By Pamela Carroll
On Tuesday, December 12, 2023, the Grinch revealed itself in Great Falls, Montana. I saw the mean-spirited character manifested in citizens of Cascade County.
Cascade County Commission held their bimonthly meeting at the Expo Park in anticipation of large public attendance. Commissioner Joe Brigg brought forth a resolution to remove election duties from the Clerk and Recorder. This resolution has been talked about for several years.
Public comments were heard from over one hundred people. With many more in attendance to witness the spectacle of vile and spiteful testimony. This went on for seven long and excruciating hours.
As I sat in the audience listening to the public comments, I was so ashamed of the behavior of those speaking in opposition to the resolution. These are my neighbors who used threats, yelled, and told outright lies. The Bible quotes were thrown out over and over to attack commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson. Two pastors in our community spewed hateful words. Not once did I hear these so-called church attending people speak to the call to love thy neighbor as thyself. It was like watching school yard bullies and toddler temper tantrums. Never in the 62 years that I have lived in Great Falls have I ever experienced anything like the hateful actions and words that I saw that day. I fought back tears of sadness that day for my community.
The restraint shown by Commissioners Joe Briggs, Jim Larson and those that spoke in support of the resolution is to be commended. Supporters spoke with decorum and integrity while expressing their concerns for the election process that has been flawed since Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant has taken office. They stuck to the facts and kept religion and emotion out of their testimony.
We are in need of change in Great Falls and around Montana as this type of extremist behavior spreads and basic community norms around public discussion and debate dissolve. Perhaps, the most disturbing aspect is the appeal to theocratic ideals which could not be more un-American. This country was founded on a fundamental separation between church and state, and we have upheld that value, embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution, for almost 250 years. The opponents’ dogmatic appeal to a narrow-minded, intolerant brand of Christianity would be ridiculous if it were not so fundamentally dangerous and unconstitutional.
There is hard work ahead for all reasonable people of goodwill in this community and across Montana to try to bring us back to a semblance of decency and behavioral norms of civility and respect necessary for the community to not only survive but thrive. “Love thy Neighbor no Exception.”