HELENA (AP) – The Montana Democrats said Wednesday that Butte legislator Art Noonan has been named the party’s new executive director.
Noonan, who served in House Democratic leadership earlier this year and was charged with challenging the Republicans on the floor, said he likely won’t be running again for the Legislature.
Noonan promised to lead the party by “being sensible and in the middle.” He said he would challenge Republicans on the issues rather than through personal attacks.
It is often the job of a party’s executive director to attack the opposition, taking up the dirty work that elected officeholders might shy away from.
“I’m not an attack dog, but I am also not prepared to be run over,” Noonan said.
Democratic state Chairman Dennis McDonald said the party’s executive board will meet this weekend to confirm his appointment.
McDonald’s counterpart at the Republican Party, Erik Iverson, welcomed Noonan to state party politics with unflattering criticism in a release sent out within hours of the announcement.
Iverson, also U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg’s chief of staff, said Noonan’s “record includes a long list of flip flops.”
Iverson tried to portray Noonan as a tax and spender out of step with Montana, an increasingly common theme in GOP criticism of state Democrats.
In an interview, Noonan wasn’t shy about how he feels about the Republican Party. He says it’s the Republicans who have moved toward a “radical and off-the-wall” agenda, a theme heard more often from Democrats.
Noonan said Democrats are in good shape with Gov. Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester leading the party.
Noonan said he wants to work toward taking control of the Legislature, which was split between the parties last session — a priority for Republicans as well.
“I don’t think the Democratic Party has to give an inch across the board this time,” Noonan said. “I believe that the people of Montana, the people of the United States, are prepared to understand the Democratic message.
“There is no reason for us to think we can’t make gains.”
Noonan, though, said he expects a “donnybrook” of a battle with the Republicans.
“I think playing fair means staying on the issues,” he said.
Born and raised in Butte, Noonan is a fifth-generation Montanan. As a former aide to Rep. Pat Williams and Sen. John Melcher, he worked on the Senate Energy Committee and the House Interior Committee drafting legislation.
For the past 11 years, Noonan has served as executive director of A.W.A.R.E. Inc., a Montana foundation that assists individuals with special needs and is also serving a second term in the House which ends before the 2009 legislative session.
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