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Arlyne Reichert, Last Surviving Montana Constitutional Delegate, Dies

After helping to update the constitution in 1972, she served in the Legislature and was active in the Great Falls community.

By Kelley Griffin  |  June 4, 2024
Arlyne Reichert Montana

Arlyne Reichert, a former state legislator and the last surviving delegate to the Montana Constitutional Convention of 1972, died May 3. She was 98.

Reichert was active in the League of Women Voters when it joined several groups to push for a rewrite of the state’s 1889 constitution. That document was written for a sparsely populated state and didn’t ensure transparency, according to the Montana State Library History Portal. In addition, the state’s huge Anaconda Copper Mining Co. was seriously weakened financially when its Chilean operations were nationalized by that country’s government, decreasing Montana jobs and revenue. At the same time, a federal report proposed a massive complex of power plants in eastern Montana. Residents voted to update the constitution to protect their interests with a convention in 1972.

Reichert told NCSL last year that the Montana Supreme Court made a pivotal choice to block elected officials from serving as delegates.

She was elected to fill a position as a Democrat, but she said the party lines quickly disappeared.

“One hundred of us from all walks of life were elected,” Reichert said. “When we gathered in Helena for our orientation, the first thing we decided was we were going to forget partisan politics. We were going to sit alphabetically.”

It was a simple but controversial idea outside the convention, but Reichert said delegates would say it was critical to their success.

She testified before the Legislature recently when it considered—and rejected—imposing alphabetically seating in the chambers.

“Sitting alphabetically ... fosters the noble idea that we are all in this together,” Reichert said in her testimony.

Reichert said they had 60 days to complete the new constitution, but they finished in 54 and returned money to the state. They also formed unlikely friendships, she said.

She noted that convention delegates and their families got together every year to “celebrate that moment in our lives when we put politics aside for the greatest good.”

Reichert served one term in the Legislature, from 1978-1981. She lived in Great Falls, where she helped found public radio, volunteered for a variety of community groups, covered the Legislature for TV stations and won numerous state and national awards for her service. She was also known as the “Bridge Lady” for her decades-long effort to save the historic 10th Street Bridge that crosses the Missouri River in Great Falls.

The Great Falls City Commissioners voted unanimously in 2022 to rename the bridge the Arlyne Reichert Community Heritage bridge, or ARCH. Commissioner May Moe, who led the renaming effort, said of Reichert: “Her history ... is one of a person who really believes in the powers of individual people to make this government better, their communities better, our nation better.”

Kelley Griffin is a senior editor in NCSL’s Communications Division.

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