For AFL-CIO Head Jim Murry assumes post as Commissioner of Political Practices

Commissioner of Political Practices Jim Murry

Montana’s new Political Practices Commissioner has wrapped up his first day on the job. Governor Brian Schweitzer appointed former labor leader Jim Murry to the post Monday.

The last Commissioner, Dave Gallik, resigned last month after co-workers accused him of ethics violations, claims Gallik denies.

Murry hopes to put to rest the controversy surrounding the office.

Jim Murry chose blue jeans and a brown leather coat for his first day on the job.

“You know, it’s been a while since I’ve been in an office,” he said. The 77 year old former Montana AFL-CIO head has been in semi-retirement for a number of years.  “And I come back and I look around and it’s that same feeling of being a little bit overwhelmed that I felt with every job that I ever went on.”

But he said he’s not nervous about this job of enforcing state campaign finance laws.

“I’m looking forward to working with the folks here and getting on with the job,” he said.

“It sounds like he is ready to hit the ground running, which is very positive,” said Political Practices Program Supervisor Mary Baker.  She and the other staff of the Political Practices Office went to the press in January about former Commissioner Dave Gallik. They said Gallik was marking down more hours than he actually worked and doing work from his private law practice in the Commissioner’s office. Gallik said that isn’t true and the Political Practices staff had a vendetta against him.

Baker believes the staff has a track record of professionalism.

“We’ve worked with several different commissioners, have always done our best to try to guide them along and help them adjust,” she said.

The Political Practices Commissioner could be called a political hot seat. It’s a non-partisan position appointed by the Governor. Previous commissioners have had political ties and have been attacked for acting too partisan.

Murry has led a career dominated by an association with the Democratic Party through his over 20 years at the AFL-CIO. He also said he is a friend of Governor Brian Schweitzer and has been supportive of his past campaigns. But he said he has worked with Republicans before too, and he can be bi-partisan.

“I’m gonna have to put a lot of my political activities of the past behind me. The law calls for that. My decisions have to be impartial. I’m prepared to do that,” he said.

Murry will serve until next January, when he would need to be confirmed by the State Senate. The 2011 Legislature failed to approve the Schweitzer-appointed commissioner Jennifer Hensley because of her Democratic ties. Senate President Republican Jim Peterson said it’s far too early to say if that will happen again with Murry.

“I think we need to let Mr. Murry get into the job and do his work and the Senate will address that when it comes into session in 2013,” he said.

Murry would serve in the post until the end of 2016 if confirmed. Murry, himself though does not think that will happen.

“What I’ll do is I’ll be working here in the interim and doing the best job I possibly can, working with the folks here to get this job done. That’s what my focus will be on,” he said.

And for campaign finance, it looks to be a very important interim indeed.

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