By HDN Editorial Board
Arguably the last of the great Montana politicians is now gone.
Francis Bardanouve of Harlem died unexpectedly Sunday after a lifetime of service to others. He was a robust 84.
Bardanouve spent his life working on his ranch, in his community and for the state. He served in the Montana Legislature for 35 years, 20 of them as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
He didn't seek greater glory than serving his constituents.
Dorothy Bradley, who served in the state House with Bardanouve, said Bardanouve had every opportunity to take the limelight but didn't.
"We used to beg him to run for leadership positions," she said. " He knew where the power was and he had it."
Bardanouve knew how the legislative process worked, and was involved in it all. He was known for quietly slipping into meetings of other committees and observing from the back of the room.
Bardenouve left the Legislature after the 1993 session, but was still involved. He recently attended a meeting of the Prison Ranch Committee, which he helped create.
Sen. Greg Jergeson said Bardanouve always had a special interest in institutions, including prisons. He was still involved in the prison ranch program to make sure the program was working and helping rehabilitate prisoners who could be helped.
Bardanouve was also instrumental in reforming Montana's mental health institutions.
"Before he took an interest in it people were placed in institutions and (were) kind of forgotten ," Jergeson said. "Francis' attention on the situation at the institutions kind of shined the public spotlight on the issue."
Other efforts Bardanouve sponsored were the state Board of Investments and the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office. He fought for money for the arts and libraries, and he pushed for the reduction of toxic emissions from coal-burning power plants.
Pat Williams, a former state and U.S. representative, pointed out that Bardanouve helped improve the tax policies of the state and the budget system, helping all Montanans, although they might not realize it.
Former state Sen. Dorothy Eck said Bardanouve worked to improve the entire function of the Legislature.
"He was really committed to making the legislative process work," she said.
Bardanouve's honor, honesty and hard work were recognized and appreciated for decades. He was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Montana State University-Bozeman in 1996. Recently, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg sponsored a bill to rename the Harlem post office the Francis Bardanouve U.S. Post Office Building, which passed the U.S. House and is now in committee in the U.S. Senate.
Admiration and respect for Bardanouve was obvious on both sides of the political aisle.
Stan Stephens served as both a Republican state senator and a Republican governor while Bardanouve was a legislator. "Francis was a good friend and he worked very hard for Montana," Stephens said. "I'm pleased to have counted him as a good friend."
And we are blessed that this unassuming man was a great state leader.