By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
HELENA - The four Republican candidates for governor split Tuesday night over whether the Legislature should tinker with laws passed by voters with the initiative process.
While Bob Brown and Ken Miller objected to such legislative efforts, Tom Keating and Pat Davison said the process is a necessary tool for correcting mistakes made by voters.
That was one of the few contrasting views that surfaced during a 90-minute debate here, with four weeks remaining before the June 8 primary.
The foursome voiced similar views on the need for economic development, opposition to an 8-year-old ban on cyanide use in gold mining and preserving an income tax cut enacted by the 2003 Legislature. All said they could not promise state employees a pay raise in the next budget and each predicted less state government if elected.
The issue of legislators changing voter-passed laws has come up in recent sessions as Republican lawmakers, which control both houses, wrestled with some initiatives that were unpopular among some special interests. The mining industry decried the cyanide ban and game farm operators sought repeal of a law targeting their businesses.
Miller, a former senator from Laurel, said laws created by initiative are subject to change, but the Legislature should not take that step. ''Initiatives come from the people, they were passed by the people and modifications to them should come from the people,'' he said.
Brown, secretary of state and a former legislator, said defying voters' will can be awkward.
''Most legislators agree, and I do too, that if it's a citizen-passed law, it ought not to be tampered with, just as a general rule,'' he said. ''The people elect the Legislature and so you're almost overruling the board of directors who elect you if you presume to undo what they've done.''
Davison, a business consultant from Billings, said legislators should be able to fix problems that are passed through ballot measures. But strong leadership in the governor's office can do much to protect voters from being ''buffaloed into making decisions that sometimes they may regret later,'' he added.
''The governor can help people understand issues so that we don't have initiatives that take people down the wrong path,'' Davison said.
Keating, a former state senator from Billings, said the Legislature's job is to make decisions for citizens, and that includes changing laws passed by voters.
''I think it's perfectly OK for the Legislature, after reviewing the issue and all the facts thereto, that they have every right to correct an issue that they think the people have not sufficiently informed themselves on and have made a mistake,'' he said.
Asked what the state can do to spur economic development on and near Montana's seven American Indian reservations, Keating said the tribes must do more for themselves.
''If they would open their minds, they would have plenty of opportunity for work,'' he said.
Miller defended his call for removal of District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena for what he believes are a series of rulings that overstepped his constitutional powers. ''He is making law from the bench,'' he said, incensed particularly by Sherlock's decision overturning the state system of funding schools last month and rulings against abortion restrictions.
Brown said he may not agree with the Sherlock's school funding order, but doesn't believe he has acted unconstitutionally.
Davison said his membership in the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which unsuccessfully challenged Montana's stream access law, does not affect his commitment to uphold that statute guaranteeing the public use of most waterways.
In exchanges between the candidates, Davison chastised Brown for refusing to take a vow against any tax increases, and Brown rapped Davison for supporting a sales tax in 1993 and then criticizing Brown for doing the same.