-spirals and shrinking readership) are suing Rep. Barry Usher (R-HD40) for not allowing them access to a private meeting between legislators that did not meet the quorum requirements to be considered a public meeting.
Their lawsuit, filed last week, stems from a January 21 meeting between Rep. Usher and nine other Republicans. Usher, Chair of the Montana House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, called the get-together to work out some personal issues between legislators in order to dispel problems that could prevent the people’s work from progressing on the House floor. The decision is keeping with many years of standard operating protocol when legislators need to work out some personality conflicts behind closed doors.
Filing the suit is a virtual conga line of media outlets going bankrupt, laying off employees, selling their property, consolidating their print facilities, and unionization in an attempt to survive the industry’s death spiral. They include the Associated Press, Billings Gazette, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Helena Independent Record, Missoulian, Montana Standard, Ravalli Republic, Lee Enterprises, Hagadone Media Montana, Montana Broadcasters Association, Montana Newspaper Association and Montana Free Press.
Each of those outlets, save the Associated Press, are far behind the Montana Daily Gazette in readership, which launched only one year ago. Ironically, it’s exactly this type of left-leaning media activism that is the reason Montana’s news consumers have canceled their subscriptions and stopped reading these outlets.
Their lawsuit alledges that Usher violated Article II Section 9 of the Montana State Constitution that reads…
No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.
However, Usher’s meeting was not the “deliberation of a public body or agency of state government” because it did not meet quorum. The committee has 19 members, 12 of which are Republican. Usher’s meeting had only 9 members present, not meeting the constitutional requirements of representing a public meeting.
The Big Sky Public Policy Institute accurately summarized why the Legacy Press is suing Usher earlier today…
Their intentions to meddle and manipulate the outcome of legislation through the judiciary aside, the frivolous lawsuit has insanely bizarre implications.
The argument from the 12 Fake News outlets is simple; regardless of whether or not the gathering of two or more legislators meets quorum to be classified a “public meeting,” the media wants unparalleled access to the lives and conversations of state legislators.
Consider, for example, that between the House and Senate chambers is a bathroom reserved for legislators and staff. The design of the capitol is intentional; legislators often excuse themselves for a restroom break and discuss one issue or another over the urinals or bathroom stalls. The room is used as much for communication as bodily relief (see below).
While an actual potty forming the segway between chambers is an ironically appropriate metaphor for how business is conducted in Helena, the legislator-only restrooms have an important function. They allow legislators to settle personal issues out of earshot of the press or others who are not entitled to every word, syllable, or (if the bathroom is used appropriately) grunts made by elected officials.
If the Legacy Press lawsuit is successful, a media outlet could successfully hover over the urinals with a microphone hovering over whatever “business” is conducted there.
Or, consider the inconvenience their lawsuit would have in the personal lives of two married legislators, Rep. Steve Galloway (R-HD24) and his wife, Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway (R-HD22). Surely the two have a word or two to say about the day’s events in the state legislature in their car on the way home. The press is quite literally demanding access to the Galloway’s personal vehicle and, God forbid, even their private residence should legislation ever be discussed.
Meanwhile, legislators often enjoy congregating at popular restaurant, Buffalo Wild Wings, if for other reason the establishment doesn’t browbeat their customers to follow the overreaching directives of Lewis & Clark health officer, Drenda Niemann.
With as few as two legislators gathering over hotwings, the press wants to be allowed to pull up a seat to cover whether blue cheese or ranch is their preferred dipping sauce. Their invasion would be never-ending.
Don’t be misled. This lawsuit has nothing to do with giving the People access to government affairs and everything to do with overturning laws passed by representatives of the People. This type of media-led chicanery is exactly why the Montana Daily Gazette has become the most-read news service in the Big Sky State.