When anyone starts down the “female equality imperative,” I am generally skeptical. There is certainly disparity in pay and position for women, but I am not convinced the sole cause is discrimination. I do, however, appreciate when any woman takes a stand for herself and other women where a stand is clearly and unequivocally necessary. So, when Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamiltion stood up to leadership — not once, but twice and to her own peril this past legislative session, I cheered.
The first act of valor occurred early in the session. Ballance may be the most qualified person ever to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee. She has a professional background steeped in finance and budgeting. In her second year in office, she was appointed chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee and has delivered a stellar performance ever since. So naturally, Ballance expected to continue as chair during the 2019 session. Instead, Speaker of the House Greg Hertz, R-Polson, gave the chairmanship to Carl Glimm. Rep. Glimm, R-Kila, is a fine representative, but no reason existed to replace the highly competent and successful Ballance. Ballance held firm and spoke up for herself, arguing she deserved the chair position and political dealmaking should not supplant experience as the determinant in the appointment. Ultimately, Hertz yielded (partially), and appointed Ballance co-chair with Glimm.
As expected, Ballance served with grace as co-chair. Her attention to detail and understanding of the state budget is remarkable and greatly benefits Montana. But her stand early in the session for her rightful place and the credibility of political appointments resulted in her peril.
One of the responsibilities of the House Appropriations Chair is to appoint four finance committee members to serve during the interim between now and the 2021 legislative session. Rep. Ballance made her appointments, and her position was sacrificed as a result. Speaker Hertz appointed another less experienced legislator to replace Ballance on the committee. Ballance stood up again, speaking on the House floor against the move:
“I believe this sends a powerful message to women in the state of Montana, to young girls … When a successful woman can be replaced by a freshman man … that is a travesty.”
She’s right. Speaker Hertz says the move had nothing to do with gender, and that may be true. Maybe the move was made to punish Ballance for working in a bipartisan instead of hyper-partisan manner to pass legislation. Regardless, it’s clear political persuasion prevailed over qualifications for the position.
Ballance stood up for herself and unwittingly the rest of Montana, knowing the potential consequences. That’s the leadership Montana needs. If there is an award for capable, intelligent, and courageous public servants, the award should go to Nancy Ballance.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.