On the surface, lawmakers in the 63rd Montana Legislature appear to be working to get along and to advance bills both parties can live with.
But below the surface, a simmering ideological battle is threatening to boil over onto the Senate floor.
The turmoil isn’t between Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, and their Democratic counterparts. The most heated political power struggle under way at the Capitol right now is between the conservative and moderate factions within the GOP caucus.
It’s a power struggle that has played out in local legislative primary races. It is often bantered about in the halls of the Capitol and in the watering holes around Helena.
Emails recently obtained by the Tribune pull back the curtain and give the public a glimpse of the seething intra-party acrimony that has infected the Legislature’s most powerful body.
The documents show key members of the Senate Republican caucus, including members of the current leadership team, began plotting their power play as early as September of last year.
According to one former state senator who was defeated in a three-way Republican primary last June, conservative members of the Senate caucus began identifying allies and enemies and painting political targets as early as July 2011, just a few months after the session adjourned.
The emails and documents — which feature a lengthy discussion between Senate President Jeff Essmann of Billings, Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich of Bozeman, Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge, Majority Whip Frederick “Eric” Moore of Miles City, Sen. Ed Walker of Billings and Sen. Dave Lewis of Helena — outline the strategy the conservative Republicans in the Senate caucus used to seize power from the 2011 leadership team in order to advance their policies in 2013.
The goal of the new conservative leadership team, as Essmann detailed in one email last September, was to advance a “long game strategy” that “involves changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court” so the high court “does not find a constitutional block to every conservative policy initiative and will give (Republicans) a better shot at redistricting in 10 years.”
“(Republican Redistricting Commissioner) Jon Bennion was able to draw a map with 63 safe Republican seats,” Essmann wrote on Sept. 13 in an email with the subject line “Agenda control.”
“If we can implement the long term strategy we will be in a position to actually elect a majority of conservatives in both bodies, adopt conservative legislation and have a court that will uphold it,” Essmann wrote.
- Essmann may provide ‘sharper edge’ as state Senate president (billingsgazette.com)
- Inexperienced legislators work to get up to speed for 2013 session (billingsgazette.com)
- Senate leadership fight turns friendly (krqe.com)
- Better Know a Legislator: Sen. Christine Kaufmann and Sen. Jeff Essmann (dgsmith.org)
- 2013 Montana Legislature: GOP lawmakers choose more conservative leaders (missoulian.com)
In light of this:
“the Republican platform included language rejecting not just same-sex marriage but also the watered-down alternative that many elected officials find more palatable: civil unions. The GOP platform committee also defeated a proposed amendment that said all Americans should be treated “equally under the law” as long as they’re not hurting anyone else.”
I present this:
- GOP Adds 3 More Anti-sexuality Planks To Platform (Bilerico)
- McDonnell Touts Anti-Gay, Anti-Abortion Planks at RNC (Talking Points Memo)
- Paul Ryan blasted by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello (ctvnews.ca)
…and they did it while thousands were celebrating Montana Gay Pride in Bozeman. From Talking Points Memo:
Montana’s Republican Party has dropped a longtime plank in its platform demanding that the state recognize a law banning homosexual activity.
The state GOP had officially declared that “We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal,” language that was initially included in 1997 after a state court struck down an existing ban on gay sex. All such state laws were invalidated in 2003 in the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas.
The issue was dropped from the “crime” section of the platform over the weekend at the Republican state convention after the party’s crime subcommittee decided to remove it.
“The folks on the crime committee told me they had a good debate about it,” he said. “I wasn’t there myself.”
But it wasn’t entirely clear why the plank was removed. At least some Republican legislators had openly decried its inclusion as an embarrassment. But Montana GOP Executive Director Bowen Greenwood told TPM that his only direction to party committee chairs was to gut extraneous items from the platform in order to make it shorter and more accessible.
Greenwood declined to offer any opinion on the move.
“I run a servant office,” he said. “I work for Republican officeholders and I represent the platform they choose. I don’t tell them what it ought to be.”
State Rep. Keith Regier (R), chairman of the state party crime committee, did not immediately return a request for comment.
I’ve been harping on this for years now, so whatever the reason, begrudgingly or otherwise, I’ll take it.
- Montana Republican Party Drops Call to Criminalize Homosexuality (towleroad.com)
- Marriage Equality And Montana (dgsmith.org)
- Montana GOP ends call to make homosexuality illegal (billingsgazette.com)
- Big GOP Donor Creates Super PAC for Gay Rights (newser.com)
From The Montana Democrats:
Multimillionaire Congressman Dennis Rehberg’s GOP primary opponent is raising some legitimate questions about the 11-year Congressman’s history of irresponsible government spending and power grabs.
According to the Lee Newspapers, Dennis Teske is frustrated that,
“Rehberg has voted for unconstitutional expansions of government power, like the Patriot Act in 2001, and plenty of government spending.”
