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For Rick Jore, it's the Constitution above all else
Rep. Rick Jore, R-Ronan, is one of the Legislature's most conservative lawmakers. Photo by JON EBELT/Independent Record

HELENA - A well-thumbed, much-underlined copy of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution sits at the ready in the front of the drawer in Rep. Rick Jore's desk on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives.

It's not that Jore, one of the state's most conservative legislators, needs to refer to it much himself, but more to share with others. No one in the Legislature can quote the country's founders, Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution more fluently than Jore.

The Ronan Republican reels off lengthy quotations from Thomas Jefferson. James Madison, Thomas Paine as well as full sections of the nation's fundamental documents to buttress his arguments on the House floor. He loves rereading "The Federalist Papers," and for his birthday, his wife recently gave him a computer disk containing all of Madison's notes taken during the federal Constitutional Convention.

"I spent 10 years working in a lumber mill," Jore says. "That gave me a lot of time to evaluate where I was going and in fact where our country was going."

Frustrated about the direction of the country, Jore says he became "very zealous about reading and studying history" and admires the world view of the Founding Fathers. He says the founders never said the United States was a democracy but rather called it "a constitutional republic, not where the majority has the right to infringe on your life, liberty and property."

While the founders laid their lives and fortunes on the line in the Revolutionary War to preserve the sacred powers, "I'm convinced that we have deviated from the very concept of self-government," Jore says.

Americans have forgotten the U.S. Constitution is restrictive, specifying that any powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people, he says.

Jore is a strict constructionist in reading the Constitution and believes courts should interpret the document exactly as written, not what people might like it to mean today.

"The concept of a living constitution is in my mind an absolute perversion," he says. "How can I take an oath to a document that can change from day to day and from year to year? There's no reason why we can't know the original intent of the Constitution."

A look at some of his bills might lead some to conclude Jore was born two centuries too late. However, Jore says his philosophy is consistent with the Founding Fathers' views and strict interpretations of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

His bills call for eliminating state laws requiring compulsory school attendance, outlawing affirmative action and abandoning Montana's no-fault divorce laws by requiring a judge to publicly declare who is to blame for the breakup and imposing a financial penalty. Other Jore bills would end the state inheritance tax, phase in a 20 percent reduction in individual income taxes and terminate the state-tribal hunting and fishing agreement on the Flathead Indian Reservation. An already-tabled Jore bill would make Montana a right-to-work state by prohibiting payment of union dues as a condition of employment.

To Jore, these bills, many of which he has tried before, are consistent with his philosophy that the government increasingly infringes on an individual's rights. He deplores the "statist mindset."

"The more I work, the more they tax me," he says. "Then I turn around and I've got a regulation on what I can do on my own property and how I can raise my own children. I like to mind my own business. I've got five children, and I'd like at least to be able to tell my own children I did what I could to try and preserve your own freedom."

The Jores home-schooled their five children because "we want to cultivate their individual talents and enhance them," he says.

Jore also is no fan of having the state undertake economic development efforts, as many are advocating this session.

"Rather than have the government manipulate the economy under the pretext of creating economic development, I would prefer leaving the capital in the private sector,"

he says. "It is far better to lower the tax burden. Every $1 of tax is $1 of capital - investment or seed capital - taken from the private sector."

Last year, he was among 12 lawmakers targeted by the Montana Human Rights Network, which wrote: "These legislators make statements and carry bills that clearly support themes and ideas of Montana's well-known patriot activists among the militia and freemen"

Jore disputed the assessment but did agree with the network's calling his beliefs "constitutional fundamentalism." As he told the Missoulian: "My oath is not to the Republican or Democratic Party, it is to uphold the Constitution. The idea that politics is the art of compromise is dangerous."

As a lawmaker, Jore said then, he is trying to help people concerned that government "has become too expensive, too intrusive and too far outside of constitutional boundaries."

Jore, who began raising fish in the bathtub as a kid, has a business raising hundreds of thousands of westslope cutthroat trout from eggs and selling them throughout the western United States, to owners of private streams, but also to the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He's also a partner in the Jore Corp., a manufacturing business run by his brothers and father, that employed 800 people last quarter, counting 200 temporaries.

While Jore is a no-compromise conservative, he is a friendly man with a broad smile.

"I think he's a very nice person," says House Minority Leader Emily Swanson. "I find him to be a very honest, very sincere, very well-intentioned person. He does study the Constitution and believes in a strict interpretation. I don't agree with him because I believe we need to let the interpretations change with the times."

House Speaker John Mercer recalls watching Jore in high school as a "one-man football team," a running back for Ronan who would mow down the other team and as a great domineering wrestler. "I told him if he would have stayed in wrestling, he could be governor," Mercer says, referring to Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

"He has a great deal of self-confidence and incredible belief and tremendous conviction to his principles," Mercer says. "Many perceive the Legislature as a place where diverse ideas come together to be melded into an agreed upon idea. I think Rick sees it as a place where he is to crusade for things that he believes in and convince people to join his crusade."

Gov. Marc Racicot calls Jore a diligent worker who "is always pleasant, even through he may disagree."

"His principles are things that he sticks by through thick and thin," Racicot says. "When he believes in something, he seeks to vindicate that belief at every juncture."

Monday - 1/25/99

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