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Mary Ann Dunwell

MARY ANN DUNWELL

I can take a joke or prank like the next person, but the reported Vaseline lubricant incident on the floor of the House of Representatives during the 2019 Montana Legislative Session, is no joke. It’s a form of hate speech that amounts to sexual harassment, intimidation and threat, and makes me sick to my soul.

The recent article by Lee Newspapers reporter Holly Michels was the first I’d heard of the incident. I stand by the 20 moderate Republican legislators who were targets of the threat. I’m grateful for the political courage it took for some of them to complain to the Legislative Conduct Panel, after seeming inaction by the conservative Republican Majority leadership.

Now that it’s out — thanks to solid journalism — the perpetrators should be called out. I encourage swift, official, public reprimand and removal from any chair or other leadership position for the individuals involved, either directly or indirectly.

The whole incident is beneath the dignity of the elected office and violates the official rules of decorum, which is defined by the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries as “proper order, etiquette and conduct of members.” According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ briefing paper, "The Importance of Decorum" by Natalie O’Donnell, “a legislator is speaking not as an individual but as a representative of a constituency.” I would argue that Montanans would not endorse this abhorrent behavior by their legislators.

Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure states, “It is the duty of all members to conduct themselves so as not to obstruct the rights of other members.” And O’Donnell writes, “The presiding officer plays a crucial part in encouraging decorum… members take their cues from the presiding officer and will look there for guidance on tone and behavior.”

By failing to take immediate action when it happened back in the spring, the Majority Leadership failed legislators and Montanans. In the name of decorum and honest, open democratic governance and legislative process, we must not sweep this hate speech and intimidation tactic under the House floor rostrum. It deserves a full airing.

Dunwell represents House District 84. She is from Helena.

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