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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Superintendent Candidate's Spouse Faces Drug Charges

Melissa Romano is running for state superintendent of public instruction.
Melissa Romano
Melissa Romano is running for state superintendent of public instruction.

 Montana Superintendent Candidate's Spouse Faces Drug Charges

A former Helena elementary school teacher and husband of Democratic state superintendent of public instruction candidate Melissa Romano is facing a felony drug charge. The charges were filed Tuesday. 

Court documents say a Montana Highway Patrol trooper found cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine in the car of former Helena school teacher Eric Lehman in late August.

Lehman resigned from his teaching job at Hawthorne Elementary on November 1, according to reporting from MTN News, which first reported the charges.

Melissa Romano wrote in a statement online: “It has been a very difficult time for our family, but we are proud of Eric for taking responsibility for his actions, seeking treatment and making amends.”

David Parker heads the Department of Political Science at Montana State University and says voters aren’t aware of the effects family problems have on campaigns.

"It’s the candidates who don’t run, it's the candidates that face a primary challenge as a result, it’s the donations that don’t happen," Parker said.

Parker says Romano’s campaign isn’t the only recent example of a candidate's spouse facing legal charges. When then-Montana House Speaker President Scott Sales, a Republican, first announced his campaign for state Senate in 2012 his wife pleaded guilty to an embezzlement scheme.

"And what’s interesting is that it was in the news but it certainly didn’t affect Scott Sales' election, you know, he won," Parker said. 

Parker says the same might not be true for Romano.

"What’s interesting about the situation with Melissa Romano however, is her husband is also a teacher, the nature of the job of being in charge of OPI being another issue of concern for voters. And certainly, I have to admit, the issue of gender. Women candidates tend to be scrutinized more heavily by voters. It’s not fair but it’s true," he said. 

Romano closed her online statement by thanking those who have supported her, saying, “Montanans have lived up to their reputation of taking care of their neighbors.”

Romano’s campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction is her second run for the office. She lost to Republican Elsie Arntzen in 2016, who she'll face again in 2020 if no other Democrats seek the primary nomination. 

Copyright 2019 Yellowstone Public Radio

Jess Sheldahl is a reporter for Yellowstone Public Radio and the host of Morning Edition as well as YPR's daily news podcast, The Worm.
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