By Ken Toole

Greg Gianforte’s selection of Republican Legislator Paul Green to lead the Department of Commerce is being questioned by a long-time Democratic political leader. In a letter to the Daily Montanan and Montana Free Press, the former Chair of the Public Service Commission and Democratic Senator from Chinook Greg Jergeson wrote, “I believe that appointment violates Article 5, Section 9 of the Montana Constitution. Section 9. Disqualification. No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he shall have been elected, be appointed to any civil office under the state; and no member of congress, or other person holding an office (except notary public, or the militia) under the United States or this state, shall be a member of the legislature during his continuance in office.”

Green was appointed to fill the Commerce position when previous director, Scott Osterman, abruptly left. He was forced to resign after an internal review found he had violated state expense policy by billing the state for vehicle and lodging expenses related to traveling to the state capital in Helena from his home in Kalispell.  

Green, who is a rancher and businessman from Hardin, was elected for the first time in 2022 to a seat representing a majority Native district which includes reservation communities in southeast  Montana. Green is not a tribal member nor Native American. His legislative district includes much of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and likely will favor Democratic candidates in the coming election cycle.  

In his letter pointing out the constitutional issue, Jerrgeson said, “I had conversations with the Constitutional Convention Delegates with whom I served in the legislature about this particular provision (especially the first part), and they told me the convention adopted this provision in order to prevent some future governor from securing the vote on a matter before the Legislature by offering to appoint that person to a position that is much better compensated than the relatively minor compensation that is afforded to Legislators.”

It remains to be seen whether the governor will address this situation and this apparent legal conflict.  Given this administration’s consistent disregard for legal limitations, it seems doubtful.