MISSOULA, Mont. - The Montana Human Rights Network called on Lt. Gov. Judy Martz to speak up against government-bashing in the West, saying her support of rebels in Nevada ''legitimizes harassment and intimidation'' of government employees.
At a news conference Monday, network Co-director Christine Kaufmann cited the ''Shovels for Solidarity'' movement, which drew 10,000 shovels to Elko, Nev., to protest President Clinton's roadless plan and the Forest Service refusal to rebuild a washed-out road in Nevada's Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
After three years of study, the Forest Service proposed that the Jarbidge Road be replaced by a trail to keep erosion from harming the river's bull trout, now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Angry local residents have vowed to use the collected shovels to rebuild the road themselves.
''They plan to use the shovels sent to them by Montanans,'' Kaufmann told a news conference. ''And one of those shovels bears the name of Lt. Gov. Judy Martz.''
Kaufmann gave reporters copies of an April 4 letter the network wrote to Martz, asking her to meet with public employees threatened by anti-government extremists.
The letter said: ''We are concerned that when public officials, such as yourself, support this symbolic gesture, it legitimizes harassment and intimidation in the political arena.''
Martz, a Republican candidate for governor, said later she never received the letter, but would be happy to meet with network representatives.
''It seems to me that if they were interested in civility and public discourse they would call my office and talk to me,'' she added.
She also said she was surprised by the criticism.
''America was founded on the right of people to peacefully assemble, to show their point of view,'' she said. ''Most of these Americans who sent shovels are decent, law-abiding citizens who want nothing more than information.''
The focus of the protest was for more local say in land management, she said, and support of that message was her purpose in signing and sending a shovel - not to encourage violence.
Kaufmann said the so-called Jarbidge Rebellion and the recently canceled Libby rally to protest federal land management policies involve fringe elements who threaten violence and civil disobedience.
Three people who were threatened and abused in the 1990s while in public office also spoke at the press conference.
Martha Bethel, who was a city judge in Hamilton and Darby when the anti-government movement flared in the Bitterroot Valley, told of being threatened with hanging and with fire-bombing of her home.
Bill Dakin, former chairman of the Flathead County Planning Board, and former Department of Environmental Quality employee Kevin Keenan told of threats and intimidation they received.
''This is not just about federal employees,'' Kaufmann said. ''It's about state and local employees, volunteers for government boards. ... Is this really how we want to conduct the business of democracy?''