HELENA — A Senate committee, voting along party lines Monday, rejected and then tabled the confirmation of Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl.
After a hearing of nearly two hours, the four Republicans on the Senate State Administration Committee voted to turn down Motl’s confirmation for the job he has held since June 2013 after Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock appointed him. The panel’s three Democrats supported Motl’s confirmation.
The committee then voted 4-3 to table Senate Resolution 53, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, calling for Motl’s confirmation.
Afterward, Motl told reporters, “I’m disappointed, but not surprised.”
He added “I’m only going to be disappointed if this is the final result. I expect there is enough interest n it that the entire body will want to look at it.”
Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso said those backing Motl will regroup Monday night and “will pick our spot” or decide when to blast his SR53 confirming Motl onto the floor of the Senate. That takes a simple majority or 26 votes in the 50-member body. If that succeeds, then Motl’s confirmation then will be debated by the full Senate.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to get support,” Sesso said. “It’s our view that Mr. Motl has been even-handed.”
Sesso said he’s optimistic that some of the Republicans who helped pass Senate Bill 289, a measure by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, to toughen Montana campaign finance laws, will also back Motl’s confirmation. SB289 passed the Senate 28-22, with seven Republicans joining all 21 Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate.
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It was an unusual hearing with senators asking no questions of those who testified, including Motl.
During the committee’s deliberations, Sen. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Bozeman, echoing some of the points made by those testifying against Motl’s confirmation, said the commissioner had improperly expanded the office’s authority. Hinkle also question a move Motl made to send an email on an issue only to Democratic members of the House this session
“To me, this is highly partisan,” he said.”I won’t support his confirmation.”
However, Sen. Robyn Driscoll, D-Billings, said she found it interesting that “almost every opponent was someone who has a bone to pick with the office because they have an open complain.”
Motl has fairly judged the complaints filed with his office, she said, adding, “I think he’s done just a great job.”
Voting to confirm Motl were Democratic Sens. Sue Malek of Missoula, Leah Whitford of Cut Bank, and Driscoll.
Voting against Motl’s confirmation were Republican Sens. Doug Kary and Roger Webb, both of Billings; Chair Dee Brown of Hungry Horse and Hinkle.