HELENA - Controversial student Regent Kala French is expected to be confirmed today for an 18-month term following a compromise worked out with Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Republican former Gov. Judy Martz appointed French, a Republican, last summer for a longer-than-normal three-year term. Schweitzer, a Democrat, opposed both the length of French's term and the fact that she was a paid lobbyist for the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association.
French has since resigned her paid position with the group, but she is still working for it at the 2005 Legislature as part of a 12-credit student internship. She also resigned as a lobbyist for the Montana University System.
The Democrat-controlled Senate must confirm all appointments to the Board of Regents, which oversees the University System.
Schweitzer initially said that if the Senate did not confirm French for the whole three-year term, he would appoint her to a six-month term to end this summer so she could serve a year, which he feels is more appropriate for student regents. But French came back with a counteroffer this week: Confirm me for the whole three years and I'll resign in December. That would have French serving an 18-month term on the board.
She had previously agreed to step down after two years.
Schweitzer met with French Wednesday afternoon and told her he would support her term, provided she resign, as agreed, after a year and a half. He said he would ask the Senate to confirm her.
"I appreciate the time you've been a regent," he told her. "You've demonstrated a great deal of class. We're all proud of you."
French, a member of the Montana State University College Republicans, has already given a letter to Schweitzer promising her December 2005 resignation.
French told Schweitzer she was glad he now supported her, in part because if she were to step down this summer, the students of Montana wouldn't have any representation on the board for a few months due to the lengthy process of choosing a slate of potential student regents.
"It's about what's best for the students," she said.
In an interview after their brief meeting, Schweitzer said he's glad the two reached middle ground.
"Then she has the pride of knowing she's been confirmed," he said.
French described the confirmation process as "worse than I ever thought it could be.”
"I've been humbled by the support, but embarrassed by the amount of time it's taken," she said in an interview after the meeting.
French isn't attending classes right now. In addition to her 12-credit internship with the Petroleum Marketers Association, she is also taking two honors credits for working on a research paper about ethanol. She also is taking six distance-learning credits through the University of Montana.
Prior to that, however, French was a traditional student and said she looks forward to returning to campus, perhaps as early as this summer.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan, of Bigfork, said he's pleased French will be confirmed, but concerned Schweitzer played such a big role in what he sees as a strictly legislative duty.
"We have a new governor who's never been elected to anything, so we had to go through this process of the governor's tremendous involvement,” he said. "But the end result is as it should be.”