Big Sky Roundup

Superintendent Arntzen pleads guilty to ‘bump with bumper’

By: - July 18, 2023 5:32 pm

Elsie Arntzen, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, walks into Parental Rights Education Action meeting at Crosspoint Church in Missoula, Montana on November 1, 2021.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen pleaded guilty to a traffic violation this week for “following too closely” in an error she described in Helena Municipal Court as a “bump with the bumper.”

Arntzen paid the court $100, a $65 fine plus surcharges, because she “did not give enough space to stop,” according to the ticket and court minutes.

Lee Enterprises first reported the citation from June.

Last year, Arntzen pleaded no contest to illegally passing a school bus that had stopped to board children. The state’s top education official was fined $500 at the time with $400 suspended; she paid $135 altogether.

In court for the violation this year, Arntzen, a Republican, described the hearing as it concluded.

“This was a civics lesson,” she said in a recording provided by Helena Municipal Court.

When she confirmed with the court she was changing her plea to guilty, she said she had initially pleaded innocent because of the “very inexperienced driver” ahead of her.

She and her lawyer — who described the incident in court as a “strange circumstance” — explained that the driver’s mom said her son hadn’t ever seen a blinking yellow arrow.

“Instead of proceeding, he just flat stopped,” said her lawyer, Mark Parker, in the recording.

Arntzen declined to comment Tuesday through a spokesperson.

In court, Parker said the city attorney “insisted that this be pursued as a crime, and technically it might be,” but he didn’t think justice would be served without providing the court the full picture.

Judge Anne Peterson said she appreciated the additional information and would sentence Arntzen in accordance with the court’s usual fine in such cases.

“Unfortunately as drivers, we have to anticipate the unexpected,” Peterson said in the recording.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.