HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock appointed a former Great Falls legislator Wednesday as Montana’s next commissioner of political practices, a position that oversees the state’s campaign, ethics and lobbying laws and has been the subject of frequent turnover because of partisan wrangling.
Jeff Mangan will replace outgoing Commissioner Jonathan Motl and serve a six-year term if he is confirmed by the state Senate, which is expected.
Last month, a committee of Republican and Democratic legislative leaders forwarded Mangan and one other candidate’s name to Bullock as nominees.
Leaders in the Republican majority had expressed frustration that it has taken this long for Bullock to name a successor to Motl, whom GOP lawmakers had accused of disproportionately targeting their party’s candidates in campaign violation investigations.
“The governor’s timing is his own,” said Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel. “He looks forward to the Senate confirming Jeff Mangan as Commissioner of Political Practices and believes Jeff will continue the good work of Jonathan Motl and ensure that Montana’s elections are fair and transparent.”
Senate majority spokesman Kevin Gardner said a confirmation vote on Mangan could be held Thursday or Friday.
Republican lawmakers who complain the commissioner’s position is too powerful and introduced legislation that would disband the office or dilute its powers.
Motl and his supporters have said his office’s cases are decided on their merits, not on a candidate’s political party. Motl also is credited with clearing a years-long backlog of cases and bringing stability to the office.
Mangan was a Democrat in the state House and Senate from 1999 to 2006. After his time in the Legislature, he joined the Great Falls Airport Authority as a commissioner and later its chairman.
He will be the fifth political practices commissioner appointed this decade, and would be the first of those to be confirmed for a full six-year term. Motl’s predecessors either weren’t confirmed by the Senate, resigned before they could be rejected or, in one case, left amid complaints that he was working on his private law practice on the side.
Motl was appointed in 2013 to fill the remainder of a six-year term that expired at the end of 2016. Weeks before his term was to end, some of his supporters filed a lawsuit to press for a full six-year term.
The judge ruled that Motl’s term had ended, but he could stay in the position until a successor was confirmed.
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