With few exceptions, the Montana House and Senate are virtually the same. Both are legislative in nature, both follow essentially the same procedures, and both are run by part-time legislators who have real jobs, for the most part, outside of government.
They do, however, have two major differences. The House, at least on paper, controls the budget. All spending bills originate in the lower chamber. The Senate, on the other hand, is in charge of the confirmation process. Montana is run by a myriad of agencies and boards, whose members, to a large extent, are appointed. Typically, a nominating panel reviews potential candidates and forwards a list of potential nominees to the Governor, who then decides who the final nominee will be. That name is then forwarded to the Senate where a confirmation resolution is drafted and heard by the appropriate committee. If the committee votes to approve the nominee, then the resolution goes to the full Senate for a vote. If it passes the Senate, then the nominee is deemed to have been confirmed and begins their term of service.
It’s a fairly simple process, and the vast majority of nominees are confirmed without any problem. There’s sort of an unwritten understanding that the Governor won the election, and barring extraordinary circumstances, should be allowed to have his choices confirmed. The exception, of course, has been the nomination for the office of the Commissioner of Political Practices. The process worked well for over 30 years until Governors Schweitzer and Bullock began nominating highly controversial political operatives. The process suffered, as did the reputation of the office as a neutral arbiter in the rough and tumble world of partisan politics.
But that all changed yesterday when Governor Bullock nominated Jeff Mangan to fill the seat being vacated by Jonathan Motl. Mangan, a former Democrat legislator from Great Falls, is seen by both Republicans and Democrats as a good choice.
On a personal note, I served with Jeff back in the early 2000s and found him to be a man of good character with a solid reputation. In my opinion, he’s exactly what that office needed. Yes, he’s a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be impartial. Another thing that makes Jeff a good nominee is that he understands the process from the inside out. As a former elected official, he knows what it’s like to run a campaign, and he’s unlikely to put up with the petty antics that have dogged the process for so long. If he’s confirmed, and all indications are that he will be, he’ll be the first Commissioner in over a decade to be confirmed for a full six-year term. Commissioner Motl was appointed in 2013 to finish out a six-year term that began in 2010. Prior to that, three other commissioners were either never confirmed, or left office before they could be rejected. One of them even resigned when the office staff accused him of doing legal work for his private practice on State time.
With the legislature quickly approaching adjournment, Mangan’s confirmation hearing will be fast-tracked and could happen as early as today. We applaud Governor Bullock for making this appointment. In our opinion, Jeff Mangan is the right man at the right time.