Judy Martz, Montana’s 1st female governor, dies at 74

Judy Martz

Judy Martz, the first female governor of Montana, died Monday morning in Butte of pancreatic cancer. She was 74 years old.

Martz was elected to the governorship on Nov. 7, 2000, after having been elected the state’s first female lieutenant governor four years earlier when she ran on Gov. Marc Racicot’s final re-election ticket.

She served one term, opting not to run for re-election in 2004.

Her passing brought immediate words of sympathy and gratitude from the state’s political leaders.

Gov. Steve Bullock remembered the former Olympic speed skater’s enthusiasm and optimism, and her longtime service to the state.

“Lisa and I join Montanans in honoring the life and legacy of Governor Judy Martz, Montana’s first female governor,” said Bullock. “While she will always leave her mark in our history as a trailblazer for women, we will also remember the spirited enthusiasm she brought both in her service to Montanans and through her lifelong love for our state.”

From Sen. Steve Daines came this sentiment: “Governor Martz was a woman of grit and faith who fearlessly blazed new trails from the Olympics to the Governor’s Mansion.  Judy was rarely seen without a pin of the humble turtle on her lapel and would often invoke a saying that embodied her fearlessness and courage ‘Behold the turtle, he only moves forward when his neck’s stuck out’.  Cindy and I wish her and her family prayers during this time.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was the state Senate’s minority leader while Martz was governor. He issued this statement Monday afternoon: “Governor Judy Martz shattered the glass ceiling at our state’s Capitol showing young women all across Montana what’s possible if you work hard.  Judy’s faith, persistence and leadership are a hallmark of her lasting legacy.”

In the 2000 election, Martz first won the Republican primary over former University of Montana law professor Rob Natelson. Then she defeated State Auditor and Democrat Mark O’Keefe in the general election, 51 percent to 47 percent.

Her first legislative session as governor was credited for the single largest increase in education spending in Montana history, and also tax cuts intended to stimulate a stagnant economy.

Martz faced down several significant personal controversies during her tenure, the first in November 2001 when a 1999 real estate deal between the Martz family and Atlantic Richfield Co. was revealed.

Martz and her husband, Harry, owned a ranch that adjoined land owned by Atlantic Richfield, and Arco sold the property to the Martzes at an unusually low price.

The transaction raised eyebrows because Arco was in the midst of negotations and lawsuits with the state over the cleanup of the nation’s largest (geographically) Superfund cleanup site – the massive mine and smelter wastes that ran from Butte and Anaconda down Silver Bow Creek and through the upper Clark Fork River to Milltown Reservoir.

The Montana Democratic Party accused Martz of giving Arco special consideration during her time as lieutenant governor. The state Commissioner of Political Practices, however, found no merit in the allegations.

Ultimately, Martz’s was the voice that turned the tide in calling for the removal of Milltown Dam east of Missoula and the full cleanup and restoration of Milltown Reservoir and the 100 miles of river frontage between Milltown and Warm Springs.

Also during her term as governor, Martz’s chief policy adviser, Shane Hedges, was involved in a drunk driving accident near Marysville that killed House Majority Leader Paul Sliter.

After the crash, Hedges went to Martz’s residence, where she washed his clothes. Hedges ultimately resigned and pled guilty to negligent homicide charges.

Martz was born July 28, 1943, in Big Timber to ranching parents. She graduated from Butte High School in 1961, and attended Eastern Montana College.

She was a member of the 1963 U.S. World Speed Skating Team, and a member of the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team at the 1964 Winter Games.

Martz entered politics as a field representative for Sen. Conrad Burns from 1989 to 1995, headquartered in Butte.

She and her husband had two children.