HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer told applicants for commissioner of political practices interviewed this week that he won’t ask them to be the final arbiter on his pending ethics case, and that he will choose someone who commits to serving the full six-year term.
Schweitzer is in the process of choosing a commissioner to replace Dennis Unsworth, whose six-year term expires at the end of the year. The governor said he expects to make a decision shortly.
Unsworth’s initial ruling found that Schweitzer violated state ethics laws when he recorded a public service announcement using state funds after he filed for re-election.
Schweitzer said he does not want the ongoing ethics case to taint the choice, which he is legally obligated to make, or give the appearance the outcome of his ethics case hinged on the choice.
He told each of the four applicants he interviewed that he will appeal any decision the next commissioner makes to district court to ensure that person isn’t the final decision-maker in the matter.
“I am trying to choose someone who serves six years,” Schweitzer said. “I don’t want a decision they make in the first 60 days to taint their entire career.
“In this business, the appearance of a conflict of interest is almost as bad as having a conflict.”
He interviewed four people recommended to him by the Legislature: former Secretary of State Brad Johnson; former corporate lawyer and prosecutor Edwin Jonas; Jennifer Hensley, of Butte, who has been involved in Democratic politics; and recent law school graduate Jaime MacNaughton, of Helena.
Each candidate had their strong points but only Hensley and Jonas committed unequivocally to serving a full term, said Schweitzer, a Democrat. And only Hensley and Johnson seemed to have a real strong grasp of exactly what the job entails, he said.
Hensley, whose husband is sitting state Sen. Steve Gallus, told the governor that potential conflict won’t be an issue because Gallus faces term limits and won’t be running for office again.
Johnson lost a bid for re-election in 2008 and earlier this year lost a GOP primary for a post on the Public Service Commission after he got arrested for drunken driving. Johnson, a Republican, said his past as a partisan elected official would not get in the way of him serving as an impartial arbiter of campaign complaints.
The governor is not restricted to the suggestions provided by the Legislature, and by law can pick anyone he likes.
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