Yellowstone County appoints Hastings to fill Stromswold’s seat

Commission rejects former county commissioner, Billings City councilman

By: - January 24, 2023 10:22 am

Yellowstone County District Court Judge Ashley Harada swears in Rep. Naarah Hastings, R-Billings, during a meeting on Jan. 24, 2023 (Screenshot via Community 7 Television, Billings).

In the quest to appoint a new representative to fill Mallerie Stromswold’s seat in the Legislature, the Yellowstone County Commission did a lot in just a few minutes.

Naarah Hastings, a business owner, who recently moved her family from the State of Washington to escape the political environment there, will be traveling to Helena to represent House District 50, which covers a swath of central Billings.

Stromswold resigned her seat after she said personal stress, being a full-time college student and retribution from within the Republican Party led her to quit two weeks into the session.

The Yellowstone County Commission interviewed three candidates on Monday and made its decision after a brief discussion and vote on Tuesday morning during its normal meeting. The other two candidates were former county commissioner Denis Pitman and Billings attorney Anthony Nicastro.

All three county commissioners are Republican and since Stromswold was a Republican, her replacement, according to state law, must be a Republican.

“This is very, very tough,” said Commission Chairman John Ostlund. “I’ll tell you we’ve had a lot of input and I can say that Naarah and Anthony both had incredible support of the party.”

The Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee forwarded the three candidates. Notably absent from Ostlund’s comments was support of Pitman, who addressed the political tension between he and the commissioners on Monday.

The discussion began with Commissioner Don Jones nominating Nicastro for the slot.

That nomination failed because Ostlund and commissioner Mark Morse, who was voting by proxy, didn’t support Nicastro’s bid.

Ostlund then nominated Hastings which was Morse’s pick also. Jones voted in support and Hastings was unanimously elected on the second vote.

Yellowstone County District Court Judge Ashley Harada swore-in Hastings on the spot, and Jones said, “I think they’re expecting you today.”

An unburied hatchet

During the interviews on Monday, Pitman acknowledged the tension between the current commissioners and himself.

Pitman had been a county commissioner through 2021, when voters chose Morse in the GOP primary, after a contentious proposal to privatize the county-owned MetraPark, the largest entertainment venue in Billings. Pitman and Jones had led the effort toward privatization, while Ostlund remained critical.

Morse beat Pitman in the primary, only to have Pitman run an unsuccessful write-in campaign.

On Monday, Pitman touted his experience as a Billings city councilman and commissioner, and urged the leaders to send him to Helena.

“This is an opportunity for all of us to reconcile. Mark, you gave me a run for my money and I appreciate the dialogue that created,” Pitman said. “I concede that I need your support to get past this board, and the question is whether we can do what’s right for the citizens.”

But on Tuesday, commissioners highlighted the party’s support for the other two candidates, leaving out Pitman’s name, as well as making Pitman the only candidate not to receive a nomination or vote.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.