Columbia Falls Democrat Resigns Legislative Post

State Rep. Zac Perry is leaving position to attend graduate school

By Tristan Scott
Rep. Zac Perry listens to discussion on the House floor on April 25, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

After three sessions serving House District 3 in Columbia Falls as a Democrat — one of only two in Flathead County — state Rep. Zac Perry announced this month he is resigning his position to attend graduate school.

In doing so, he relinquishes a rare Democratic stronghold in a historically red district that could revert back to Republican control in 2020.

In the meantime, an interim Democratic representative will be appointed by the Flathead County Commissioners to serve until the end of Perry’s term in January 2021. The Flathead Democratic Committee will compile a list of candidates to replace him, which they will forward to the commissioners.

A new candidate will be elected in 2020.

“Due to my enrollment in graduate school and the need to temporarily move out of state, I am resigning my seat as Representative of House District 3, effective September 1, 2019,” Perry wrote on Facebook. “It has truly been an honor and privilege to serve as your representative in the Montana Legislature for three sessions. I have gotten to know so many people in the communities of House District 3 and across Montana. I am very appreciative for the support and encouragement as well as the constructive criticism I have received while in office.”

Perry, who attended undergraduate school at Notre Dame and obtained a degree in political science, said he intends to use his master’s degree to accomplish his goal of becoming a high school government and history teacher. He is pursuing his degree through Montana State University-Billings while living in Syracuse, New York, where his girlfriend his attending graduate school.

“I wish everyone the best, and again would like to thank all those who have been active participants during my terms as a state legislator,” he wrote.

Perry ran unsuccessfully for HD3 in 2010 and again in 2012 before he unseated incumbent Republican Rep. Jerry O’Neil in 2014, billing himself as a “Blue Dog Democrat” willing to work across the aisle to achieve goals important to all his constituents.

Conversely, O’Neil, while a popular grandstander, frequently introduced bills that stood little chance of succeeding while his policy ideas rarely aligned with the legislative majority.

In more than a decade as a senator and then a representative, the Columbia Falls Republican saw only five of the 57 bills he introduced signed into law. The rest died somewhere in the legislative process. During the 2011 and 2007 session, none of the 22 bills for which he was the primary sponsor survived.

Among his measures, O’Neil introduced a bill that would have allowed his legislative salary to be paid in gold, while another bill would have allowed those convicted of misdemeanors or felonies to negotiate corporal punishment instead of a sentence of incarceration.

Candidate filings for the Montana Legislature will open at 8 a.m. on Jan. 9, 2020 and close at 5 p.m. on March 9, 2020.

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