1972 Montana Constitutional Convention Delegates oral histories, 2021-2022

Overview of the Collection

Monroe, Lyle, 1945-; Harbaugh, Gene, 1936-; Ellingson, Mae Nan, 1947-; Johnson, Chuck (Charles Sackett), 1948-; Reichert, Arlyne, 1926-; Leondorf, Jerome "Jerry" T., 1939-; Baucus, Max; Dahood, Wade J. ; Applegate, Rick, 1949-; Sievers, Bruce R. , 1941-; Grady, James, 1949-; Vowell, Sarah, 1969-; Vowell, Sarah, 1969-; Sakariassen, Alex William, 1986-; Adams, John Stephen, 1979-; Silvers, Mara, 1993-; Dietrich, Eric, 1989-; Ehli, Nick, 1964-; Montana Free Press; MontanaPBS; Racicot, Marc; Juneau, Denise
1972 Montana Constitutional Convention Delegates oral histories
2021-2022 (inclusive)
10 items
Collection Number
Oral histories conducted in 2021-2022 with some of the remaining delegates to Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention.
Montana State University Library, Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections
Montana State University-Bozeman Library
Merrill G Burlingame Special Collections
P.O. Box 173320
Bozeman, MT
Telephone: 4069944242
Fax: 4069942851
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.


Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Oral histories conducted in 2021-2022 with some of the delegates to Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention. Of the original 100 delegates, eleven were known to be alive at the time of the project. The six delegate interviews represent all those willing and able to be interviewed for this project: Mae Nan (Robinson) Ellingson, Arlyne Reichert, Jerome Leondorf, Lyle Monroe, Gene Harbaugh, and Wade Dahood.

In addition, the project completed interviews with longtime capital reporter Chuck Johnson; with Max Baucus, who was on the staff of the convention; and a roundtable with researchers Rick Applegate, Bruce Sievers, and James Grady.

The project was a collaboration of the MSU President's Office, Vice President of Communications Tracy Ellig, MSU alumnus Sarah Vowell, the Montana Free Press, and Montana PBS.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

