I did this research a couple weeks ago while at the Historical Society in Helena.
I hope it expands your knowledge about the state’s recent history.
Judy’s Early Years
Judy Martz was born in Big Timber on July 28, 1943.
She moved to Butte at a young age and graduated from Butte High School in 1961. She then went to work as a receptionist in a doctor’s office in Butte before heading east to work in a Billings sporting goods store, in 1964.
In 1963, Martz was chosen for the U.S. training team that went to Japan. She made the U.S. Olympic speed-skating team, the “first Montanan to ever make an Olympic team.”
She raced the 1,500-meter race at Innsbruck in 1964. She was in first place for a time but then had a fall and finished 15th.
After that it was back to Montana. She enrolled in Eastern Montana College for two years, and was even selected as Miss Centennial Montana the same year she’d competed in the Olympics.
A big blow came to Martz in 1965 when her boyfriend, Wayne Estes, was electrocuted and killed by a downed power line. He’d just scored a record 48 points in a basketball game for Utah State and was the LA Lakers’ #1 draft choice. Martz was devastated, yet later viewed the incident in a different light. “I think Wayne’s death is probably the reason that I started to serve people.”
She quit her Olympic training, even though she felt she had a shot at gold in 1968. She also got back together with her previous boyfriend of four years, Harry, and the two eloped to Idaho in 1965 to marry. The honeymoon didn’t last long as Harry was sent off to Germany shortly thereafter to serve in the Army.
For Judy, it was back to the sporting goods store. That lasted for three years before she wanted a bigger change of scenery and became a secretary in a Los Angeles insurance office.
That lasted less then a year before she moved back to Montana in 1968 to become a manager of a Butte sporting goods store.
Harry came back from Germany that same year and the two bought a full-service gas station in Butte, which quickly went out of business when self-service stations began flooding the state. Judy was soon back to working at a different sporting goods store.
Then in 1971 they tried again, this time with a garbage business. They were only the second private garbage business in the mining city, and the two worked the route together for thirteen years. “We’ve had one vacation in 28 years,” Martz said in 2000. “Harry’s dad watched the route and we took the kids to Salt Lake City and Lagoon.”
To help supplement this income, Judy also got a job as a postal carrier, in 1974.
From 1987 to 1989, Judy was the executive director of the U.S. High Altitude Sports Center. In 1989 she became a field rep for Senator Conrad Burns, a position she’d hold until 1995.
In 1995 Dennis Rehberg left the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to run for Congress, leaving Governor Racicot to choose someone to fill that office. Three people encouraged Martz to put her name in, and after three weeks of praying about it, she did. Several interviews followed, and she got the job.
Racicot picked her because “of her accomplishments in the private and public sectors and because she got along well with people.”
Martz was 52-years-old in March 1996 when the 47-year-old Racicot tapped her to join him on the campaign trail as his running mate. She’d been a field representative for Senator Conrad Burns in the Democratic stronghold city of Butte, where she and her husband owned a garbage disposal business, Martz Disposal Service.
By that point Racicot had raised $233,000 for his campaign while his Republican primary challenger – University of Montana law professor, Rob Natelson – had raised just $45,000.
Racicot beat him 75% to 25% in the primary that year, and in the general Racicot easily took out Democrat Judy Jacobson, 79% to 21%. In January 1997, Martz took office.
During her time as lieutenant governor, Judy gave between 320 to 360 speeches around the state each year.
By 2000, it was time for her to run for the top job herself. Mark O’Keefe ran against her on the Democratic ticket, but despite having more money and more staff, Judy beat him with 208,594 votes to O’Keefe’s 192,781 votes, or 51% to 47%. Libertarian Stan Jones took 7,882 votes, or just under 2%.
Martz raised over $838,000 for her race while O’Keefe raised $2.9 million, with $2.1 million of that coming from his own pocket.
Martz got the job done by winning 45 of Montana’s 56 counties.
George W. Bush won the state that year with 58% of the vote to Gore’s 33%, so many figured that was a factor.
A month after getting elected, Judy said she’d be the “lap dog of industry,” and that the title “fits her just fine.” She told it to the Montana Taxpayers Association, adding that Montana would be open for business. A Lee Newspapers poll a week later found that 43% opposed the statement while 41% supported it, with 16% undecided.
By November 2001, Montanans had a generally unfavorable view of their new governor. A Montana State University-Billings poll found that 38% disapproved of the job she was doing while 37% approved. Another 26% were undecided. The poll had asked 413 Montanans.
