Nine of the delegates who drafted Montana’s state constitution are in Helena this weekend, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention.
In 1972, 100 people from around Montana were elected to write a new document, to replace the original constitution adopted at statehood in 1889. After nearly two months of deliberations, they had a draft ready for Montana voters. The new constitution was ratified in June 1972 –- narrowly, by a majority of fewer than 4,000 votes.
Mick McKeon represented Anaconda at the “Con-Con,” and he now serves as president of the Constitutional Convention Society. He says the delegates meet for a reunion almost every year, but this year’s events will be different.
“With it being 45 years, it’s a special time for us to get together,” he said.
Of the 100 original delegates, fewer than 20 are still alive. Six of them talked about their experiences at the convention during a panel discussion Friday afternoon at the Montana Historical Society. Family members of many of the other delegates were also in attendance, along with staff who worked on the convention.
The delegates said they’re proud of the constitution they created. They pointed to provisions giving Montanans the right to a “clean and healthful environment” and requiring the state to preserve Native American culture through education.
Arlyne Reichert, who represented Great Falls at the convention, said the delegates were able to put their political differences aside and work together to do what was right for the state.
“The first thing we did was said, ‘We’re going to sit alphabetically – not the way the Legislature sits, with Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other and a confrontational style,’” said Reichert. “We discussed issues.”
Reichert suggested the state Legislature might get more done if they made the same change.
The delegates said the cooperative atmosphere of the Con-Con led to friendships that have lasted until today. Bob Campbell, who represented Missoula, called the group “a family of delegates.”
McKeon hopes these celebrations will get Montanans thinking about their state constitution and the people who made it possible.
“These people participated in bringing Montana together, writing a document for the ages, doing something very heroic for the people,” he said. “It should be something that should be commemorated forever.”