HELENA — Want to run for a state office? Take a test or forget it.
That's the basis for a proposal by Rep. Roger Koopman, who believes candidates for certain offices should have to demonstrate their knowledge of the Montana and U.S. constitutions before entering the race.
Those wanting to be lawmakers and seeking other elected offices should have a working knowledge of the "operating manuals" for the government where they want to work, the Bozeman Republican said Wednesday in explaining his bill to the House State Administration Committee.
"This will create a significant incentive to go back to those documents … to become better equipped to do our job as legislators," he said. "This is not a bill to point out what we don't know; it's a bill to encourage us to know more."
Under his plan, a person would not be able to file as a candidate for office until they took a 50-question, multiple-choice exam. Half the questions would deal with the U.S. Constitution and half would involve the Montana Constitution.
The test would have no passing or failing grades and someone scoring poorly would not be prevented from running for office. Instead, the scores would be made public for voters to see.
Koopman insisted the testing requirement is not meant to embarrass anyone, but to inspire those wanting to hold public office to become well-versed in the constitutions.
The exam would be crafted by three "constitutional scholars," who would be selected by the two major political parties and by a committee representing all other parties in the state. County election officials would administer the test and the secretary of state's office would score them.
The requirement would apply to any potential candidates for state-level offices and others that involve voting in more than one county. The list would include governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, state auditor, district judges and Public Service Commission seats.
Committee members raised questions about whether the testing mandate would discourage some people from running for office, and wondered if public reaction to low test scores would prevent otherwise-qualified candidates from getting elected.
Mark Simonich, chief policy adviser for Secretary of State Brad Johnson, had concerns over logistics. A timetable is needed to ensure that people will have time to take the test and have it scored before the two-month filing period ends each election year, he said.
Simonich estimated that as many as 300 people would have to be tested every election cycle, and the fee for taking the exam would be $50-$100.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.
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