December 30, 2016
Dear Fellow Montanans:
I will continue serving as your Commissioner into 2017.
As you may know, until recently most thought that my term of service was over at the end of 2016. A January 1, 2017 ending date would mean that I served as Commissioner for about three and one-half years.
That all changed in the last week. A lawsuit was filed in Montana's 1st Judicial District seeking a declaration that a Commissioner's regular term of office (including my term) should be six years, rather than three and one-half years (see footnote below). On December 28, 2016 the 1st Judicial District Court (Judge Seeley) issued its Order confirming that the January 1, 2017 ending date is of "no force and effect," reserving the ending date issue for determination by the Court. A hearing is expected on this issue in early 2017.
From this Office's perspective, this length of term issue is larger than any one Commissioner's term of service. The single six year term for a Commissioner is an important check to a Commissioner's continuing authority. Fulfilling a full six year term, however, is just as important as it is long enough to provide continuity and ensure that a Commissioner's confirmation battle does not occur at each and every legislative session.
These considerations are among those set out in Montana law and it is for the Court to determine how this law applies in the instance of my appointment. From that determination, precedent will be set for the remainder of my service (if any) and for the terms of future Commissioners.
Footnote: To provide historical context: the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Montana Senate. The Commissioner serves a single six year term, after which he or she is ineligible to serve again. The term I am serving was shortened by subtracting the time served by three prior Commissioners, each of whom either resigned or failed to gain a confirmation vote by the Montana Senate.