HELENA — If you’ve followed this legislative session, you may have noticed a number of legislators with the same last names. MTN viewer Kathleen Bischoff asked if these legislators are related, and if so, what does that mean for representation in the state.
MTN Senior Political Reporter Jonathon Ambarian said it’s not unusual to see related lawmakers in the Montana legislature.
“There are a lot of legislators who are related to each other,” he said. “For example, there are three legislators this session whose last name is Regier.”
Keith Regier is a state senator from Kalispell. His son, Matt Regier, is the Speaker of the House and his daughter, Amy Regier, is also in the Montana House of Representatives.
There are also brothers Jedediah and Caleb Hinkle, both representatives from Belgrade. Daniel Zolnikov is a state senator representing the Billings-area, and his wife, Katie Zolnikov, is in the house, also representing the Billings-area. Lola Sheldon-Galloway and her husband, Steven Galloway, are both representatives from Great Falls. John Fitzpatrick and his son, Steve Fitzpatrick, are both in the legislature.
“Steve Fitzpatrick is the Senate Majority Leader—he’s a republican from Great Falls,” Ambarian said. “His father, John Fitzpatrick, is a house member from Anaconda. He’s a republican as well.”
In some cases, the same last name is just a coincidence. For example, there are three house members with the last name Smith, but Frank Smith, Laura Smith and Tanner Smith are not related.
“You might not be shocked to know there are people named Smith who are not—as far as I know—related,” Ambarian said.
Also, house members Rhonda Knudsen and Casey Knudsen are not related, although Rhonda Knudsen does have a government connection—she’s Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s mother.
There are also cases where current legislators are related to former legislators. For example, house member Alice Buckley was elected to the seat formerly held by her husband, Zach Brown.
While there are family connections within the legislature, it is a small percentage of the 150 legislators representing constituents across the state. When it comes to what this means for representation, Ambarian noted legislators were put in office by voters.
“Everybody got elected,” Ambarian said. “At some point, the voters had a say.”