HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock has yet to name a new commissioner of political practices — calling into question whether Montana lawmakers will have enough time to vet a nominee before the legislative session draws to a close, possibly as soon as next week.
Some Republicans are eager to see the current commissioner out the door. But that won’t happen until Bullock nominates — and the state Senate confirms — a replacement for Jonathan Motl, who was controversial from the moment Bullock nominated him for the post four years ago to enforce state laws governing political campaigns, ethics and lobbying.
“There was some extreme politics when I was nominated and confirmed, and so there’s going to be some politics involved when my successor is named. And that’s probably what’s going on,” Motl said.
Senate President Scott Sales doubts political motives are behind the delay, saying the governor has assured him that a nominee would be named soon.
As the legislative session winds to a close, the matter of replacing Motl has been dangling, as contentious pieces of legislation such as the state budget and an infrastructure bonding bill remain hanging.
“My opinion is that the selection of the commissioner is not tied to that. It better not be,” Sales said. “I’m hoping (the governor) lives up to his commitment and gets a name to us this week, and we can hold hearings before we leave town.”
Bullock is picking from two nominees sent to him by a bipartisan legislative panel: Jeff Mangan, a former Democratic legislator, and Ben Tiller, a staff attorney for the Montana state auditor.
“I haven’t spoken to any of the candidates saying they will have the job,” Bullock said, during his meeting with reporters on Friday.
The commissioner would be the governor’s last key appointment after the Senate considers his nominee to lead the Department of Corrections, which is expected to happen midweek.
Motl asserts he can stay in the job If a new commissioner is not confirmed by the time the Legislature adjourns. He said he would have no plans to resign.
That would likely anger some Republicans who have made no secret of their dislike for how Motl has performed his job. Critics argue that he has been overly partisan by focusing too heavily on Republicans, although Motl disputes that assertion and says he’s performed his due diligence in investigating Democrats.
The Senate could find a way to fast-track the appointment if it chooses. However, the governor would first need to formally nominate a new commissioner and send the name to the Senate, which has confirmation authority over the governor’s top-level appointees.
Lawmakers typically hold committee hearings on the nominee before sending the matter to the full Senate for consideration.