In a November 1971 special election Montanans chose one hundred delegates from twenty-three districts to the convention scheduled to convene January 17, 1972.The Convention delegates held their meetings and hearings in the State Capitol Building and elsewhere in the Capitol Complex. The Constitutional Convention adjourned after fifty-five days and the document they produced was narrowly passed by Montana voters, 116,415 to 113,883. The 1972 Constitution was contested in the state's Supreme Court by the Montana Farm Bureau, but was narrowly upheld.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Under the terms of the release signed by both interviewer and interviewee, MSU has non-exclusive rights of all kinds.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Recordings acquired from Montana PBS, 2021. Transcripts generated by library staff, 2021, and edited by interviewers in 2022.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Description Dates
Lyle Monroe and Sarah Vowell
Monroe was one of the younger delegates--age 23 when the Convention started. His involvement grew out of the community organizing he did with the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Cree (then known as the Hill 57 Group) and Robert Gopher, and other work with the neighborhood Youth Corps in and around Great Falls, MT. He reflects on the importance of the nonpartsan approach and alaphabetical seating; the extensive education system reforms, including the establishment of the university system's Board of Regents; and the importance of the "clean and healthy environment" provisions. He and Vowell discuss the work he did with other Cascade County delegates Harry Mitchell, Jack McDonald, and Leo Graybill, Jr. He discusses his service on the Bill of Rights committee and his pride in that work, including the inalienable rights of section 3, and about working with Dorothy Eck and Indian Education for All. He reflects on the importance of the separation of church and state and the prohibition of using public funds for private schools that was part of the constitution. Monroe names as most memorable delegates: Chad Blaylock, Miles Romney Jr., Mae Nan (Robinson) Ellingson, Arlyne Reichert, and Don Rebal.
2021 September 1
Gene Harbaugh and Alex Sakariassen
Harbaugh was a pastor in Poplar, MT, when he was elected as a delegate. He also attended law school as an extension student, but didn't take the Montana bar exam. His primary service was on the education committee, where he focused on Native American concerns, motivated by experiences attending a small country school in Garfield County. He discusses at some length the importance of the constitution's prohibition against public money going to private schools. In 2020, with Espinoza v. MT Department of Revenue, that provision was overturned. He describes attending that Montana Supreme Court hearing and what he believes that event represents for the state and the country. He strongly supported the separation of church and state. If there are future changes to the constitution, he stresses the importance of the clean and healthful environment provision in light of climate change. Last, he describes the long-lasting relationships that developed between the delegates and how much he has valued his relationships with Wade Dahood, Mae Nan Ellingson, Arlyne Reichert, and Rick Champoux.
2021 September 1
Mae Nan Ellingson and Sarah Vowell
Ellingson was the youngest delegate, age 24, and a political science student at the University of Montana when she was appointed to the Convention. During the Convention, her mother passed away, leaving her raising two of her younger siblings while she served. She and Vowell discuss what the Republican party was like in the early 1970s and contrast it with the party of the 2020s. Ellingson describes her involvement in Gals Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) in Missoula and how that related to the "clean and healthful environment" provision in the constitution. She describes her impressions of Miles Romeny; women in the group and the dinner that Jeannette Rankin hosted for them; co-authoring the preamble with Bob Campbell; the establishment of Indian Education for All; attorneys in the group, especially Jim Garlington; and her support for a unicameral legislature. She discusses the focus on open government, the influence of the League of Women Voters and Common Cause and the contextual focus in many states on sunshine and open meetings laws. She reflects that the delegates were diverse in many ways and included those with local and state government experience, attorneys, ministers, small business leaders, and others. Issues with lasting impacts include the no aid to private schools clause, which continues to be an active issue in the 2020s. Last, she and Vowell highlight amendments to the constitution, particularly the prohibition on same-sex marriage, term limits for legislators, and the realty transfer tax, in light of the overall purpose and intent of a state constitution.
2021 September 20
Chuck Johnson and John Adams
Johnson was a graduate student in political science at the University of Montana when he got the job to cover the convention. It was his first major assignment as a journalist and the first part of a 40-year career as the Capital Beat reporter. Associated Press bureau chief Paul Freeman chastised him for being too conscientious and not filing his stories earlier in the day; he describes the process of filing by phone or taking in typewritten pieces to the AP teletype operators. Covering the convention influenced his career and he takes pride in the work that he did. He describes the secrecy of the pre-1972 legislature. In his opinion, not allowing current legislators to serve as convention delegates was essential to success because it opened the positions for a more diverse group of people. People mentioned include Jeannette Rankin, Leo Graybill, Mae Nan (Robinson) Ellingson. Other topics include the establishment of Indian Education for All, how delegates were protected from lobbyist influence, and the fight during the convention over the right to know. He describes the struggle to ratify the finished constitution based on concerns about property taxes and funding. He also reflects that those two issues, along with judicial appointments and the clean and healthy environment, have remained controversial over the decades.
2021 September 23
Arlyne Reichert and Mara Silvers
Reichert discusses her experiences as a Convention delegate from Cascade County. Topics include her involvement with the League of Women Voters and that organization's support for the Convention and promoting open government; Leo Graybill as Convention president; the limitations of the Legislature's current committee structure; the lack of Native American and African American delegates; the importance of the clean and healthful environment provision; and the struggle to ratify the final form. She speaks of the other delegates seated in her row because of alphabetical seating: Mae Nan (Robinson) Ellingson, Richard Roeder, Sterling Rygg, George Rollins, and Miles Romney. She describes Jeannette Rankin's visit to the convention and the dinner she hosted for all the women delegates. And she reflects how the group, despite being politically diverse, managed to overcome divisive tendencies and finish the work.
