Executive Reorganization: Building a State Government That Worked for People -- Tom Harrison, Diana Dowling & Sheena Wilson “In the Crucible of Change”

Evan Barrett, Executive Producer
Diana Dowling
Tom Harrison
Sheena Wilson

This interview/discussion is a segment of the series “In the Crucible of Change” - Montana’s Dramatic Period of Progressive Change [1965-1980] - From a Corporate Colony to a Citizens’ State and the Challenge of Keeping It That Way - An Evan Barrett Telefilm Series; Produced by: Highlands College/Montana Tech & Orphan Girl Productions (Evan Barrett); Executive Producers: Evan Barrett & John Garic; Host/Moderator: Evan Barrett; Produced in the studios of Helena Civic Television (HCTV) – Production unit: Kirsten Faubion, Stephen Maly, Dave Clarke, Kelsea Kimerly, Lauren Fredrickson, Jeanie McLean-Warden; Opening Voice Recording - Ian Hadley; Photos: Montana Historical Society Photo Archives - Tom Cook; Personal Photo Archives of Evan Barrett; Music: “Living Room Jam” & “Island Breeze” - Richard H. Kuschel - The Recording Center - Missoula, Montana; “Orphan Girl” used by permission of Headframe Spirits – John & Courtney McKee; Partially funded by Grants from Humanities Montana (an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), Montana History Foundation, and The Greater Montana Foundation (encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans).


One of the primary accomplishments of Governor Forrest Anderson in 1969-71 was the reorganization of the Executive Branch of Montana government, something that had been attempted six different times between 1919 and 1962 as state government had grown from twenty agencies to almost 200 uncontrolled boards, bureaus and commissions. The chaotic structure of the executive branch disempowered governors of both parties and empowered the private corporations and organizations that were the power structure of Montana. With remarkable political acumen, Governor Anderson figured out how to get that near impossible job done. Central to his efforts was the creation of an Executive Reorganization Commission, including eight legislators and the Governor, the adoption of a Constitutional Amendment that limited the executive branch to no more than twenty departments under the Governor, and the timely completion of a massive research effort to delineate the actual structure of the twenty departments. That story is told in this episode by three major players in the effort, all involved directly with the Executive Reorganization Commission: Tom Harrison, Diana Dowling and Sheena Wilson. Their recollections reflect an insider’s perspective of this significant accomplishment that helped change Montana “In the Crucible of Change.”

Tom Harrison is a former Republican State Representative and State Senator from Helena, who was a member of the Executive Reorganization Commission. As Majority Leader in the Montana House of Representatives in 1971, he was the primary sponsor of the House’s executive reorganization bill and helped shepherd the Senate’s version to passage. Harrison was the Republican candidate for Attorney General in 1976 after which he practiced private law for 3 more decades. He served in the Montana Army National Guard for almost 34 years, rising to the rank of Colonel in the position of Judge Advocate General. He was a founding Director of Federal Defenders of Montana (legal representation for indigents accused within the Federal Judicial System); appointed Chairman of the original Montana State Fund (workers' compensation insurance) by Gov. Stephens; served as President of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association, Helena Kiwanis Club and St. Peter's Community Hospital Foundation, as well as Chairman and Director of AAA MountainWest; and was a founder, first Chairman and Director of the Valley Bank of Helena for over 25 years.

Diana Dowling was an attorney for the Executive Reorganization Commission and helped draft the legislation that was passed. She also worked for Governor Forrest Anderson and for the 1972 Constitutional Convention where she prepared and directed publication of official explanation of the new Constitution that was mailed to all Montana voters. Diana was Executive Director of the Montana Bar Association and for 20 years held various legal positions with the Montana Legislative Council. For 12 years she was a commissioner on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and for 7 years was a member of Montana State Board of Bar Examiners. Diana was the first director of the Montana Lottery, an adjunct professor at both Carroll College and the UM Law School, and an administrative officer for Falcon Press Publishing Co. Diana is currently - and intends to continue being - a perpetual college student.

Sheena Wilson came fresh out of the University of Montana to become a Research Assistant for the Executive Reorganization Commission. Later she worked for seven years as a field representative in Idaho and Montana for the Mountain Plains Family Education Program, for thirteen years with Congressman Pat Williams as Executive Assistant in Washington and Field Assistant here in Montana, owned and managed a Helena restaurant for seven years, worked as Executive Assistant for State Auditor John Morrison and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Brian Schweitzer his full 8 years in the Governorship. Though currently “retired”, Sheena serves on the Montana Board of Investments, the Public Employees Retirement Board and the Capitol Complex Advisory Council and is a partner in a dry-land wheat farm in Teton County that was homesteaded by her great uncle.