|First, what is Van Valkenburg up to? Right now, his argument to fight the Justice Department is almost identical to the argument by corrupt Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio: that the federal government can't step in to stop local discrimination. One need not be a professor to appreciate the role that argument has had in fighting the arc of history bending towards justice. This is the heart of his argument against Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, Thomas Perez.
Van Valkenburg also states that he may be a prosecutor, but he's not law enforcement. That notion is nothing but ridiculous, it's just him further embarrassing himself, the County Attorney's Office, and Missoula.
So why is Van Valkenburg so scared about the investigation into what he hasn't done? One key reason, is because of what he has done.
Fred Van Valkenburg has focused his time as Missoula County Attorney on a bizarre vendetta against marijuana. That's why he's so sensitive to people pointing out what he hasn't done, because that just proves the arguments of his detractors into what he has done.
A little history reminder is necessary at this juncture. In 2006, Initiative 2 was passed in a 10 point landslide by the same electorate Fred Van Valkenburg is supposed to defend. The idea behind Initiative 2 was simple: marijuana should be the lowest priority for law enforcement. Which makes a ton of sense, marijuana is a victimless crime and law enforcement should focus on prosecuting actual crimes, where there is a victim. To clarify the political dynamics, the County Attorney shouldn't focus on marijuana to the detriments of, let's say, gang rape prosecutions.
Despite Fred Van Valkenburg having lost the election, he continued his strange crusade against marijuana. The former Democratic Majority Leader of the state senate and Senate President, turned to the legislature in an attempt to overturn the will of the voters.
It didn't go far at first, not a single local legislator of either party would carry his legislation. So Fred Van Valkenburg went outside the party and outside Missoula. Having been a Democratic Party legislative leader, he knew exactly how much of an F-You this was to Missoula, but in 2009 he got a Flathead Valley Republican to draft the legislation he wanted against the will of Missoula County voters. But not even a Flathead Republican would actually introduce the bill.
But Fred Van Valkenburg kept focusing his time on this and in 2011 turned to an eastern Montana Republican to do his bidding against Missoula voters. This time he got a bill. This was the "bat crap crazy" legislative session, as Governor Brian Schweitzer so famously branded it.
It took five years of work on this -- and not focusing on prosecuting real crime -- for Fred Van Valkenburg to finally overturn the will of Missoula voters. Sort of. The thing is, the bill Van Valkenburg got the "bat crap crazy" legislature to pass wasn't retro-active. But that didn't stop Van Valkenburg from pretending the law read otherwise to simply ignore the will of the voters.
So that's the history, but how does that explain Fred Van Valkenburg's actions now?
That history just explains what he was spending his time on. But the Justice Department investigation is into what he didn't spend his time on.
Why does that difference matter? Because of two pieces of Montana law. M.C.A. 2-16-603 governs recalls, and recalling Fred Van Valkenburg for not doing the will of the voters doesn't show up. Sure, a good argument could be made that is "incompetence" but that would have to go to a judge. But "official misconduct" is another story. That's also directly listed as grounds for recall. And according to M.C.A. 13-35-204 suggests that the very thing he's being investigated for -- namely not doing his job -- is official misconduct and grounds for recall.
So here's what Fred Van Valkenburg is doing -- he's running out the clock. Nobody thinks he's running for re-election, especially not now, there's been public speculation for months about who is going to run when he doesn't.
So he's trying to run out the clock (which lasts until after the 2014 elections). When it comes to his bizarre vendetta against marijuana, the people can't do anything but not re-elect him. But voters can do something for what he wasn't doing while he wasted time fighting the voters. If the Justice Department finds he failed on rape prosecutions -- while he wasted time fighting the voters to prosecute pot -- then he gets recalled with a powerful argument for his removal. That's why the lead law enforcement officer in Missoula County is fighting the Justice Department.
So now you know the story behind the headlines, the political explanation for these shady actions. It isn't pretty, but how Missoula became known as America's rape capitol isn't a story with too many honorable characters.