The next month a Lee Newspapers poll of 625 Montanans found that she had a 44% approval rating, compared to the 58% that President Bush had at the time.
The reasons were twofold. First, Martz had bought up 80 acres of Arco land in September 1999 “at below-market prices,” 36% below market prices, to be exact.
The couple bought the land west of their Rocker homestead for $300 an acre, or $24,000 in total. They’d bought 24 acres of land east of the homestead that July for $833 an acre from a private property owner. News of these sales didn’t come out until late-2001.
Another problem was Shane Hedges, Martz’s campaign manager that ran afoul of the law.
It happened just after midnight on August 15, 2001. The 28-year-old Hedges and 32-year-old Paul Sliter – himself the House Majority Leader from Somers – were driving an SUV back from Marysville after a night of drinking at a GOP event there. The SUV veered off the winding dirt road and Sliter was thrown from the vehicle, dying at the scene.
Martz got a phone call from her chief of staff, Ed Bartlett, shortly after the crash had occurred. Martz heard the news, took a quick shower, and rushed to the hospital. It took about 40 minutes before she could see Hedges, who only had bumps and bruises. Hedges immediately broke down in tears at the sight of the governor.
It was decided that Hedges could leave the hospital, but he didn’t want to. Martz suggested he come back to the governor’s mansion for some rest, which he did. They arrived around 4 AM, and a half hour later law enforcement stopped by for more questions.
Hedges was so drained that he wound up staying at the governor’s mansion for several days, and this led to Martz washing his “ripped and bloodied” clothing from the wreck. She’s admitted to washing them the night of the accident, and this led to calls from opponents that she’d been tampering with evidence, something she strongly denied.
“The mother in me did it,” Martz would later say, “Shane was like a son to me.”
On August 31, Hedges pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. He served six months in the Helena Pre-Release Center before being released in April 2002. During the time he was in the center, Hedges sent many emails to Martz and others in the administration, including a critique of her 2002 State of the State speech as well as fundraising letters. Hedges eventually moved to Washington D.C. to continue his political efforts.
In April 2002 news came out that Martz may have been giving political favor to high-level donors in return for donations to her conservative political fund, the Montana Majority Fund. The donors in question were Yellowstone Club founder Tim Blixseth and publishing mogul Glenn Patch. Both said they “weren’t buying clout,” and Martz later said these claims were hurting economic development in the state.
The state Criminal Investigation Bureau eventually concluded that the Martz administration had used state time and telephones illegally to contact California fundraisers. Martz eventually decided to stop meeting with reporters over the fiasco.
To take attention away from the worsening crisis, Martz rallied her base. She did so by talking-up religion, homeschooling, and other conservative issues she held dear.
That June, Martz made it clear she was a big proponent of homeschooling, saying that it costs “$7,000 to educate a student in public schools when parents do it for about $300.” She was an advocate of teaching children about Jesus and to say ‘no’ to both drugs and sex. Public school officials were not impressed.
Also that June, hearings began into the Arco land sale. That didn’t stop the Western Governor’s Association from choosing Martz as their chairman for 2003.
By the end of the month, however, the news had shifted to the state’s finances. They were dire, with $45 million in budget shortfalls expected. Martz ordered most state agencies to cut their budgets by 3.5%, with the goal of saving $23 million. The state budget director said this wasn’t good enough, so Martz called for a special session. During her speech to do so, she “began to cry, stopped reading her speech and said, ‘God, I hate this.’”
The special session took place from August 5 to 11, though Judy had to call a ‘one-dayer’ as well – September 13– to amend HB 2 to go into effect immediately.
Things began to look better after the special session, and even more so that September when the Commissioner of Political Practices ruled that Martz had done nothing wrong in buying up the Arco land at below market value. The 35-page report concluded that Arco was not trying to influence then-lieutenant governor Martz.
By the end of that month a Lee Newspapers poll found that just 23% of Montanans approved of the job Martz was doing. President Bush had a 67% approval rating in the state at the time, while Senators Max Baucus and Denny Rehberg had 59% and 58% respectively, and Conrad Burns had 57%.
By mid-October, Martz’s approval rating had fallen to 20%. At the end of December she was giving herself an “A” for effort. “We’re working our backsides off,” she told reporters.
