By Tim Leeds
People filled the meeting room in the Chinook Motor Inn on Sunday, including people whose combined government experience was in the hundreds of years, to honor and poke some fun at Matt McCann and Greg Jergeson.
The event was a roast of the two Montana legislators sponsored by the Blaine County Democratic Party. Rep. McCann, D-Harlem, and Sen. Jergeson, D-Chinook, are leaving office the end of next year due to term limits. Jergeson has served 22 years as a senator; McCann has served eight years in the state House.
In between the jokes, speakers repeatedly bemoaned the loss of experienced legislators because of term limits.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, commended Jergeson's extensive knowledge of details of Senate procedures. He said some Republicans won't miss that ability to make sure the rules are followed.
"No longer will Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas shake in his shoes when you leave the rule book open on your desk," he told Jergeson.
The guest list drew from across the state and from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Frances Bardanouve, who was a Democratic representative from Harlem for 36 years, the longest tenure of any Montana legislator, was the master of ceremonies.
The listed roasters for McCann were former Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, and Rep. Monica Lindeen, D-Billings. Roasting Jergeson were State Auditor John Morrison, Attorney General Mike McGrath, both Democrats, Tester and Sen. Steve Doherty, D-Great Falls, and Secretary of State Bob Brown, a Republican.
Others, including current and former legislators from both parties, made surprise speeches and read letters, including notes from Gov. Judy Martz, a Republican, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
Musgrove teased McCann about his conservative record on some issues. He said the Republicans might miss McCann's voting record more than the Democrats.
In his rebuttal, McCann said he tried to vote as his conscience, not his party, dictated.
"I was a damn poor Democrat and I wasn't a very good Republican," he said.
Much was made of the longstanding tradition of Democratic strength in Blaine County. Peck said Bardanouve asked him to take McCann "under his wing" when McCann took Bardanouve's place in the Legislature. He said it was hard for him to understand how he, at 5 foot 5, could take 6-foot-4 McCann under his wing.
Musgrove, who was elected to Peck's seat in 2000 when Peck was ousted by term limits, said McCann did the same for him, showing him how to operate in the House.
Former Rep. Ernest Bergsagel, a Republican from Malta, commented on Blaine County's long tradition of producing powerful Democratic legislators. He said he had too much respect for McCann and Jergeson to roast them. But, he said, "I hope you have the opportunity to send some Republicans back next time."
Bardanouve said that when Jergeson was serving as a page in the House in 1971, Jergeson approached him to say he was interested in running for the Legislature, as a representative. Jergeson lived in Bardanouve's district.
"He wanted me to get the hell out of the House" and Bardanouve could run for the Senate as a consolation prize, Bardanouve said. He persuaded Jergeson that it might be better for Jergeson to run for the Senate instead.
The roasters poked some fun at each other as well as McCann and Jergeson. Attorney General McGrath said he had been researching for some time to find things to say about Jergeson, including at the Montana Historical Society, but he and his staff couldn't find anything.
"He kept below the radar," McGrath said. "This is the most boring guy in Montana."
Bardanouve jokingly questioned whether that was a comment about Jergeson or about McGrath's office.
"Is he an angel that walks on water," Bardanouve asked, "or do you have the most inefficient criminal investigators on the face of the Earth?"
Jergeson ended the roast with his rebuttal. He poked fun at the roasters, including Secretary of State Brown, who was elected to the Senate in 1974, the same year as Jergeson.
Jergeson gave Brown some Harry Potter magical items in case Brown, as chief election officer for the state, ever needs to judge a close election like the 2000 presidential election in Florida. The wand he gave him could help divine voters' intent, he said.
Saying the Jergeson family never throws anything away, the notably bald senator also gave Brown a toupee he said was made from his own hair.
Jergeson closed on a serious note.
"It is the citizens who are sovereign," not the government, he said. "We're really not stepping down. We're stepping back into our role as citizens."