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Governor backs out of talk with Stokes

HELENA - Gov. Judy Martz on Wednesday canceled her appearance on a controversial Kalispell talk-radio program, saying the host "crossed the line by advocating specific acts of violence" when he suggested a bomb threat be made to the governor's office.

In a letter to KGEZ station owner and talk-show host John Stokes, Martz said that after reviewing tapes of Stokes' program, she believed his comments, at times, are "potentially hurtful." Martz also accused Stokes of advocating prejudice, referring to his recent derogatory comments about a Holocaust survivor.

"I don't want to be a part of that or even appear to accept that behavior in any way," Martz wrote.

"My participation in the show, scheduled for Friday of this week, has divided the people throughout the Kalispell area. I've even heard from people from around the country," Martz wrote. "I believe that my appearance on the show can only further divide our people and would serve no meaningful purpose. Therefore, I will not appear on the show."

Stokes has been at the center of controversy in the Flathead Valley since he bought KGEZ a year ago and started his weekday three-hour call-in show known as "The Edge." Critics have derided his calling environmentalists "Green Nazis" and referring to the environmental movement as the "Fourth Reich."

The final straw for several human-rights groups came when Stokes ridiculed a Holocaust survivor on the air. The Montana Human Rights Network and Montana Association of Jewish Communities began pressuring Martz and Attorney General Mike McGrath to cancel their scheduled interviews with Stokes.

McGrath bailed out last week, saying Stokes' show "promotes hate." This week, the Montana Association of Churches and PRIDE, the state's main gay-rights organization, added their voices to those against Martz appearing on "The Edge."

Martz was barraged with phone calls on both sides of the issue. She made the decision to spike her interview with Stokes after hearing a tape Tuesday of Stokes jokingly suggesting that someone "call in a bomb threat" to the governor's office. The comment came in a recent show when Stokes wanted to get Martz on the air, but was told by her staff that she was in a meeting.

"Ultimately, there is simply nothing funny about provocative remarks suggesting violent behavior or prejudice," Martz wrote to Stokes. "I cannot condone that behavior or speech. It is potentially hurtful and I don't want to be a part of that or even appear to accept that behavior in any way."

Stokes later said Martz's letter "sounds like it was written by her lawyers."

"I'm disappointed she caved in to the extreme left," Stokes said, adding that he still supports the governor and how she does her job.

He warned that Martz is missing a prime political opportunity by passing on the 15 minutes she was to have spent with Stokes' program Friday morning.

"It was about her reaching the voters, not endorsing content or giving kudos to the staff here," said Stokes. "I don't think it's going to go well for her. She has a lot of support around here."

In her letter, Martz warned Stokes to watch his words.

"I hope that you know where to draw the line between strong opinion and advocacy or violent or prejudicial behavior," she wrote. "Words do have meaning, even when they are used in jest."

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