(Originally published in the May 2013 issue of The National Notary magazine)
When Linda McCulloch was elected Montana’s first woman Secretary of State in 2008, she quickly recognized the critical role Notaries play in protecting businesses and the public from fraud, and she took strong and immediate action to ensure that Montana Notaries had the resources and protection they need to perform their job with confidence and accuracy.
In her first year in office, she successfully spearheaded important legislation that required new and certain renewing Notaries to complete an education course. The same bill also included a vital mandate for all Montana Notaries to maintain a record of their notarizations.
She accomplished this long before the “robo-signing” crisis made national headlines and focused attention on the consequences of improper notarization practices.
“Notaries Public are essential to businesses and to individuals because they ensure that the right person is signing the document and has the willingness, the capability and the authority to do so,” McCulloch said in a recent interview with The National Notary. “They are a critical line of defense against fraud, so it is critical that they receive proper training and guidance on performing notarial acts.”
But the battle was not over. In 2011, when a serious effort was made to repeal the journal requirement, McCulloch rose to the occasion and convinced Governor Brian Schweitzer to veto the measure.
Because of her tireless efforts to champion Notary recordkeeping and education requirements, and her unswerving commitment to protecting the strength and professionalism of the Notary Public office, the National Notary Association is proud to have selected Montana Secretary of State McCulloch as recipient of the NNA’s March Fong Eu Achievement award, which was presented during the NNA 2013 Conference in Austin, Texas, June 2-5.
The prestigious award is granted each year to an individual who has illustrated a commitment to improving the standards, image, and effectiveness of the United States Notary Public office — all of which McCulloch has accomplished in her first term as Secretary of State.
“Secretary McCulloch’s tireless advocacy for the issues of education and recordkeeping has profoundly strengthened the Notary office and the ability of Notaries to protect our most important transactions,” said NNA President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas A. Heymann. “Her visionary leadership set an example that extends far beyond the Montana state line.”
“It’s an honor to accept an award named for March Fong Eu, a Secretary of State who was a champion for Notaries,” said McCulloch. “Like her, I brought an interest in Notaries with me to the job. I remain committed to maintaining public trust in Notaries and to ensuring that all notarial acts are fulfilled responsibly and ethically. I will be accepting this award on behalf of the committed staff in the Secretary of State’s Office, and the more than 20,000 Notaries in Montana.”
The Award is named for its first recipient — former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu — whose accomplishments in service to Notaries set a high standard by which to measure all subsequent nominees for the honor. Since 1979, the NNA Achievement Award honorees have included secretaries of state, legislators, governors, state Notary program administrators, attorneys general and judges.
For McCulloch, fighting to provide education for her state’s Notaries is a natural extension of a career dedicated to public service. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from the University of Montana, she spent nearly 20 years serving as the librarian at an elementary school in Bonner, Montana.
In 1994, she was elected to the first of three terms in the state House of Representatives, and in 2000 she was voted in as Superintendent of Public Instruction, holding that office for eight years. During that time, she worked to improve school funding, fought to institute a state-wide kindergarten program and advanced rural education advocacy regarding the Federal “No Child Left Behind” Act.
McCulloch’s commitment to Notary education did not end with the legislation. She launched the first-ever Montana Notary Public Conference in the summer of 2012, sending an important message that lifelong learning is an essential element of public service and promoting the public welfare.
Beyond her commitment to education, the battle to implement and preserve the journal requirement exemplifies her leadership.
“Many Notaries are required to become Notaries by their employers, and a properly maintained journal can provide proof to any court that the notarization was done correctly and that the person was physically in the presence of the Notary,” said McCulloch. “A journal protects clients and the Notaries’ employers by providing evidence of what occurred.”
Journal entries also often provide critical evidence to law enforcement officials investigating identity fraud and imposture, especially in connection with fraudulent real estate transactions.
Having worked diligently to pass her state’s journal requirement, McCulloch worked even harder to block legislation repealing it — a move that brought national attention to the importance of the Notary journal and its value in protecting the public.
“Repealing the journal requirement would have significantly increased the potential for fraud and identity theft and seriously undermined the importance and value of notarizations as a fundamental component of credible business transactions,” said McCulloch.
McCulloch’s dedication to public service was inspired by many people, but she points to one particularly influential role model: fellow Montanan Jeanette Rankin, who was the first woman ever elected to Congress.
“While our views differ on some issues, she was a strong advocate for women’s rights and wasn’t afraid to pave her own path in a male-dominated political system,” McCulloch said.
Drawing on that inspiration, McCulloch has been an enthusiastic and energetic advocate for all Montanans. From working to help small Montana businesses weather tough economic times, to strategizing new ways to ensure fair and accurate elections in her state, McCulloch has worked to uphold ethical values while finding new ways to modernize, protect, and improve services to voters, businesses and governmental agencies.
For her unwavering focus on improving Notary practices and consumer protection in Montana and for setting a model for public officials in other states to emulate, the NNA is proud to hold her up as an example for public officials nationwide.