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Montana's Citizen Legislature leads to family ties

MTN News spoke with two families with members currently serving
Montana State Capitol
Posted at 10:35 AM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-19 12:35:07-04

MISSOULA — There are 150 Montanans from around the state are gathering in Helena for the 67th Legislative Session. What’s noteworthy is that some of those lawmakers are closely related.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here and I’m really happy that they can experience that same honor and a privilege,” state Senator Keith Regier, of Kalispell, told MTN News.

Regier is referring to his son and daughter who serve alongside him in the state lawmaking body. He is serving in his seventh legislative session term.

Across the hall in the House, his son Matt serves his third term and his daughter Amy, serves her first.

“I’m a construction worker, my sister’s a nurse and my Dad’s a retired teacher. It’s really the citizens of Montana that get to run, and there’s only 150 of us every two years that get to make decisions that lead our great state,” Rep. Matt Regier said.

Montana has what’s known as a citizen legislature. Members are ordinary people that work part-time as public servants, every odd year for 90 days. Because of the nature of this governing body, it’s not uncommon for people in the same family to be serving at once.

“We’re pretty ideologically the same but yes, we are three individuals and the beauty of that is there’s a red and green button for each of us, so we can make our own decision,” Rep. Amy Regier said.

MTN News asked what priorities the legislators have and what bills demonstrate that.

Sen. Keith Regier said his priority is property tax reduction. Sen. Regier has carried some major bills this session – including SB140, which gives Gov. Greg Gianforte more power to appoint state judges. It passed both legislative chambers and was signed by the governor on March 16.

Rep. Amy Regier said she was most concerned with the way the government handled COVID-19, “the fact that COVID started a year ago, being able to use those principles of less government.”

Rep. Matt Regier said HB 230 is one of his priorities this session; "It's a governor's power bill that would redo the governor's power during emergency services."

HB 230 has passed the Senate with amendments and awaits a final vote in the House. “I’m all about small efficient government,” Rep. Matt Regier said.

On the House side, an additional sibling pair is serving this Legislative Session. “I kind of think that politics in our family is literally in our blood. It’s in our DNA," Rep. Jed Hinkle said in an interview.

His brother, Rep. Caleb Hinkle, said he became interested in politics because of the influence of his grandfather.

The Hinkles represent two Belgrade districts. They have multiple family ties that bring them into the political arena. For example, their father is a Granite County Commissioner.

"So you can imagine what our Christmas, and Thanksgiving and Easter conversations are like. Let’s just say that we don’t exclude politics and religion," Rep. Jed Hinkle explained.

But, serving alongside family does come with at least one drawback. “We get mixed up all the time,” Rep. Caleb Hinkle said.

The Hinkle brothers told MTN News they agree on most major bills but often vote differently on more minor ones.

Rep. Caleb Hinkle said his main objective this session is House Bill 158.

"This would create a study committee to review all the state rules, regulations and statutes that were frozen by either the governor’s office or, these various state administrations during the emergency."

HB 158 passed the House and is awaiting a final vote in the Senate.