Perhaps it was wounded pride, or maybe because his term in the House was over December 31, 2012. Who knows? But for some reason John Esp filed a formal complaint against Bob Faw, Doug Lair and Terry Baird for a letter (signed by Faw and Lair and postage paid by Baird) mailed to Sweet Grass county residents in June of 2010, over two and one-half years ago. Esp claims the Faw-Lair letter constitutes a Political Committee as defined in Montana Law. Filing the claim during the 2012 Christmas season seemed inappropriate. The 2010 Faw-Lair letter revealed and criticized Mr. Esps’ voting record as contrasted with the more conservative voting record of his opponent (see Esps’ Complaint against Faw/Lair/Baird here). Hmmm, two and one half years later and still trying to chill the free speech of his former constituents and fellow Sweet Grass County citizens.
We thank Mr. Esp for the opportunity to showcase a couple of real problems with Montana politics. First, Mr. Esp, was and still is attempting to use a Montana statute to silence his political opponents regarding his voting record. Lair, Faw and Baird said Esp ran as a Republican but voted with the Democrats on important bills 40-50% of the time (for Esps rating as a legislator, click here). Second, if the statute is interpreted as Mr. Esp suggests, it is unconstitutional. That provides the opportunity to legally challenge this statute and clarify once and for all that Montana is a state whose citizens have a guaranteed right to free speech and association-regardless of it’s perspective. Will political yard signs be the next form of free speech to be challenged by Mr. Esp? If two taxpaying, voting business owners and citizens of Montana cannot publicly take Mr. Esp to task over his voting record without filing as a political committee and enduring petty harassment by Esp and the Commissioner of Political Practices, we have all lost vital 1st Amendment freedoms in this state.
We also find it confusing that former Senator and House Representative John Esp, former Senator Lorents Grosfield and former House Representative Shiell Anderson feel it’s within their rights to send out a joint letter of support advocating Judge candidate Brenda Gilbert without registering as a Political Group and without stating who paid for the letter as Esp demands of Faw and Lair. (to see the Gilbert ask SGCCI via the comments section) As a matter of fact, Faw, Lair and Baird all supported Brenda Gilbert, too.
Mr. Esp ran to the Speech Police at the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) for minor or imagined offenses yet he acts as if he is above observing those details himself. SGCCI does not believe Esp, Grosfield and Anderson along with Faw, Lair and Baird did anything wrong. All were involved in the process that is their responsibility and right in a Constitutional Republic. Could it be that our elected officials enjoy a double standard and the protection of a highly partisan appointed official that heads the Commissioner of Political Practices office? Does the fact that Mr. Esp seeks the protection of the Schweitzer appointed head of the COPP strike anyone as odd? Jim Murray, the current head of COPP was the Montana AFL-CIO lead man for 26 years. He was never confirmed by the Montana legislature and serves as the 4th Commissioner in as many years. (For more on COPP read Tom Baleks’ article by clicking here). Esp’s affinity for Murray’s protection tells the voter something about Esp’s politics.
There’s a good chance that if you are a conservative exercising free speech and association while calling into question an elected official’s voting record, you may find yourself the victim of petty harassment by the Commissioner of Political Practices. Maybe Mssrs. Esp, Grosfield and Anderson can clear up the confusion. After checking on the state’s COPP website to see if the group had formally filed as a political Committee, there was no record of such a filing. There must be some explanation for why Esp is saying “do as I say, not as I do.”