On Monday, October 30th, Montanans were given the news that many of us in the political world have expected for quite some time. That was the death of former Montana Governor Judy
Martz.Martz was Montana’s 22nd governor, and to date, the only female to hold our state’s top elected office. Most Montanans knew her as a hard-charging, former Olympic speed skater and principal voice for the Republican party. She served from 2001 to 2005, a tumultuous time in Montana politics. Electrical de-regulation had just taken place, and financial markets were in an upheaval. At one point, the state budget went from a $60 million budget surplus to a $230 million budget deficit through no fault of hers. But she was the one forced to make the cuts necessary to get the state back on track. It was a tough time to be governor, especially for a political novice. Although she served as the Lieutenant Governor under Marc Racicot, she still had a lot to learn when she was sworn in in January 2001.
It was trial by fire. But she rose to the task and quickly established a reputation as a public servant who wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and take an active role in crafting public policy. She was also a Christian who took her faith seriously. She exemplified the passage in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” You always knew where you stood with her. She didn’t dance around the issues or play political games. She did her best to be forthright, honest and transparent. That’s the Governor Martz that those who served with her knew. She was a statesman and a friend.
But there was another side to Judy. She was one of the most caring individuals I’ve ever met, and it was a quality that endeared many of us to her on a personal level. I remember one instance in particular. It was the summer of 2003. I was serving as the Speaker Pro Tem of the House of Representatives. My political career was accelerating, and God spoke to me clearly and said it was time to leave politics and go home and be Dad. Shortly thereafter, I went to the Capitol and sat down with two senior members of the Capitol press corps and let them know that I would not be seeking re-election.
My next stop was the governor’s office. I had our ten-year-old son with me because I always tried to travel with one of our five kids. Governor Martz graciously ushered us into her office, and I told her I was there to give her a head’s up on an important announcement. She said, “You’re running for lieutenant governor!” I said, “No, just the opposite. I’m leaving politics.” We talked for awhile, and she asked what I planned to do going forward. I told her I had no idea. She said then that we needed to pray. She got up, closed her door, and she and I and my ten-year-old son knelt there in the governor’s office and prayed for the people of Montana and God’s direction for the next chapter of my life.
Shortly thereafter, I was asked to take the reins of a fledgling organization called the Montana Family Foundation.
That’s the Judy Martz that I knew and that’s the Judy Martz that the people of Montana were privileged to have as their governor.