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Patty and Joe Mazurek stand in front of a family photograph at their Helena home.

HELENA – A Senate committee on Monday unanimously endorsed a bill to name the building housing the state Justice Department, Library and Supreme Court after former Attorney General Joe Mazurek, who died last summer.

The Senate State Administration Committee heard from current and former governors and attorneys general, former legislative colleagues, former law partners and longtime friends of Mazurek supporting the idea. No one opposed the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, sponsored Senate Bill 258 at the request of Attorney General Tim Fox. Besides naming the building after Mazurek, the bill would allow for a private fundraising campaign to put up a memorial fountain and plaque honoring him.

Mazurek, a Helena lawyer, served as attorney general from 1993 to 2001 and in the Montana Senate for a dozen years before that, including as its president in 1991. He died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease last summer.

“He was a distinguished public servant, he was an accomplished lawyer and a true gentleman,” Wittich said.

Fox, a Republican, praised Mazurek, a Democrat, called him “an incomparable public servant and a one-of-a-kind Montanan.”

“For Joe, public service was about doing the right things for the right reasons, and it was never about feathering his nest or lining his political pocket,” Fox said. “Joe was in a special and small category of politicians – he was a statesman.”

Fox added, “What I know was that Joe was a man of solid character who cared about the little guy. He was a family man who kept his priorities straight and who lived his devout faith. Joe worked hard at every job he held and then found time to serve his community, his state and his nation through volunteerism.”

Gov. Steve Bullock worked on Mazurek’s 1992 campaign for attorney general and as an assistant attorney general under him. He praised Mazurek as someone who would bring opposing sides together.

“He was sort of this strange cross between Ward Cleaver and, once he became the state’s chief law enforcement officer, Andy Griffith,” Bullock said. “Here was a guy who was always happy. He didn’t ever have a cross thing to say about anyone.”

Mazurek knew the names of all 750 people who worked for him at the Justice Department and told them how he valued their service, Bullock said.

“Joe was taken from all of us much, much too soon, but he will not be forgotten,” Bullock said.

In a letter read by Fox, former Attorney General and Gov. Marc Racicot said he had worked with Mazurek since both were in college and throughout their careers. Mazurek was attorney general when Racicot was governor.

“I am one of an extraordinary number of people who can testify that it is most fitting and proper to recognize Joe’s life, his character and contributions to our state by naming the Justice Building in his honor,” Racicot said.

Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker, who had worked as Mazurek’s chief deputy attorney general for four years, said Mazurek was “a man who inspired every person whose life he touched.”

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net.

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