Montana State Capitol

The Montana State Capitol is shown in Helena.

HELENA—Gov. Steve Bullock and most legislative leaders emphasized the importance of civility and working together Monday, as he and seven other top elected statewide officials, 100 representatives and 26 senators took their formal oaths of office.

Monday was a day of ceremony at the Montana Capitol. It began with the statewide elected officials being sworn into office in the rotunda. Catholic and Methodist clergy offered prayers, members of the Montana Air National Guard posted the colors, and a Native American sang, as did Helena school children. People watched the ceremony from three floors of the statehouse.

Freezing temperatures moved the ceremony indoors this year. Four years ago, Bullock was sworn in as governor outdoors when the weather was better.

Bullock, a Democrat re-elected in November, again faces a Legislature where Republicans have amassed large majorities. In the Senate, Republicans gained three seats in the 2016 election to widen their margin over Democrats to 32-18. In the House, Republicans have maintained a 59-41 majority, the same as in 2015.

“I ask those taking an oath today, how will you positively influence Montana?” Bullock said, in his inaugural address. “Will you be remembered for your rhetoric or your results?”

Bullock said these are challenging times for representative democracy, but he was optimistic that both Democrats and Republicans elected by Montana voters “can rise above the political discourse and demonstrate to those we represent that we won’t allow the toxicity that we see at so many levels of government infect what we do in this building for the folks back home.”

He and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney were the lone statewide Democrats to retain their offices. Republicans captured the other four statewide offices, maintained their legislative majorities and retained a 5-0 majority on the Public Service Commission.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath administered the oaths of office to the eight officials elected to statewide offices in November. They were: Bullock, Cooney, Justices Jim Shea and Dirk Sandefeur, Attorney General Tim Fox, Auditor Matt Rosendale, Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton.

Later, legislators were sworn in as members of the House and Senate, and the leaders chosen in November caucuses were formally elected.

House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, is serving his second straight term as presiding officer of the body.

“I want to impress on all of you two things today—civility and professionalism,” Knudsen said. “We are all duly elected by our constituents, and no House member is less of a representative than another. We can disagree, and believe me, we’re going to disagree, on this floor and in committee. But I expect those disagreements to be civil and professional.”

New House Minority Leader Jenny Eck, D-Helena, said, “It has been a long and grueling campaign season, but thankfully it is time to leave that behind us now. It is time for the real work to begin on behalf of all the people of Montana, not just those who voted for us, or were members of certain political parties, but for all Montanans, equally.”

In the Senate, new President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, put in a pitch for the powers of the legislative body as a whole. He said the legislative branch’s role has been diminished by two recent judicial decisions that have intruded on the body’s domain and blurred the separation of powers.

“I ask you to view the Legislature not through the lens of either the Republican or Democrat Party, but rather as members of a unique assembly,” he said in remarks prepared for delivery. “For two long, we have allowed the elements of our government to usurp our authority…. We must resist this and defend our institution.”

Re-elected Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said senators know each other pretty well, although there are 16 new members, but 11 have served in the Legislature previously.

“As we take another ride together, let’s demonstrate what we’ve learned,” Sesso said in prepared remarks. “How we can recognize our different views, different beliefs and still find the common ground to govern and reach agreement. How to speak less so we can listen more, and stay focused on what matters. How to respect each other and express the level of statesmanship our citizens expect from us.”


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