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Montana Bill Seeks To Make Nonpartisan Races Partisan

A bill proposed in the Montana Legislature would allow candidates in nonpartisan elections to appear on the ballot with their political party affiliation.

Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, was heard in the Senate State Administration Committee last week.

Opponents testifying against the bill included representatives of the Montana State Bar Association, Montana Trial Lawyers Association and Montana Judges Association.

District Judge David Cybulski, presiding in the 15th District which includes Roosevelt, Sheridan and Daniels counties, told this newspaper that he doesn’t feel it’s a good idea.

First, Cybulski said it’s a big “if” whether he will seek re-election because of his age, so the legislation probably won’t have an impact on him directly regardless.

“Otherwise, I don’t believe party politics has a place in the judiciary,” he said.

He noted, “In theory, judges don’t make laws. They enforce laws.” Cybulski pointed out that in a recent case regarding whether Frank Piocos was an eligible candidate for Roosevelt County attorney, only the two parties were allowed to speak during the hearing. The judge feels that’s the law in order to avoid getting political parties or groups involved in an election court fight.

According to the Senate Bill 200’s text, nonpartisan races affected could include school trustee and judicial candidates.

The bill would allow the candidates’ name to appear under the title of the office sought with the name of the party in not more than three words appearing opposite or below the name. If a candidate for a nonpartisan office did not indicate a political party affiliation, the name of the candidate must appear with the word nonpartisan.

The Montana Rural Education Association also spoke against the proposal.

Culbertson superintendent of schools Larry Crowder said he doesn’t feel party designations are needed in small school districts.

“In our small towns, people know who the candidates are,” Crowder said. “It’s not a big mystery.”

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