There may be no more solemn duty in electoral politics than considering a constitutional amendment, and this year Montanans face such a choice. Of course, it’s not every day you modify the constitution to change a name.
If voters approve C-45 on this November’s ballot the title of the Montana State Auditor’s Office will become the Commissioner’s Office of Securities and Insurance.
Yes, that is it.
If this sounds familiar it’s because voters have already said “no” to this radical nomenclature proposal. Back in 2006, voters struck down a similar amendment by a nearly 2-1 margin. Not one county supported the change.
This year is different though, according to Monica Lindeen, Montana’s state auditor (or commissioner, depending on whom you ask).
First of all, they’ve already changed the name everywhere else.
Today, the office’s website has one brief mention of its actual name, State Auditor, and everywhere else is branded with “Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.” All documents released from the office carry the new title, and the media even use Commissioner of Securities and Insurance – or CSI -- in referring to Lindeen and the office.
Still Lindeen is pushing for voters to change the constitution. She said it’s about accuracy.
She argues it is not the right name because, despite being Montana’s State Auditor, Lindeen doesn’t audit anything. She said that the average Montanan who has a problem with an insurance company or financial adviser – things her office actually oversees – may not know whom to contact. “If they see State Auditor they won’t call that office,” Lindeen said.
But a bipartisan pair of state representatives is more worried about precedent.
Reps. Mitch Tropila, D-Great Falls, and Nick Schwaderer, R-Superior, opposed putting this to a vote.
“I think it’s a slippery slope to change words and titles we don’t like today,” said Tropila. “In the Montana Constitution, we have the word privacy. What if someone wants to yank that word out? Their argument could be we just changed some wording two years ago.”
Tropila also isn’t worried about the “A” word.
“By having a broad title like auditor, which means to hear and to listen, it is better for the whole scope. Let’s not narrowly define the office in case they take on other responsibilities,” he said.
Lindeen said she doubts the office is going to change and CSI is the best alternative to State Auditor.
Representative Tom Berry, R-Roundup, agrees. He sponsored the bill to place the amendment on the ballot.
Berry recalled a story about friend who had issues with a rogue trader. He had to convince his friend that the right office to contact was the State Auditor. “How many consumers don’t know where to go?” Berry asks. “It’s all about informing and protecting consumers.”
If any of those consumers head to the web, Google at least appears clear on the office’s role. Any combination of two or more of the following terms: Montana, fraud, insurance, securities, or problems and the search engines gives csi.mt.gov – Lindeen’s office – as the top result.
Berry and Lindeen said that it won’t cost anything to make the change. The changes already made during the rebranding process used existing resources, according to Adam Schafer, deputy commissioner and chief of staff at CSI – or Auditor’s office. Few existing documents will have to be adjusted.
It’s still too much, said Tropila. Even having a public employee edit a document is a waste of time and money, he said.
So what happens if the voters once again rise up to say “Save our Auditor”?
Well, not much of anything.
If the amendment fails, the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance name will remain the same where it has been changed, but the office will be called State Auditor on the ballot in 2016.
Any confusion at that point will be Lindeen’s fault because she decided to make the change before making it official, said Tropila.
One thing appears certain: No matter what voters decide on Nov. 4 come Nov. 5 Monica Lindeen will still be calling herself the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.
--By SYDNEY GILLETTE
UM School of Journalism