UPDATED: House Judiciary secretary quits, joins as staff to Zephyr; committee to meet Monday

By: - April 28, 2023 12:16 pm

The House Judiciary Committee secretary quit and sits in solidarity with Rep. Zephyr. (Nicole Girten/The Daily Montanan)

House Judiciary Committee Clerk Jamie Van Valkenburg quit her job Friday morning to join Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, as her staffer, Van Valkenburg told the Daily Montanan.

“Representatives Zephyr called me last night saying ‘Hey, I have this opportunity for you, I would love to have you specifically as part of my staff,’” said Van Valkenburg.

She said she took the night to think about it and made the decision at 6 a.m., telling her boss, House Chief Clerk Carolyn Tschida. She said Tschida told her she did a good job and gave her a positive send off.

The committee is one of two Zephyr served on prior to her censure by House Republicans that was previously slated to end its work before the end of the session, a move Democrats critiqued. House Judiciary Committee Chair Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, told the Daily Montanan on Thursday she didn’t have anything to schedule and didn’t have any plans.

But Friday, Regier announced on the House floor the committee would be meeting Monday at 11 a.m.

“I think what you saw yesterday is we called them out,” Zephyr said. “We’re doing what we have done since the beginning, which is hold them accountable.”

“I will be there Monday morning in Judiciary. I’ll be ready to speak and ask questions on behalf of my constituents,” Zephyr said.

When asked about the now-scheduled meeting, Regier said she didn’t know where the idea the committee wasn’t meeting came from..

Zephyr was censured Wednesday after a protest broke out in the gallery Monday in support of her advocacy for the transgender community and Zephyr amplified the voices of her supporters instead of quieting them. Monday was the third consecutive time the speaker did not recognize her on the floor. Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, argued she shouldn’t have told Republicans they should be ashamed of themselves in voting against gender-affirming care.

This session, House Judiciary also saw bills that drew attention and criticism, like the bill to ban drag performances in public spaces, a bill defining sex in Montana law that would cut transgender and nonbinary people out of legal code, and House Speaker Regier’s bill restricting access to surgical abortion, among others.

Van Valkenburg said some hearings were hard to sit through.

“It was a struggle,” Van Valkenburg said. “It’s hard to just sit there and listen to everything that’s going on. I would have my little Teams chat up constantly during meetings and just talk to other people to try to get my head out of the room and not pay attention as much as I needed to.”

She said she had not yet spoken with House Judiciary Chair Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, about the move, but said Regier gave her a very nice parting gift when the committee ended its work– a mug that said House Judiciary 2023– and Van Valkenburg sent her a thank you note.

Van Valkenburg said she will not go anywhere Zephyr has been prohibited, which includes the House floor, anteroom and gallery.

“My new role entails a lot of making sure this bench doesn’t move,” Van Valkenburg said. “I will be juggling some of the calls. I will be guiding some of the social networking going on and making sure she doesn’t overschedule herself and that she’s taken care of.

Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said that Van Valkenburg’s role is separate from state sponsored caucus staff and involves no public funding.

“I’m just really grateful to have someone who can help me try to do the work that I was sent here to do,” Zephyr said.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.