Art Noonan, a longtime Butte Democrat and a former executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, has died. He was 70.
Noonan died this week, only six weeks before voters could have sent him back to the Montana Legislature representing the House District 73 seat now held by Democrat Jim Keane, who isn’t seeking re-election after serving 23 years in the Legislature.
Noonan faced Republican Jason Freeman of Butte in the Nov. 8 election. Butte-Silver Bow County is a Democrat stronghold in Montana and Noonan spent 40 years in public service, including three terms in the Montana House starting in 2005.
Faith Scow, chair of the Butte-Silver Bow Democratic Central Committee, said Noonan’s passing was a “huge loss for Butte.”
“Art was a larger-than-life figure,” Scow said Thursday. “He was someone who really liked getting people excited about government, especially young people. He was excited to teach them how government works and how important it is.
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“He was just a huge influence in the life of everyone in our Central Committee, so it’s hard,” she said. “He was a really good friend of mine as well, so we’re just working through that.”
The party must now nominate someone to replace Noonan on the November ballot and they will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday at the East Side Athletic Club to make a choice. Any Democrat precinct member in Butte-Silver Bow County attending will get a vote.
Ballots for the November election have already been printed but those that include House District 73 will be reprinted to include the new Democrat candidate, said Linda Sajor-Joyce, the county’s clerk and recorder and elections chief.
House District 73 includes much of central and southern Butte and some areas in Silver Bow County to the south and west. Noonan filed for the seat in late January.
“As a lifelong Democrat, I have always focused on improving the lot of Montanans and particularly the people of Butte,” Noonan said then. “My family came to Butte in the 19th century, stayed for the entire 20th century and as a family we are committed to Butte’s blue-sky agenda for this century.”
Noonan was retired when he announced his run. He was on legislative staff in the 1970s and was an aide to Rep. Pat Williams and Sen. John Melcher when they were in Congress, working on land, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Park Service issues among other things.
He served as executive director of the AWARE Inc. foundation that assists people with special needs, and was executive director of the Montana Democratic Party from 2007 to 2009. He was deputy director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks from 2009 to 2011.
He also served on the Butte-Silver Bow Planning Board and the Montana Supreme Court Commission on Practices.
Keane served four terms in the Montana House from 2001 to 2008, then two terms in the Senate from 2009 to 2016, and was elected to the House again in District 73 in 2016, 2018 and 2020.
Noonan said in January that he hoped “to continue the common sense, worker, Butte Democrat representation for which the District is known.”
Sheila Hogan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said Noonan lived a life of public service.
“Former state legislator, former executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, and current candidate, Art was a born leader and spent a lifetime devoted to working for Montana on both the national and state level,” Hogan said. “He weathered the storms and sea change, never wavering in his resolve to fight for the dignity of working Montanans and families.”
Under Montana law, given this time frame before an election, party officials have five business days to nominate a new candidate and if they meet that deadline, new ballots for the affected district can be reprinted, Sajor-Joyce said.
Absentee ballots will not be sent to voters until Oct. 14 so there should be time to get new ones for House District 73 printed.
The meeting Sunday is open to the public, Scow said, but only Democrat precinct members will get a vote. If there are more than two people nominated, votes will be taken until one person has more than 50% of the votes.