HELENA - Another Democratic legislator has received a job in the Schweitzer administration, renewing Republican calls for ethics reform that includes a ban on giving such appointments to sitting lawmakers.
Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced Friday that state Rep. Eve Franklin, D-Great Falls, has been appointed mental health ombudsman in his administration. Franklin will be paid $47,967 a year.
Schweitzer dismissed criticism, pointing out that citizen legislators must work outside their roles as part-time lawmakers. He said Franklin is the perfect fit for the ombudsman job.
Such appointments have been banned in many states amid concerns about the potential conflict of interest that can arise with the commingling of the executive and legislative branches of government.
"I don't see an inherent conflict," Schweitzer said. "There is not anything she can do that could personally enrich herself. Conflicts mean that in some way through your actions you are going to somehow enrich yourself. I don't think you can connect these dots."
Republicans have been critical of appointments the Schweitzer administration gave last year to Senate President Mike Cooney, D-Helena, and state Sen. Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow. Kitzenberg also switched parties, from Republican to Democrat, last year.
"It is unprecedented, the sheer number of sitting legislators this governor has hired into his administration," said Montana Republican Party Chairman Erik Iverson.
Schweitzer said Franklin's hiring is the first involving a post directly in his office. Both Cooney and Kitzenberg, although employed in the executive branch of state government, were hired by appointed division heads, the governor said.
Last month, Sen. Jesse Laslovich of Anaconda was given a job by Attorney General Mike McGrath, a fellow Democrat.
Schweitzer said the hirings pose no more conflict of interest than legislators would face if they were teachers voting on education issues, oil men voting on energy issues or farmers voting on agricultural policy and funding.
"We have citizen legislators, and in Montana they come from all walks of life," Schweitzer said.
Franklin said the job presented a great opportunity to continue advocacy work she has done as a legislator, and in previous positions as a nurse and executive director of the Montana Nurses' Association.
Franklin, a state senator from 1991-2002 before election to the Montana House, said she intends to complete her legislative term, through 2008. She said she is unlikely to seek re-election.
Franklin said people forget that Montana has a citizen Legislature and lawmakers must hold full-time jobs apart from the work they do in the state's biennial legislative sessions.
"There have always been people who have consistently worn multiple hats," she said.
Iverson called Franklin a "very smart and very capable legislator," and said she probably will do well in the new position. But he said such appointments erode faith in Democracy.
"It's just wrong," he said.
Republicans pushed legislation earlier this year that would have banned sitting lawmakers from taking state government jobs.
The proposal failed amid criticism from Democrats who argued that citizen lawmakers should not be restricted in their job choices and government should be allowed to hire the best candidates for positions.
Schweitzer said Republicans have voted against the ethics legislation he has proposed, measures that included restrictions on lobbying.
An ethics expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures said the number of states that ban sitting lawmakers from taking state appointments has risen. In some cases, lawmakers can take such jobs if they first resign their legislative posts.
"What states are thinking is this is double dipping," said the NCSL's Peggy Kerns.
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