Scott Sales

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Scott Sales
President of the Montana Senate
Assumed office
January 2, 2017
Preceded byDebby Barrett
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 35th district
Assumed office
January 2013
Preceded byArt Wittich
Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 5, 2009
Preceded byGary Matthews
Succeeded byBob Bergren
Member of the Montana House of Representatives
from the 68th district
In office
January 2003 – January 2011
Personal details
Born (1960-07-26) July 26, 1960 (age 58)
Douglas, Wyoming, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
EducationBoise State University (BA)

Scott Sales (born July 26, 1960) is an American politician of the Republican Party. He is a state senator in the Montana Senate and also serves as the president of that body. He previously served in the Montana House of Representatives, including a term as minority leader and as speaker of the House. Sales is from Douglas.

Life and career before politics[edit]

Sales was born in Douglas, Wyoming, in 1960, and grew up near Boise, Idaho.[1] He graduated from Boise State University in 1982,[1] with a bachelor's degree in industrial business.[2] He then worked for Hewlett-Packard and then a technology start-up, Extended Systems. Sales moved to Bozeman, Montana, in 1990, when Extended Systems established an office in the city. When the company was acquired by a California firm in 2001, Sales sold his stock in the company and remained in Bozeman.[1] As of 2007, Sales raised a small number of cattle and grew about 60 acres of hay near Bozeman, although he did not "consider himself a farmer or rancher."[1] In 2012, his occupation was given in the Helena Independent Record as "private investor."[2] As of 2016, Sales was "more or less retired."[3]

Political career[edit]

Sales has been described as an "outspoken conservative"[4] and an "ultraconservative."[5] At the time Sales was selected by his Republican colleagues in 2006 to serve as speaker of the House, the Billings Gazette described him as "easily one of the body's most conservative members."[6] He is a supporter of the Tea Party movement, favors budget cuts and tax cuts, supports "right-to-work" legislation, and expanded gun rights.[2] Sales praised Sarah Palin in 2009, saying: "I think she should be part of the discourse and part of the process."[7] Sales criticized the Affordable Care Act and in the Montana Legislature voted against accepting the act's Medicaid expansion, stating, "There is no constitutional guarantee to healthcare."[8]

State House of Representatives[edit]

Sales spent three terms in the Montana House of Representatives; his district, State House District 68, covered the northern part of Gallatin County and most of Broadwater County.[9] In his first term, Sales introduced 10 pieces of legislation, only one of which became law.[1] Among the measures introduced by Sales as a freshman legislator was H.B. 281, a bill to eliminate the office of the commissioner of higher education; the bill died.[10]

Sales was elected speaker of the Montana House of Representatives in 2007.[3] At the time Sales became House speaker, he was relatively inexperienced; he assumed leadership of the chamber in just his second term and had never served as a committee chair.[1] As speaker, Sales clashed with Governor Brian Schweitzer, opposing his budget proposal.[1] Sales presided over a House controlled by Republicans by the thinnest of margins: during his term, there were 50 Republican representatives, one Constitution Party representative (Rick Jore) who was mostly allied with Republicans, and 49 Democratic representatives.[1][4] The highly contentious legislative session ended in disarray, as the Legislature failed to pass a state budget, as required by the state constitution. In the ensuing special session, the budget was approved after Governor Schweitzer negotiated a compromise with several moderate House Republicans,[11] effectively circumventing Sales.[4]

Sales was House minority leader in 2009,[7] during a session when the House was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.[11] During his opening speech in 2009, Sales read out eight quotations and attributed them to Abraham Lincoln, although Lincoln in fact never said them. Once the spurious origin of the quotations were brought to light, Sales said that he had "got them off the Internet" and had no intention to mislead. Sales raised a point of personal privilege in the House to apologize.[12]

Unsuccessful campaign for Gallatin County Commission[edit]

He was ineligible to run for a fourth House term in 2010 due to term limits.[9] He unsuccessfully ran for Gallatin County Commission in 2010, being defeated by incumbent commissioner Joe Skinner in the Republican primary election.[9] Sales' primary candidacy sparked an acrimonious and public rift among state Republicans: some House Republicans (such as Jesse O'Hara and Walt McNutt) strongly criticized Sales' leadership as speaker and minority leader, while other House Republicans (such as Tom McGillvray) defended Sales.[11]

Americans for Prosperity[edit]

Sales was formerly the Montana state director for Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-founded advocacy group.[13][14] In an op-ed, Sales criticized U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations to combat climate change (calling them a "power grab") and expressed strong opposition to a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.[15]

