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Remember when the Republican Party stood for small government, opposed top-down edicts and espoused local control? Now that the GOP controls both houses of the Montana Legislature and the governor’s seat, that stuff is a distant memory.

Local gun laws? Uh-uh. Local health boards authority? Nope. Local option taxes? Nah. Local affordable housing ordinances? Fuggedaboutit.

Bills are steaming ahead in Helena to impose majority Republican state-level will on local governments on all those issues and more. All that lip service to the importance of local control has gone out the window.

There are compelling arguments for the federal government to stay out of states’ business and state government to stay out of town, city and county business. Local government is where the voters’ ballots have the most impact. Local elections decide the level of school funding. They decide how much to invest in streets, sewers, law enforcement and public libraries and so much more.

States resist top down edicts from the federal government because each state is different — made up of different ethnic diversities, different values and different needs. The same holds true for local communities. Perhaps more so than other states, Montana is a diverse collection of individual community identities.

In so many ways, the people of Butte espouse different values than the people of Billings. Voters in Kalispell have far different ideas about gun rights that those in Missoula. The values of small towns in eastern Montana contrast sharply with those of the state’s largest cities. And those differences should be respected, not dismissed out of hand by politicians drunk with power.

Though the plea will fall on deaf ears, lawmakers are strongly urged to get out of the business of local government leaders who want deal with their unique community needs on issues like affordable housing, the coronavirus pandemic and guns in schools and on college campuses. They are reminded that leadership and imposing top-down control are two entirely different things.

Gov. Greg Gianforte has long espoused traditional conservative values of less government. Now is time to show that conservatism and exercise his veto power. Recognize these bills for what they are — the kind of government overreach Republicans have traditionally opposed.

Start practicing what you preach.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.