By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Montana Associated Students of the Montana University System has filed a lawsuit contending that Gov. Judy Martz's reappointment of the student member on the Board of Regents of Higher Education this year violated Montana law.
Montana Associated Students filed the lawsuit Friday in state District Court in Helena. It said the extension of Christian Hur's term to a third year, confirmed by the state Senate on April 10 by a vote of 28-22, violates the law that requires the governor to consider nominations by the Associated Students for the position.
The suit was filed by Montana Associated Students against the state of Montana, Martz, the state Senate and Secretary of State Bob Brown.
Dan Geelan of Havre, president of Montana Associated Students, said the suit was filed to make sure the students maintain their position in the process.
"In our opinion the governor has broken the law. The law clearly states that the governor will consult with the students in the selection process," Geelan said. "In the law there's no provision for reappointment or extensions."
Chuck Butler, Matz's communications director, said today he can't comment on particulars of the suit while it's in the courts.
"It's unfortunate that the students have chosen to go to court when Christian Hur was confirmed by the state Senate earlier this year," he added.
Butler said in February that the law allows the student regent to be appointed for up to four years. Since Martz had only appointed him to a two-year term, she could extend his term without going through the nomination process, Butler said.
The Senate confirmed Hur almost exactly along party lines, Geelan said. Every Democrat voted against Hur, and every Republican except Sen. Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow voted to confirm him.
Regents chair Richard Roehm said the issue now is a legal question.
"I don't know what I think without knowing what the courts decide," he said.
Hur could not be reached for comment this morning.
The lawsuit asks that Brown be directed not to record Hur's appointment and to instead declare the student regent position open effective July 1.
Geelan said Hur's apppointment without involvement from Montana Associated Students is a reflection of Martz's attitude toward education.
"I don't think that the governor has a very good attitude toward education in the state. I don't think that was very high on her priority list. If it was, we would have been involved in this process," he said.
Past governors and legislatures thought the students should be involved in the process, which is why the law exists, Geelan said.
"We're not sure if the present governor has the same perspective of wanting to hear from the people," he added.
Geelan said he believes the students deserve better representation. "I think the students could be represented better," he said.
The Associated Students will continue to try to work with Hur, Geelan said, and Hur has indicated he will do the same.
"The lawsuit is much bigger than Christian Hur. It's a separate issue," Geelan said.
Geelan also said he thinks the students were left out of the legislative process. Fourteen current and past university student body presidents sent letters to the governor and all 50 senators asking that Hur not be confirmed.
Student representatives had planned to attend the hearing where Hur's confirmation was considered and voted on, he said. The students had a previously scheduled luncheon in Helena on April 11, the Friday the vote was scheduled to be taken, Geelan said.
"For some reason early that week it was moved to Thursday so the students didn't get the opportunity to discuss that resolution with the senators," he said.
Geelan said the Associated Students waited until the legislative session was over and the state's appropriations bill was signed by Martz before filing the suit. The Associated Students were afraid university funding might be reduced as a result of filing the suit, he said.
Montana Associated Students is composed of the leaders of the student governments from the state colleges and universities. Geelan, who is serving his second year as president of Associated Students of Montana State University-Northern, was elected president of Montana Associated Students last year.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.