State Senate[edit]

In 2015, Sales introduced legislation, which he co-drafted the year before, to raise the speed limit on highways such as Interstate 94 to 80 mph.[16][17][18]

Also in 2015, Sales voted against privacy legislation introduced by Senator Daniel Zolnikov to restrict the state government's digital collection and use of individuals' data. The bills specifically would have prohibited the state or local governments from using automatic license-plate readers and would have required authorities to obtain a search warrants in order to obtain electronic communications held on electronic devices or by Internet service providers. Sales stated that the bill would "encumber law enforcement from some activities that I don't think are abusive at this time" and were "solutions to problems that don't exist in Montana at this point."[19]

State Senate president[edit]

In November 2016, Sales won an internal election among state Senate Republicans to be the president of the Montana Senate in the 2017 election. His opponent was Senator Eric Moore of Miles City. Although the vote was by secret ballot, it was described as a close case. He assumed office in January 2017.[3] Sales broke with tradition in January 2017 by deciding to not sit with the state House in the customary beginning-of-session joint sitting to hear speeches from members of Montana's congressional delegation, the chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, and a Native American leader.[20] Sales' choice to break from tradition was publicly criticized by former State Senate president Jon Tester.[21][22]

After Republican U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke was appointed U.S. Secretary of the Interior in 2017, Sales considered running for the open seat in the special election to fill the vacancy, but decided not to run.[23][24] During his brief exploration of a candidacy, Sales said that if elected he would take a hard line on illegal immigration and would be "certainly more fiscally conservative than Ryan Zinke," saying that he would not vote for continuing resolutions as Zinke did.[25]

As Senate president, Sales took the leading role in supporting legislation to give state lawmakers the right to carry concealed firearms in the state Capitol and on other state property and allowing restaurant customers to carry concealed firearms to restaurants. Both bills were passed by the Senate on mostly party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.[26]

As Senate president, Sales opposed legislation to fund infrastructure projects in Montana, saying that he generally opposed bond issues for state building projects.[27]

In March 2017, Sales said that he generally support privatizing the Montana State Fund (a semi-public entity that is the state's largest provider of workers' compensation insurance), but also said that he would consider supporting legislation to eliminate the fund entirely.[28]

In 2017, Sales opposed legislation to require motorists to maintain a distance of 3 feet from bicyclists at 35 mph or less, and 5 feet at faster speeds. In debate, Sales harshly attacked cyclists, calling them "some of the most self-centered, rude people navigating on the highways and county roads I’ve seen" and saying that there were "too many of them" in Montana.[29][30] Sales' remarks prompted Derek Bouchard-Hall, the president and CEO of USA Cycling, to write an open letter to Sales expressing disappointment.[31]

Ethics complaint and settlement[edit]

In 2014, a political practice complaint against Sales was filed in Montana state court by the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, who "alleged illegal coordination with a pro-industry, anti-environmental group that used unreported 'dark money' to influence Montana elections."[32] In late December 2014, Sales negotiated a settlement with COPP, in which he agreed to pay a $500 fine and expressed "regret" for "lack of judgment regarding my association with, and campaign use of," the group.[32][33] In 2017, Sales and other Republican leaders in the state legislature sought to withhold the salary of Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl, who had pursued the case against Sales; the maneuver came "amid a legal dispute over the commissioner's term of office."[34]

Electoral history[edit]

