Last week our representative Bob Wagner introduced House Bill 205 to the House State Administration committee. The bill would require, among other things, presidential candidates to file a copy of their birth certificate with the Montana Secretary of State.
This bill isn’t unique to Montana or Mr. Wagner. Bills similar to this have popped up in several other states including Arizona, Connecticut, Nebraska and Texas.
Mr. Wagner says the bill is required to close a loophole in the constitution and prevent any question to a candidate’s citizenship. He claims the bill doesn’t have anything to do with President Obama.
However, the motivation for the bill assumes Obama’s citizenship is in doubt. I would say this question continues to persist with a relative few number of people nationally and that it persists at all, despite adequate proof to the contrary, gives even more credence to the notion that HB 205 is simply based on a conspiracy theory.
Even more troubling is the rhetoric Mr. Wagner has used in pushing his bill.
In the committee hearing where his bill was presented, Wagner invoked the memory of the Oklahoma City bombing in referring people who feel disenfranchised because they don’t believe Obama is a U.S. Citizen. Referring to acts of terrorism in the closing arguments in the committee hearing for this bill was unnecessary and irresponsible.
His closing sentence was similarly heated; challenging the committee to pass the bill because doing so would demonstrate fidelity to their oath of office.
“I beg you people act. I beg you do not separate yourself as Democrat, Republican, left, right, liberal conservative … I beg you show some dignity to the oath of the office you swore to defend and uphold,” he told the members of the committee.
My problem here is not necessarily with the bill, though I do think it is a tremendous waste of time for our legislature (particularly when both the senate and the house have more on their plate than they’re likely to get through in 90 days). My problem is that this demonstrates an unwillingness by Mr. Wagner to provide leadership on the issues facing residents of his district.
Last year during the primary race when Mr. Wagner faced a challenge from two fellow Republicans, I sat through a few candidate forums, hosted a debate and talked to many people about the race and the issues facing Madison County. This past December, Mr. Wagner and Debby Barrett, who represents Madison and Beaverhead Counties in the senate, listened again to constituents at a meeting with Madison County Commissioners.
I heard people tell Mr. Wagner that they were concerned with the impact wolves are having on their livestock, they were tired of struggling with the brucellosis issue, they wanted to see a commonsense approach to developing our natural resources. I heard people talk about the economy, jobs, healthcare and affordable housing. Many people brought up the Ruby Dam project and the fact that the funding for the final piece of the project – expanding the reservoir – is now up in the air.
On all these issues Madison County and House District 71 need leadership in the legislature. It’s a big task and a big job.
However, I never heard someone ask Mr. Wagner go to Helena and find a way to keep Obama off the 2012 ballot in Montana.
Thankfully, Ms. Barrett is doing her part. This session she has already brought bills forward dealing with large predators, grizzly bears and redefining renewable resources. Whether you agree with her bills or not, the simple fact she is responding to the concerns of her constituents is refreshing.
But Mr. Wagner seems to have a different emphasis. As of Tuesday he has introduced three bills. Besides HB 205, he has a bill that would give parents a religious exemption to immunization requirements for daycares and a bill addressing the rights of jurors in a jury trial.
He still has several bills that have yet been introduced, including bills dealing with state sovereignty, gold standard and the privatization of Cataract Dam near Pony.
I know Mr. Wagner’s primary concern in serving his constituents is adhering to the Montana and U.S. Constitutions, as well as his fidelity to his oath of office. I certainly applaud him for that. But there must be a way to keep focus on his constitutional duties, while providing voice and leadership to the issues important to the lives and livelihoods of his constituents.