Former Montana Department of Labor & Industry commissioner Laurie Esau in a July 9, 2023 mugshot taken following her arrest for an alleged DUI offense.
Former Montana Department of Labor & Industry commissioner Laurie Esau in a July 9, 2023 mugshot taken following her arrest for an alleged DUI offense. Credit: Courtesy Missoula County

Montana Department of Labor & Industry Commissioner Laurie Esau resigned Monday, a day after she was arrested in Missoula on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence.

Esau, 59, was named by Gov. Greg Gianforte to lead the state’s labor department following his election in 2020. She was previously the executive director of the Minnesota House Republican Caucus and chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minnesota.

Her arrest and resignation were first reported by the Lee newspapers’ Montana State News Bureau. 

Missoula Municipal Court records say Esau was cited Sunday with two misdemeanor charges, obstructing a peace officer and driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. 

According to an officer’s statement included in the court filings, Esau was apprehended at 4 p.m., after her vehicle, a 2021 Mercedes Benz, was involved in a reported hit-and-run collision at South Third Street West and Reserve Street in Missoula. The officer wrote they located Esau’s vehicle as she drove home and contacted her after she parked in front of her residence in Orchard Homes, where they noted signs of alcohol impairment — a “blank, dull state, belligerent attitude, heavily slurred speech and significant odor of alcoholic beverage.”

Esau was uncooperative, the officer also wrote, failing to follow directions, grasping a fence and attempting to walk through a gate into her yard, causing the officer to place her in handcuffs, the statement said

The officer’s statement also says Esau refused to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Missoula County jail records indicate that Esau was booked and released Sunday evening. Her bail of $885 was posted by Paul Tiede, whom Esau described as her partner in a 2020 questionnaire. She was set to make an initial court appearance Monday.

“Over the last two and a half years, it’s been my privilege to serve Montana citizens,” Esau wrote in a brief resignation letter provided to MTFP by the governor’s office. “Under your leadership, Montana’s Department of Labor & Industry has improved customer service, modernized our IT systems, revamped our organizational structure and found efficiencies to make the most out of every taxpayer dollar.”

The state labor department administers a number of programs intended to support Montana workers and businesses, including professional licenses, state building permits and the state’s unemployment insurance program. It is one of 12 cabinet-level agencies in state government.

The state’s employee pay dashboard listed Esau’s compensation at $62.50 an hour, equivalent to $130,000 a year.

Department chief of staff John Elizandro will replace Esau on an acting basis, a spokesperson for Gianforte said Monday. 

Alex Sakariassen contributed reporting.


Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed.

Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.