2021 October 15
Jerome Leondorf and Eric Dietrich
Leondorf was an attorney practicing in Helena when he ran to be a delegate as a Republican. He had become interested in the operations of the legislature from watching them work, and saw the shortcomings of the 60-day session length and lack of openness. Because of alphabetical seating, members of both parties were mixed together; he sat next to John Leuthold and Pete Lorello. His primary work was on the legislative committee. He discusses the importance of how districts were represented and the importance of having rural areas adequately represented. He believes that a citizen legislature is more accountable, and reflects that even though he favored annual rather than biennial sessions, taking time away from work annually is a barrier to a citizen legislature. He discusses the ratification process and working with other delegates from Lewis & Clark County, including Betty Babcock and George Harper. If the constitution is re-written in the future, he advises that it is essential that it's a constitution that doesn't contain legislation is essential. He cites Marsy's Law, a 2016 amendment to the constitution, as an example of an inappropriate addition.
2021 October 25
Max Baucus and Sarah Vowell
Baucus served first as committee coordinator, then as acting Executive Director for the Convention. He had finished law school and entered practice, but wanted to return to Montana and saw the Convention as a perfect opportunity. He was hired by Leo Graybill and describes how Graybill worked: tough, fair, and very frugal, setting a tone of openness and tolerance for both the delegates and the staff. Baucus speaks to the importance of the composition of the convention, including the importance of excluding sitting legislators and of alphabetical seating. He describes Dale Harris' role as the original Executive Director and how important the early background research was to the success of the enterprise. A disagreement between Graybill and Harris led to Baucus' appointment as acting ED. He reflects on the difficulty of passing the constitution and how much the Anaconda Company fought it. Last, he describes the ways in which he thinks the Montana Constitution improves on the U.S. Constitution, especially in the right to know. He considers his work on the ConCon to be his most inspiring public service.
2021 October 19
Roundtable, Sarah Vowell with Rick Applegate, Bruce Sievers, and James Grady
Applegate, Grady, and Sievers were research analysts for the Convention, hired in 1971 to do the background research on key issues for the delegates. Applegate worked on the Bill of Rights; Grady on suffrage and assisted the General Government and Constitutional Amendment Committee; and Sievers on education and the Public Lands Committee. They all describe a great deal of hard work to assemble materials in a very short time, requiring long workdays and extended waits for materials to be sent. Their work was all reviewed by experts to ensure that it was full and fair. They all looked at other state constitutions for models. For instance, the autonomy of the university system was modeled on California and Michigan. As Grady reviewed suffrage provisions from other states, he was shocked at the racism embedded in many state constitutions. They all reflected on Dale Martin, the Executive Director of the constitution, and his work as a leader, characterizing him as hardworking, effective, trusting of his staff, and organized. Sievers worked on education equality, a difficult issue in a large and lightly populated state. Applegate worked on the clean and healthy environment provision, which required considerable dialogue between the agriculture and natural resources committees. He also reflects on the provision of open government, which was uniquely strong and very important. Vowell asked all three about an incident in which they complained to the press that the delegates didn't read their reports well enough. All reflect on how working on the convention affected the rest of their lives, their concern over the divisive nature of current politics, and how the 1972 constitution is the product of a unique time and place, yet has stood up very well over 50 years.
2021 November 4
Wade Dahood and Nick Ehli
The discussions between Dahood and Ehli include the shortcomings of the 1889 constitution and the movement in the late 1960s to call a constitutional convention based on the need to counter the influence of big corporations and a move toward open government. He reflects on the nonpartisan nature of the convention and the role that Leo Graybill's leadership and alphabetical seating played in establishing this. Dahood was a trial lawyer prior to the convention. He had strong interestes related to that, particularly the role of sovreign immunity in third-party suits. He describes himeself as coming from Anaconda but having a primary focus on what was good for all Montanans. As chair of the Bill of Rights committe, he helped add three new rights to the document: the right to know, the right to participate, and the right to privacy. He describes working with Bob Campbell on the right to privacy. He attributes the swift and effective work of the delegates to the important work of the convention staff, particlarly legal analyst Rick Applegate. Dahood states that he feels the document has stood the test of time and, if the document is revised in 2032, there should be continuity in approach and protections. Last, he reflects on his success as an attorney and child of Lebanese immigrants. He considers the constitution to be his greatest professional accomplishment.
2022 January 3
Constitutional Convention 50th Anniversary Celebration
Public program sponsored by Montana State University and introduced by President Cruzado, with John Adams and Sarah Vowell as moderators. Panelists are Denise Juneau, Chuck Johnson, Max Baucus, Marc Racicot, and Mae Nan Ellingson. After a presentation of a video created from the oral histories with the convention delegates and staff, the panel discussed a variety of topics. These included the culture that established the need for the convention; the establishment of Indian Education for All; the importance of the Right to Know provisions that made legislative meetings open; fidelity to the oath of office; and the importance of working on the Constitution across party lines.
2022 March 22

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Constitutional conventions--Montana
  • Constitutional history--Montana
  • Constitutional law--Montana

Geographical Names

  • Montana--History--20th century
  • Montana--Politics and government--20th century

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories
  • Panel discussions