HELENA – Judy Martz, Montana’s only female governor and lieutenant governor whose fiscal success running the state was overshadowed by scandal and gaffes, has died.
Martz, who had been battling pancreatic cancer, was 74.
Martz died Monday in Butte, said state Attorney General Tim Fox, who is a friend of the family. “She had a very forceful personality and was a very articulate, very smart person, and it doesn’t surprise me that she would be our first woman governor,” Fox said.
State political leaders, including Gov. Steve Bullock, are expressing sympathy and honoring Martz as a trailblazer for women in Montana.
“While she will always leave her mark in our history as a trailblazer for women, we will also remember the spirited enthusiasm she brought both in her service to Montanans and through her lifelong love for our state,” Bullock said in a statement.
The governor typically orders state flags to be flown at half-staff with the passing of former governor. But the governor’s office was waiting further details from the family before issuing an order, Bullock press secretary Marissa Perry said.
Martz, a Republican, served as governor from 2001 to 2005. She was noted for turning a state deficit into a surplus while reducing taxes and increasing funding for education.
However, her term was besieged by missteps. Her popularity dropped to 20 percent at its low point.
Martz entered politics in 1996 as Gov. Marc Racicot’s running mate. She ran for governor after Racicot was barred from seeking a third term.
Martz faced backlash following a 2001 drunken-driving crash involving her chief policy adviser, Shane Hedges. He was at the wheel of an SUV that went off a mountain road and killed Montana’s House majority leader, who was a passenger. Martz was ridiculed for washing her aide’s clothes shortly after the crash, an act she said was a motherly reaction.
She was also criticized for comments suggesting she did not mind being referred to as a “lap dog” of industry. Her administration came under fire after news reports revealed that some of her staff used state phones to make political fundraising calls.
Martz, who often said she was mistreated by the news media, alluded to her political troubles in making her announcement not to run for re-election in 2003. “Among the difficulties, we have dealt with tragedy and adversity, some self-imposed, some stemming from misperception, and some the result of staff,” she said.
In the years since she left the governor’s office, Martz routinely addressed Christian organizations throughout the country and was part of a network that prays at locations across Montana.
In late 2014, Martz announced through a spokesman that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was treated at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she and her husband, Harry, had a home.
She said at the time that prayers and her deep faith in God would carry her through the difficult time. She thanked people for their prayers.
Martz and her husband raised two children.
Martz graduated from high school in Butte in 1961, was named Miss Rodeo Montana and attended Eastern Montana College.
She was a businesswoman and a member of the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team at the 1964 Winter Games.
Martz was a field representative for U.S. Senator Conrad Burns from 1989 to 1995. She also owned and operated a commercial solid-waste business with her husband.