  • 2016 General Election, SD 34
    • Scott Sales (R) (unopposed)
  • 2012 General Election, SD 34
    • Scott Sales (R) 66%
    • Michael Comstock (D) 36%
  • 2008 General Election, HD 68
    • Scott Sales (R) 61%
    • Robert Brastrup (D) 39%
  • 2006 General Election, HD 68
    • Scott Sales (R) 60%
    • Laura Obert (D) 40%
  • 2004 General Election, HD 68
    • Scott Sales (R) 64.7%
    • David Tyler (D) 35.3%
  • 2002 General Election, HD 27
    • Scott Sales (R) 54%
    • Art Carlson (D) 46%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Jennifer McKee, Bozeman lawmaker takes helm as House speaker, Independent Record (January 5, 2007).
  2. ^ a b c Alana Listoe, 3-way GOP primary race for SD 34 seat, Independent Record (May 17, 2012).
  3. ^ a b c Charles S. Johnson, Bozeman's Scott Sales wins Montana Senate presidency, Bozeman Daily Chronicle (November 14, 2016).
  4. ^ a b c Mike Dennison & Charles S. Johnson, Budget deal was ironed out at weekend retreat, Independent Record (May 11, 2007).
  5. ^ John Adams, Who'll stop the pain? Republicans look for a leader in Helena, Missoula Independent (June 28, 2007).
  6. ^ Mike Dennison, House Republicans to set conservative course: Permanent property-tax reductions, abortion proposals on agenda, Billings Gazette (December 2, 2006).
  7. ^ a b Testa, Dan (September 29, 2009). "Scott Sales on Palin's 'Curb Appeal'". Flathead Beacon. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  8. ^ David Montero, These Republicans hate Obamacare, but aren't ready to give it up just yet, Los Angeles Times (January 17, 2017).
  9. ^ a b c Michael Tucker Scott Sales seeking legislative seat, Belgrade News (January 10, 2012).
  10. ^ A final look at work of 2003 Legislature, Independent Record (April 30, 2003).
  11. ^ a b c Jennifer McKee, Rift seen in Belgrade newspaper's letters to the editor, Missoulian (June 4, 2010).
  12. ^ Charles S. Johnson, Sales' Lincoln quotes never said by Lincoln, Missoulian (January 9, 2009), also republished through the Lee News Service at The Pantagraph.
  13. ^ Sales says he'll run for state Senate, despite wife's embezzlement plea, Associated Press (February 9, 2012).
  14. ^ Larry Mayer, Scott Sales, regional director for Americans for Prosperity, Billings Gazette (October 20, 2011).
  15. ^ Scott Sales & Phil Kerpen, Will Tester let EPA slam Montana?, Montana Standard (March 23, 2011).
  16. ^ Jerry Huerta, Montana Lawmakers Work to Raise Speed Limit, KFYR-TV (December 8, 2014).
  17. ^ Richard Read, Montana Mulls 85 MPH Speed Limit, High Gear Media (December 4, 2014).
  18. ^ Alison Noon, Montana Senate hears 80 mph speed limit proposal, Associated Press (March 5, 2015).
  19. ^ Mike Dennison, Digital privacy bills dead: 'Solutions to problems that don’t exist in Montana at this point', Billings Gazette (March 29, 2015).
  20. ^ Charles S. Johnson, Montana Senate won't join House in hearing elected officials speak, Bozeman Daily Chronicle (January 11, 2017).
  21. ^ "Tester asks legislators, members of Congress to find common ground," Montana Standard (January 17, 2017).
  22. ^ Charles S. Johnson, Tester unveils Employ Montana plan, Bozeman Daily Chronicle (January 16, 2017).
  23. ^ Jon Arneson, Montana Senate President Scott Sales Withdraws From Possible Congressional Special Election, Northern Broadcasting System (February 16, 2017).
  24. ^ Sales decides against run for Congress, Great Falls Tribune (February 21, 2017).
  25. ^ Nate Hegyi, Four Republicans Now In The Running For Zinke's House Seat, Montana Public Radio (December 20, 2016).
  26. ^ Bobby Caina Calvan, Montana Senate endorses concealed weapons bills, Associated Press (March 28, 2017).
  27. ^ Corin Cates-Carney, Fight Over Infrastructure Takes Shape at the Montana Legislature, Montana Public Radio (January 3, 2017).
  28. ^ Hayme Fraser, Two Senate Republicans seek to eliminate or privatize Montana State Fund, Ravalli Republic (March 22, 2017).
  29. ^ Hollu K. Michels, Senate president calls cyclists 'rude,' 'self-centered' before safety bill dies, Independent Record (March 13, 2017).
  30. ^ Freddy Monares, Senate Kills Cyclist Bill: 'They Think They Own The Highway', UM Legislative News Service (March 13, 2017).
  31. ^ An Open Letter To Montana State Senate President Scott Sales, USA Cycling (March 24, 2017).
  32. ^ a b Troy Carter, GOP state Sen. Scott Sales regrets involvement with 'dark money' group, settles court case, Bozeman Daily Chronicle (December 22, 2014).
  33. ^ Commissioner of Political Practices for the State of Montana v. Scott Sales, Montana First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County (December 19, 2014).
  34. ^ Matt Volz, Republican Lawmakers Try to Cut Off Campaign Regulator's Pay, Associated Press (January 12, 2017).
Political offices
Preceded by
Gary Matthews
Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Bob Bergren
Preceded by
Debby Barrett
President of the Montana Senate