Mr. Teske is right — Congressman Rehberg not only supported the Patriot Act twice, he co-sponsored his own controversial bill to give Homeland Security total “operational control” over the 100 northernmost miles of Montana. Named the number one earmarker in the Tea Party Caucus, Congressman Rehberg also voted to raise the debt ceiling 10 times.
“Congressman Rehberg has been of part the problem in Washington for 11 long years,” said Ted Dick, Executive Director of the Montana Democratic Party. “Montanans of all stripes are right to be upset with Congressman Rehberg’s support for the Patriot Act and his hypocrisy on the debt. Unfortunately, playing games with our freedoms and tax dollars is part of the culture in Washington, and Congressman Rehberg is too out of touch to put Montana first.”
HOMELAND SECURITY LAND GRAB: Congressman Rehberg is sponsoring a bill that “would give the secretary of homeland security total operational authority over all federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. international and maritime borders” [Great Falls Tribune, 9/21/11]. Critics said the bill was “exactly the kind of big government Montanans don’t tolerate” [Missoulian, 9/28/11].
REAL ID: In 2005 Congressman Rehberg praised a plan to force all Montanans to get government ID cards saying, “something states should have been doing all along” [Rehberg Press Release,5/6/05].
PATRIOT ACT: Congressman Rehberg has long supported the controversial Patriot Act, something Jon Tester has consistently opposed [HR 2975, Vote 386, 10/12/01; HR 3162, Vote 398, 10/24/01; HR 3199, Vote 414, 07/21/05; HR 3199, Vote 627, 12/14/05; S 2271, Vote 20, 03/07/06, HR 514, House Roll Call Vote 29, 2/10/11].
TEA PARTY’S TOP EARMARKER: According to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, Congressman Rehberg “takes the prize as the Tea Partier with his name on the most earmarks” [National Journal, 12/2/10].
10 VOTES TO RAISE THE DEBT CEILING:
- [S. 627, House Roll Call Vote #677, 7/29/2011]
- [HR 2560, House Roll Call Vote #606, 7/19/2011]
- [HCR376, Vote #158, 5/18/06]
- [HR 4297, Vote 67, 3/16/06; CQ, 3/16/06]
- [CRS, The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases, 1/10; HCR95, Vote #149, 214-211, 4/28/05]
- [HRS 683, Vote 280, 6/22/04; CQ Today, 6/23/04; AP, 6/22/04]
- [SCR 95, Vote #198, 5/19/04]
- [S 2986, Vote 536, 11/18/04; Washington Post, 11/19/04]
- [CRS, The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases, 1/10; HCR95, Vote #141, 216-211,4/11/03]
- [Congressional Research Service; S 2578, Vote 279, 06/27/02]
- Tester Meets with Constituents, Rehberg Continues Invisibility Plan (dgsma.wordpress.com)
- Rehberg Didn’t Listen As “Promised” (dgsmith.org)
- “Top 10 GOP Attacks On Women’s Health” (dgsmith.org)
Want some facts regarding women’s health issues and the GOP? The Montana Democrats break it down:
National political observers have coined the term “War on Women” to describe Republican attacks on women’s health, ranging from plans to block access to contraception to massive cuts to cancer screening services.
But here in Montana, Republicans’ War on Women is far from a recent development. In Congress, Dennis Rehberg has a long record irresponsible decisions on women’s health, and Republicans in the state legislature have been with him every step of the way, even going so far as to compare women to animals. (Yes, really.)
To bring the story home, here are Montana Republicans’ Top Ten most extreme attacks on women’s health:
10. In Washington, Congressman Rick Hill voted multiple times to gut funding for access to contraception [Roll Call 290, HR4101, July 16, 1998 + Roll Call 493, HR4104, October 7, 1998 + Roll Call 494, HR4104, October 7, 1998].
9. Congressman Rehberg has earned the support of Foster Fries, the billionaire donor who said women use “asprin between their knees” as birth control.
8. Republican legislators pushed a bill to force women to view ultrasounds. Women’s health advocates called the measure an “offensive intrusion.”
7. Congressman Rehberg has been exposed by women’s health advocates for not understanding how funding for women’s health services works .
5. State Rep. Keith Regier compared pregnant women to “preg-tested” cattle during a discussion about family planning.
4. In his first campaign for Congress, Hill attacked his opponent Nancy Keenan for being a single woman without children, though Keenan was unable to have children due to health reasons.
3. Congressman Rehberg wrote two bills in the last year that would have completely ended funding for Title X, which helps women access preventative care like cancer screenings.
2. When law student Sandra Fluke testified in opposition to plans to block access to contraception, state Rep. Krayon Kerns compared her to to a breeding dog.
1. Congressman Hill and Congressman Rehberg both want to let women pay higher health insurance premiums than men.
(For his part, Congressman Rehberg voted to overturn the law in the state legislature in the 1980s. [3r, HB 519, 2/18/87, House Final Status; and 1987 Women’s Lobbyist Fund News] Congressman Hill used to profit off insurance premiums as an insurance company executive.)