State House Speaker Announces Shared Committee Control

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Democrat charged with leading a deadlocked state House announced split control of committees on Friday.

Incoming House Speaker Bob Bergren says he hopes his committee assignments will ease the fears of Republicans who suspected the Democrat may try to ignore them.

Bergren, from Havre, said all committees have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Bergren said he gave Republicans the chairmanship on three of the five top tier committees.

“I thought it would be a sign of good faith that I wanted to work across the aisle,” Bergren said.

The new house speaker said much of the list had been hammered out with Republican leaders. But he said talks are ongoing over subcommittees, and that list is not yet finalized.

Rep. Dennis Himmelberger, R-Billings, said the committee list appeared fair to him based on an initial review. Himmelberger was given the chairmanship of state administration, a top tier committee.

“I know that committee assignment job is not an easy one,” the Republican said. “It looks to me like they tried to be fair.”

The House, which convenes in January, is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans led by one seat in 2007, when the Legislature adjourned amid a historic deadlock. Republicans will hold slim control over the state Senate, taking that chamber back from Democratic control.

Bergren has said he wants to avoid a repeat of the acrimony that marked the 2007 session.

“If it is tied, and it is, I will respect their input, and I will give them input. I think the biggest thing is they didn’t believe I would give them input,” Bergren said.

Republican Bob Lake of Hamilton will chair the taxation committee and Republican Ron Stoker of Darby will chair the judiciary. Democrat Galen Hollenbaugh of Helena chairs appropriations and Bill Wilson of Great Falls chairs business and labor to round out the five so-called “Tier One” committees.