The newly elected Republican leadership in the Montana House of Representatives completed committee assignments for the 2023 legislative session on Monday, installing both relatively dovish and more staunch ideologists in the committee chair positions.
The Republican faction of the House of Representatives elected Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, as House Speaker in a secret ballot last week, ushering in days of lobbying and backroom negotiations as lawmakers raced for assignments to the committees of their choice. As with the 2021 session, the big question before the new speaker was how to allocate the presidency in a way that fits his own criteria, but also the friction between him and the various factions in the GOP, namely the bipartisan-leaning Conservative Solutions Caucus, diminished. who supported the government’s opponent in the speaker’s race, Rep. Casey Knudsen, R-Malta.
Regier, who is generally considered to be on the right wing of the Republican faction, made some significant concessions to this comparatively moderate subgroup. First and foremost, Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, the de facto head of the Solutions Caucus, will retain his chairmanship of the influential House Appropriations Committee. A longtime architect of legislative spending, Jones served as chair of the Appropriations Committee in 2021 and before that in consecutive terms of the Senate Upper House Finance and Claims Committee.
Governor also appointed Jones’ key ally, MP Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls to chair the House Business and Labor Committee, where Buttrey had previously served as vice-chairman, and Knudsen to chair the House Rules Committee, often a site for internecine caucus fights prior to the session. Knudsen, who was vice leader for rules in 2021, has a dramatically different profile than his predecessor, former MP Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, one of the 2021 Legislature’s most vocal hardliners.
Other mandates as chairman of committees generally approximate those of the ideological right. Regier nominated his sister, Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, to the powerful House Judiciary Committee, where she served as vice chair in 2021. In the last session, several bills were proposed in the judiciary that would have restricted the rights of transgender Montaners. and this year, the first openly transgender and nonbinary congressmen in state history, Democratic congressmen Zooey Zephyr and SJ Howell, both from Missoula, will serve on the committee.
Governor also named Rep. Jen Carlson, R-Manhattan, who enforced Montana’s uniquely broad ban on vaccine-based discrimination in 2021, to chair the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Legislative committees are the first port of call for legislative proposals, with committee members hearing testimonies and voting on legislation before speaking. The chairmen of large committees such as Appropriations and Judiciary often play an outsized role in setting the agenda and internal policy of the meeting. But the chairman is not omnipotent even in his own committee. For example, in the upcoming session, Jones may chair Appropriations, but he will also have to work with several committee members from the governor’s wing of the caucus, including the speaker-elect himself, Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, and others.
Solutions Caucus members said they hoped for appointments based primarily on seniority and expertise. Governor previously told Montana Free Press he considers seniority as one criterion, but not the only one.
“It’s going great in my opinion, but no one gets everything they want, there will always be some disappointments as part of the process,” Regier told MTFP of Friday’s appointment process. “It’s a big puzzle to put together.”
Governor could not be reached for further comment on Monday.
Democrats and Republicans sit on committees roughly in proportion to the overall balance of the chamber—in this case, two-thirds to one-third in favor of the GOP.
The Senate Committee on Committees will announce its selection of committees in a public session Tuesday, according to Senate Majority staffers.
The full list of committee chairs, vice chairs and members of the House of Representatives can be found here.