FLORENCE — As far as anyone can tell, Sharon Greef of Florence will make history when she takes her seat in the Montana House next year.
She follows in the footsteps of her husband, Ed, who served four terms representing House District 88.
When he had to relinquish his chair due to term limits, his wife put her name on the ballot and won last Tuesday.
That’s not something that’s happened before.
“There have been spouses who have been appointed to fill a term after someone died,” Sharon Greef said. “But, from what we’ve been told, this is something new.”
What won’t be new for Sharon Greef will be the experience of everything that goes into creating new law during the frantic 90-day session in Helena.
Greef has been at her husband’s side through all four terms, including serving as legislative staff over the past couple of sessions.
As her husband neared the end of his last session, people told her she shouldn’t let all that good experience go to waste.
“Legislators from both sides of the aisle, lobbyists and people from around home began to encourage me to run,” Greef said. “After awhile, I decided maybe I should.”
She admitted that running for office was not in her comfort zone.
“I jumped out of an airplane when I was 65 years old,” Greef said. “That definitely was out of my comfort zone. This rates right up there with that. … Next year, I’ll be 75. Maybe I’ll jump again.”
While politics wasn't on the couple’s radar screen a decade ago, the desire to serve others has always been very much part of their lives.
“As I look back at my number of birthdays and contemplate my life, I’ve found that life isn’t about what I can do for myself,” Ed Greef said. “What’s far more important is what I can do for others. When I decided to run, I was way out of my comfort zone too, but I saw it as a way to serve.”
Sharon Greef has seen the difference that her husband has been able to make both in Helena and back in own his community.
“This is a great way to serve people,” she said. “I’ve seen Ed be able to get answers for people after they’ve been unable to find a way to do that. He’ll call and say this is Representative Greef and he gets answers for them. That’s a nice way to be able to help people.
“I will say that when you put your own name on the ballot, it’s an entirely different experience,” she said. “I also know that being in Helena is an experience that I wished everyone could have. It’s a very unique situation that puts you in the center of a very high-powered, intense four months.
“You have the opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the state,” Sharon Greef said. “That’s probably the greatest blessing of being in this business.”
“It doesn’t take you long to see that our state truly has a citizen legislature,” Ed Greef said. “It’s not a legislature filled by professionals. After spending eight years there, I wasn’t able to find a hog trough in Helena. It just isn’t there.”
The Greefs know that Sharon will have an advantage over most first-time legislators.
“In most cases, legislators are more effective after their first term,” Ed Greef said. “It takes some time to really understand how the process works.”
Ed Greef plans to spend some time in Helena helping those first-time legislators get up to speed as quickly as they can.
“I can serve as a mentor, answer questions and help fill in the blanks,” he said.
His wife plans to tap into that knowledge as well.
“Ed has been a wonderful help through my campaign,” she said. “He’s helped me study issues, write letters to the newspapers and put together speeches."
He's also good at putting up and taking down election signs.
"She's pretty good at operating a power drill herself," Ed Greef said.
This year the roles will flip as Ed takes his seat up in the balcony to watch his wife debate and vote on issues important to Montana.
“I remember the first time that Ed walked into the House Chamber for his first session,” Sharon Greef said. “He had tears running down his face.
“I’ll probably do the same,” she said.
“We would have never imagined ourselves doing this 20 or 40 years ago,” Sharon Greef said. “It’s been such an honor … I want people to know that I want to be everyone’s representative. I’m not there to just represent Republicans. I’m there to represent everyone in my district.”
Beyond mentoring new legislators, Ed Greef is still a bit uncertain about what his new role will entail.
Sharon Greef smiled when she heard him say that.
“I love to bake,” she said, with a sideways look at her husband. “I know I always loved baking cookies that I could share with the other legislators. They seemed to really like that.”
Ed just shook his head.
“No Sharon,” he said, with his own smile. “I’m not going to bake.”