Redistricting Commissioner Lamson Announces Resignation

Democrat Joe Lamson will be replaced on Montana’s political map-drawing commission by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau

By Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Montana Free Press
The Montana State Capitol is illuminated at dusk. Beacon file photo

Montana Districting and Apportionment Commissioner Joe Lamson is resigning his post due to health reasons, he said Monday. 

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau has been appointed by Democratic Sen. Minority Leader Jill Cohenour to fill Lamson’s position on the five-member commission, which draws Montana’s political district maps.

Lamson wrote in a letter to his fellow commissioners that he is resigning due to reasons of personal health.

“Well, I’m looking at the back side of 73, and I’m kind of a numbers guy — in the last three years, the average lifespan of the white male has decreased by two years, so the train is actually moving faster,” Lamson told Montana Free Press Monday evening. “You just sort of sit there and play the numbers. It’s gonna be much healthier for me.”

He noted that several of his old comrades — people like longtime Butte legislator Art Noonan — have passed away this year. 

“Certainly this year has been crushing,” he said. “They weren’t just casual acquaintances, but these were people that were in the trenches with you. Life’s short.”

The Districting and Apportionment Commission is in the throes of debate over how to draw the Montana legislative districts that will define the state’s political playing field over the next decade. The body, which includes four partisan appointees and one nonpartisan presiding officer, is set to begin taking votes on the map following the November election. The new districts will take effect in 2024. 

Lamson has served on each decennial redistricting commission since 2000 and served as a staffer in the 1980 cycle. He has established a long legacy as a Democratic political operative in the state, directing the Montana Democratic Party from 1981 to 1983. He also served as Democratic Congressman Pat Williams’ state director and ran Williams’ campaigns until 1996. 

He said that feels confident leaving the rest of the process in the hands of Juneau and Democratic Commissioner Kendra Miller, who staffed for Democrats on the 2010 commission and “has downloaded my considerable institutional memory six ways from Sunday.” 

“I am deeply humbled to have been a member of our independent constitutional commission for the past three decades,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “Throughout that time my goal has always been to ensure our most fundamental democratic right of one person, one vote for all Montanans.”

Commission chairwoman Maylinn Smith said she received notification of Juneau’s appointment Monday, and that the change should not affect the commission’s process.

“I’m grateful for [Lamson’s] years of service, and the knowledge he brought to the commision,” Smith said. 

Juneau said in an interview Monday she’s excited for the job and to offer a voice for the state’s tribal communities on the commission. 

“It’s great to be a part of how our state is going to look in the Legislature and who gets to be the voices on the floor over the next decade,” she said.

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, which can be found online at montanafreepress.org.