Montana’s Republican lawmakers this week announced committee assignments for the upcoming session, the first in which the party will hold a supermajority, with a mix of moderate and conservative lawmakers as chairs.
Despite a change in the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives, reflecting the faction’s right wing, the assignments of committee chairs for the upcoming session stemmed from experience rather than ideological shift.
New spokesman Matt Regier left committee chairs much the same as last meeting or elevated vice chairs to the top role of committees whose previous chairs were removed. In an interview on Tuesday, the Kalispell Republican said each order is an individual decision.
“We’ve had discussions with each of the chairs and I have every faith that they will all lead great committees,” Regier said.
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Committee chairs have the power to schedule hearings and votes in their political groups. That means they have the ability to effectively kill a bill by not scheduling it for a hearing or vote before important deadlines. They also chair their committees and set much of the tone for the work done in those groups during the 90-day session that begins Jan. 4.
Governor oversees the largest GOP representative majority in a decade, with 68 Republicans versus 32 Democrat lawmakers. He was voted in last week over former spokesman Pro Tempore Casey Knudsen from Malta, who was seen as a more moderate alternative to Regier.
Still, many of Regier’s committee chairs went to lawmakers aligned with the so-called “Conservative Solutions Caucus,” a bloc of GOP lawmakers who have at times worked with Democrats in past sessions over priorities like expanding Medicaid and funding infrastructure to advance
These appointments include the Chairs of Economics and Finance; Education; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; State Administration; and rules committees. Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, will remain chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
Jones, a leader in the Solutions Caucus, said last week he expects Governor to draw more on seniority than the hard-line Republicans who backed him as a speaker.
“With so many people, there is no such thing as a perfect ‘fair,'” Jones said last week after the caucus voted for his new spokesman. He noted that while atypical, the House can override a speaker’s assignments with a choice of words. “If you started out in a way that required a choice of words to overrule you and a willingness to participate in such a vote, we’ve probably gotten off to a rough start.”
Several members of the party’s right wing will take the top spots on other committees, including Human Services, Natural Resources and the Judiciary. Regier appointed his sister, Rep. Amy Regier of Kalispell, to the post of Chief Justice. She served as Vice Chair during the 2021 session.
If the same pattern of succession applies in the 2025 session, the presidencies next time could prove far more favorable to the party’s right wing. The GOP vice-chairmen, chosen for many committees, hail from the party’s right, from center and house management to fish, wildlife and parks.
In a notable exception to the vice chair-to-chair succession, Rep. Jennifer Carlson will take the helm of House Human Services in place of Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, who remains the committee’s vice chair.
Carlson, who was a freshman lawmaker at the last session, rose to prominence as a sponsor of Montana’s “Vaccination Discrimination” law, which went into effect in 2021 and made Montana the only state to ban vaccination requirements for most private businesses.
“Rep. Carlson spent a lot of time there in health and social work,” Regier said. “She’s invested, she knows this department inside out, worked with this department. I know her colleagues know that too, they’ve seen her hard work in the meantime.”
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said she sees no major surprises in the majority appointments.
“We expect the chairs to lead the committees, play by the rules, observe decorum and be respectful and communicative with our vice chairs,” she said Tuesday.
Each committee has two vice-chairs, one elected by each party. Almost all of Abbott’s vice chairman appointments have been Democrats with prior experience on that committee.
“Our leadership team’s approach to committee assignments was to build on each committee the best team that could do for Montanans,” she said.
The House Committees to which the Chairs return from the last meeting are:
- Rep. Joshua Kassmier, Agriculture
- Rep. Llew Jones, medium;
- Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, Fish, Wildlife and Parks;
- Rep. Steve Gunderson, Natural Resources
- Rep. Becky Beard, Taxation
- Rep. Denley Lodge, Transportation.
The committees in which the vice-chairs became chairs are:
- Rep. Ed Buttrey, Economy and Labor
- Rep. Fred Anderson, Education
- Rep. Katie Zolnikov, Energy, Technology and Federal Relations
- Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, Fish, Wildlife and Parks;
- Rep. Amy Regier, Judiciary
- Rep. Larry Brewster, Local Government
- Rep. Casey Knudsen, Rules
The Senate Committee on Committees, composed of Republicans, makes appointments to this body. Previous chairs have retained their positions, but several committees will have new chairs.
Republicans increased their Senate majority by three to 34 seats to Democrats’ 16 seats. Sen. Tom McGilvray, R-Billings, committee chair, noted that adding Republicans meant filling more committee seats, which he says worked to get the majority on the committees they requested.
“We talk to every senator about their preferences, their talents and do it formally through a form that is sent out before the caucus,” he said. “(The Committee of Committees) meets and looks at all these things.”
The committee on committees also considers seniority as well as important issues in the legislature’s districts when making appointments, McGilvray said.
Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers of Belgrade said Democrats are generally happy with the appointments and appreciate the work of the committee of committees.
“I think (Democratic senators) got most committees where they asked for,” he said. “There are always exceptions and compromises to be made, but in general they have fulfilled many of our desires and we have the talent where we needed it.”
The Senate committees with recurring chairs are:
- Senator Keith Regier, Judiciary,
- Senator Daniel Salomon, Education,
- Sen. Steve Hinebauch, Fish and Game
- Senator Jeff Welborn, Natural Resources
- Senator Mike Lang, Agriculture
The Senate committees with new chairs are:
- Sen. Greg Hertz (previously Vice-Chairman), Taxes
- Senator Jason Small, Business, Labor and Economics
- Senator John Esp, Finance and Claims
- Sen. Chris Friedel, Local Government
- Senator Tom McGilvray, Public Health
- Senator Walt Sales, Energy
- Sen. Mike Cuffe, State Administration
- Sen. Theresa Manzella, Highways and Transportation