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Remembering Montana's Governor Judy Martz: From the Garbage Truck to the Governorship

Remembering Montana's Governor Judy Martz: From the Garbage Truck to the Governorship
Montana State Governor Judy Martz arrives for a dinner hosted by President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush February 22, 2004 at the White House in Washington, DC.  . (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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Saturday, 11 November 2017 04:01 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Following the news that Judy Martz died on October 30, Montanans mourned their first woman governor.

It almost seemed as though everyone in the Big Sky Country had a “Judy story,” because Republican Martz (who was 74) was a real “American original.”

The daughter of a miner and a cook, Judy Morstein graduated from Butte High School and briefly attended Eastern Montana College (now Montana State University at Billings). But her specialty was speed-skating and her talent got her into the 1964 Winter Olympics.

Tall, striking, and vivacious, Judy was elected Miss Rodeo Montana in 1962. Three years later, she wed high school sweetheart Harry Martz and together they launched a garbage disposal company.

The couple had a little money to open an office and buy one truck. But they couldn’t afford to pay a driver. So Judy drove the garbage truck.

That didn’t last for long. The Martz’s soon landed major contracts, hired a fleet of trucks and drivers, and their business thrived. Judy became active in the Butte Chamber of Commerce as well as local Republican politics. Republican Sen. Conrad Burns tapped her to work as a field representative in his home office.

When Lieutenant Governor Dennis Rehberg gave up his office to run for the U.S. Senate in 1996, Republican Gov. Marc Racicot needed a new running mate.

“Speculation was rampant Marc would choose from six state senators — some of whom were among my best friends,” recalled former Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown, “And rather than make a decision that would upset the also-rans, Marc turned to Judy, a relative unknown in politics.”

Martz was nominated and elected as her state’s first female lieutenant governor in 1996. Four years later, when Racicot stepped down, she made national news as the first woman to win Montana’s governorship.

Much like Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich or Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Ridge, Montana’s Gov. Martz cut taxes, turned a deficit into a surplus, eliminated anti-business regulations. She also increased funding for public education.

But she suffered from incidents that had nothing to do with policy. Her top policy aide was in an automobile accident that took the life of the state House majority leader.

Like Donald Trump, Martz took critical press coverage very personally. At one point, the governor replied to a reporter’s call, and, upon getting her answering machine, proceeded to say exactly what she thought of her. (The reporter later caused the governor embarrassment by playing the hostile message for television cameras and political enemies distributed bumper stickers reading: “Our Governor Is Dumber Than Yours.”

Fed up with life in Helena, Martz announced her retirement after one term and returned to her beloved Butte. But her activist nature would not go away. She formed a citizens committee to drum up support for John Roberts’ nomination as chief justice in ’05, became a popular speaker at groups of her fellow Christians, and served on the board of TASER International (manufacturer of the non-lethal stun gun).

In November of 2014, doctors announced that Martz had Stage II pancreatic cancer. But the former truck driver and political trailblazer never gave up and battled the disease for a full three years.

“There really wasn’t anyone else like Judy,” Bob Brown told Newsmax, “Everything about her made her a true outsider and an unlikely choice to be governor. But she did it.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Following the news that Judy Martz died on October 30, Montanans mourned their first woman governor.It almost seemed as though everyone in the Big Sky Country had a "Judy story," because Republican Martz (who was 74) was a real "American original."The daughter of a miner...
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