HELENA — Montana lawmakers on Thursday confirmed “one of our own,” as one senator put it, as the next commissioner in charge of making sure they follow campaign laws and of enforcing any violations they commit.
In a whirlwind 24 hours, former Democratic legislator Jeff Mangan was appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock, coasted through a Senate committee hearing and was confirmed as commissioner of political practices on a 48-1 vote.
“This is probably the lightning appointment of all time,” said Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse.
Mangan will serve a six-year term and replace outgoing Commissioner Jonathan Motl as the overseer of the state’s campaign, lobbying and ethics laws. He said he plans to take over by the third week of May, when he is sworn in.
Until then, he plans to work with Motl to get up to speed on a variety of pending complaints, court cases and pending legislation involving the commissioner’s office.
Mangan said in an interview after his confirmation hearing that he wants to erase the perception that the commissioner’s office has a partisan bias by increasing its transparency and accessibility. However, he said he doesn’t plan a lot of changes from the way that Motl has been running things.
“At this point, I don’t see myself doing anything different,” Mangan said. “But it’s so premature that I haven’t had the opportunity to sit down with anybody at the office or with the commissioner and start digging into what’s all out there.”
Both Republican and Democratic senators lauded the former Democratic legislator from Great Falls. Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, said Mangan has a reputation for fairness and that he holds the Legislature in high regard.
Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said Mangan seemed to be a perfect fit.
“It’s important that we had one of our own be nominated,” Sesso said.
Mangan said that his status as a former legislator and his existing relationships with current legislators won’t impede his ability to do his job, or to make decisions against those people.
“I don’t think my relationship with anyone is going to be seen other than he’s someone that can be fair and understands what the process is,” Mangan said. “I’m sure at some point not everybody’s going to be happy.”
Mangan will be the fifth commissioner since 2010 and the first since then to be confirmed to a full six-year term. The office’s frequent turnover is largely due to Republicans believing current and previous Democratic governors’ appointments were politically biased against the GOP.
Nobody has been more of a lightning rod than Motl. The outgoing commissioner pursued civil cases against nine Republican candidates who received campaign aid from nonprofit corporations affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee in 2010.
Motl has maintained that he pursues cases based on their merits, not on political parties.
Bullock praised Motl for his enforcement actions and for clearing the commissioner’s office of a years-long backlog of campaign complaints, and said that the outgoing commissioner is leaving the office in good shape for Mangan.
“He steps into an office that is certainly ready to face the challenges of the upcoming elections, and I think that the expectations of Montanans, Democrats and Republicans, for that office have been enhanced in the last few years,” Bullock said.