Friday, September 13, 2013

Speaking Freely About the CSKT Compact

Two recent letters to the Valley Journal have taken Rep. Dan Solomon to task for his direct response to Terry Backs’ criticism of the CSKT compact. Rather than taking on the substance of Solomon’s column, which might have been helpful, the authors of these letters (one of whom is Backs herself) accuse Solomon of personally attacking Backs and attempting to suppress her freedom of speech. It simply isn’t true.

I have served on the Water Rights Commission with Rep. Solomon for the past two years.  From the beginning, he, and indeed the whole commission, insisted that we needed a compact that provided all citizens, on and off the reservation, with comprehensive protection for their water rights. He has attended numerous public negotiation and information meetings, listened carefully and respectfully to literally hundreds of citizens’ comments, including many from Backs, and worked to make the compact better and more responsive to those concerns. To say that by defending the compact from attack he is trying to quash free speech is nonsense.

More to the point: anyone, compact supporter or opponent, is perfectly free to say publicly whatever he or she wants about the compact. That’s what free speech is all about. But your right to free speech doesn’t bring with it the right to be believed in or not be criticized by others who disagree with what you have to say. On the contrary: if you are going to be vocal on a controversial issue, you aren’t talking in a vacuum and you have to expect to be taken on. You can only hope to be dealt with on the issues (as Solomon did with Backs) and not personally, but there are no guarantees.

Another right all citizens have is to meet with whatever other folks they want, when and where they like.  And in limited numbers, public officials and employees (Commission members and staff, county commissioners, Tribal Council members, and so forth) can attend such meetings without violating Montana’s open meeting laws. These meetings are private, but not “secret.” Anyone – compact opponents or supporters - can call them, and already have.  And there is a standing offer from the Commission: if you want to get a group of people together – whoever you want – Commission staff and members will be happy to attend, explain the compact as they see it, and answer questions as best they can.  As far as the Commission is concerned, the best way to move forward with this compact is through open, respectful and comprehensive conversation.