Every once in a while it’s our pleasure to bring you some great news. This happens to be one of those times. As you may recall, for the past few years proponents of so called non-discrimination ordinances (NDO’s) were marching like a juggernaut across Montana, passing their restrictions on religious liberty in city after city; first in Missoula, Helena, then Butte and then finally in Bozeman. They seemed unstoppable! That is until they set their sights on Billings where their movement hit a brick wall.
Despite their best efforts and a pro-NDO media blitz by the Billings Gazette, the battle dragged on for seven long months. The city council held meeting after meeting where proponents and opponents testified for hours on end. One meeting lasted 10 hours with proponents claiming victim status and calling for an end to discrimination. Opponents pointed to a lack of evidence and the fact that no one has ever been charged under one of these ordinances in any of the cities where they’ve been enacted. In short, opponents claimed the City Council was being asked to solve a non-existent problem. In the end, the measure failed when Billings Mayor, Tom Hanel, broke a tie by voting no. The LGBT community went ballistic! The same people who were sweet talking and cajoling with the Mayor before the vote suddenly turned on him like a pack of wild dogs. He was threatened seven ways from Sunday but the former Billings police officer stood his ground and eventually the fury died down. That is until people began filing to run for seats on the City Council.
Both NDO proponents and opponents recruited heavily in hopes of either bring the NDO back, or killing it for good. In a municipal election that generally goes unnoticed, suddenly 19 candidates were running for five seats and everyone knew a renewed effort to pass an NDO hung in the balance. Candidates raised money and went door to door. Campaign signs went up. Candidate forums were held and after the primary, Billings voters were left with clear choices in each race. Every seat had a conservative and a liberal. Now it was up to the voters and on Tuesday last week they spoke loud and clear.
Out of five seats, conservatives won four. Furthermore, two incumbents who voted for the NDO were thrown out! Best of all, the editors of the Billings Gazette sat speechless. Despite their best efforts to get pro-NDO candidates elected, their plans went down in flames and Mayor Tom Hanel was vindicated. The voters of Billings gave him a City Council that will not revisit the issue of an NDO for the foreseeable future. Now the Council can get back to work on real problems like the budget, snow removal and fixing streets.
Billings wasn’t the only city where an NDO was on the ballot. The voters of Houston, TX rejected an NDO in that city by a resounding 61 to 39 percent and we predict that other cities will follow suit. People are waking up to the fact voting makes a difference and freedoms are lost when we sit on the couch and refuse to participate. Voting is also a privilege and with all constitutionally generated rights, you either use them – or you lose them.