By the time the 2003 Legislature was set to start, the state was looking at $250 million in biennial shortfalls. Martz wanted to cut health programs, including 70% of the budget for Mental Health Services, an agency that oversaw “5,200 Montanans suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental problems.”
She didn’t want to raise taxes. “You can’t tax your way out of a recession,” she said. What she did want to do was raid the $2.6 billion “nearly-impenetrable” coal tax trust fund for $93 million to help get her $2.6 billion state general fund budget through.
Martz rationalized these moves by saying that Montana was already 46th in the nation for per capita income, which meant families were struggling and simply couldn’t afford tax hikes at that time.
The 2003 Legislature was contentious. “I’m glad we only have a one-term governor,” Republican state Senator John Cobb said as the session neared its end in April. “She’s destroyed the human services budget. She’s deliberately hurt people.”
Cobb was incensed at Martz’s plan to get rid of state funding to provide daycare for the working poor. The Senate passed it on a vote of 26-24.
By May 2003, Martz’s approval rating had fallen to 18%. Polls showed Democrat Brian Schweitzer beating her 52% to 24% if the 2004 Election were held that day. Just 24% of Montanans were undecided. Martz had not yet decided on whether she’d run again.
That June, GOP Party Chairman Ken Miller said a Martz win in 2004 seemed unlikely. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg put it more bluntly: “The governor would have to be delusional to run for re-election, and state Republicans would have to be crazy to nominate her.”
Martz was still mum on the subject come July, but then on August 14 she announced that she’d not be seeking a second term. “My head wants to run, my body wants to run, but my heart says go be with your family,” she said at a press conference that day. Martz was adamant that her low approval ratings and the scandals over Hedges, the Arco land deal, and the state phone lines used for fundraising did not factor into her decision.
Martz left office on January 3, 2005. That February she got a $2,000-a-month job with Republican Brad Johnson’s Secretary of State Office to “develop a public relations campaign” to explain voting law changes.
In March 2005, Martz was named to TASER International’s Board of Directors. The non-lethal device company viewed Martz’s experience with law enforcement as an asset to their company.
By May 2005, the state was set to collect $150 million more in tax revenues than it’d expected.
In November 2014 it was reported that the 71-year-old Martz had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was undergoing treatment.
Then on October 30, 2017, she died. She was 74-years-old.
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Anez, Bob. “Martz: ‘I’ll be the lap dog of industry.’” Helena Independent Record. 7 December 2000.
Anez, Bob. “Montana split over Martz’s job performance.” Helena Independent Record. 14 November 2001.
Anez, Bob. “GOP chair says Martz unlikely to win if she runs.” Helena Independent Record. 6 June 2003.
Billings, Erin P. “Mart’s ‘lap dog’ remark gets mixed response.” Helena Independent Record. 17 December 2000.
Dennison, Mike. “Cobb blasts governor during budget debate.” Great Falls Tribune. 9 April 2003.
Farrell, Alison and McKee, Jennifer. “Martz won’t run.” Helena Independent Record. 14 August 2003.
Johnson, Charles S. “Judy Martz: A Determined Competitor.” Helena Independent Record. 20 February 2000.
Johnson, Charles S. “Martz says her message correct.” Helena Independent Record. 9 November 2000.
Johnson, Charles S. “Less than market value.” Helena Independent Record. 18 November 2001.
Johnson, Charles S. “Poll: Martz lowest, Bush highest.” Helena Independent Record. 23 December 2001.
Johnson, Charles S. “Document: Martz paid more for nearby land than Arco land.” Helena Independent Record. 17 March 2002.
Johnson, Charles S. “Hedges: ‘Nice to be able to tap into’ his experience, says Ranf.” Helena Independent Record. 15 June 2002.
Johnson, Charles S. “Governor cleared on ethics complaint.” Helena Independent Record. 26 September 2002.
Johnson, Charles S. “Poll: Martz at all-time low.” Helena Independent Record. 29 September 2002.
Johnson, Charles S. “Martz budget dips into coal fund.” Helena Independent Record. 16 November 2002.
“Martz says she’ll fight to protect homeschoolers’ rights.” Helena Independent Record. 9 June 2002.
McLaughlin, Kathleen. “’The mother in me did it.’” Helena Independent Record. 5 January 2002.
McLaughlin, Kathleen. “Donors say they weren’t buying clout.” Helena Independent Record. 3 April 2002.
Smith, Ericka Schenck. “Tearful Martz orders session.” Helena Independent Record. 29 June 2002.