Rob Gurwitt is a GOVERNING contributor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Judy Martz, soon to become Montana's first woman governor, likes to wear a turtle pin on her blouse. It's a symbol, she says, of her motto: "Behold the turtle. He only goes forward when his neck's stuck out." But as Martz might now be the first to tell you, sometimes not sticking your neck out gets you further.
Unlike most of the nation, Montana went to the polls last month with economic problems front and center. The state is in the doldrums. It ranks near the bottom of the country in per-capita income and right at the top--along with North Dakota--in the percentage of its workers who have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Cattle prices are down, mining is in a lull, and the timber industry--as it is throughout the West--is hurting. More than any other issue, the contest to replace Republican Governor Marc Racicot, who is leaving office because of term limits, hinged on job creation.
As Racicot's lieutenant governor, Martz clung tightly to Republican orthodoxy, arguing that the best way to improve prospects is to lower taxes on business and cut away at state regulation. It was her opponent, Democratic state auditor Mark O'Keefe, who went out on a limb, insisting that Montana needed to change its economic base; he proposed dramatically expanding funds for education, and contended that the state's leading corporations had benefited enough from Republican largesse. "I may indeed be their worst nightmare," O'Keefe declared in October, after 10 of the state's most prominent businesses got together to oppose him. It was an impolitic moment, given Montanans' concern about wooing job providers, and it may well have been a big factor in boosting Martz to the governorship.
Yet if the 57-year-old Martz played the campaign cautiously, it can hardly be said that she has shied from taking risks in her life. She grew up in Butte; her father was a miner and rancher, her mother at various times a cook, liquor-store clerk and motel maid. A competitive speed skater since grade school, Martz sold raffle tickets door to door to earn a trip to national competition, and in 1963 made the U.S. Olympic speed skating team, becoming one of the first two Montana women ever to appear in the Olympics. In her one race--the 1,500 meters--at the 1964 games in Innsbruck, she was closing in on the lead when she fell, and ultimately finished 15th. Eventually she settled back in Butte, where she and her husband bought a garbage-hauling business, which her husband still runs.
Unpretentious, cheerful and supremely energetic, Martz is by nature a civic go-getter, and her activities as a businesswoman in Butte brought her to the attention of Conrad Burns, Montana's Republican U.S. Senator, who asked her to be his field representative. Martz turned out to have a winning way with constituents, and in 1995, when Racicot's lieutenant governor gave up that position to run for a U.S. Senate seat, several key Republicans suggested she put herself forward for the job. So Martz took another chance: She asked Racicot to consider her as his next running mate. He did, and liked what he saw.
As lieutenant governor, Martz has worked hard. She ran the state's Drought Advisory Task Force, which turned out to be a high-profile role during this past summer's fires, and chaired the Y2K Readiness Council. But her exposure to the ins and outs of policy making was limited. During her debates with O'Keefe this fall, reporters noticed that she rarely departed from her staff-prepared briefing book. They wondered whether that signaled a lack of familiarity with the nuances of policy, or just a discomfort at being in the spotlight.
On the stump, however, Martz was engaging and self-confident. When she criticized O'Keefe for spending his family's money lavishly on the race, he told her to stop whining. "I'm not a whiner," she retorted. "I've probably sucked up more pain than that guy has in a lifetime."