by Roger Koopman, Montana Conservative Alliance
As you know, about a week ago I sent Matt Rosendale a memorandum in which I listed 20 examples of votes he had cast that — according to Montana Conservatives — generally advanced big government and the liberal agenda. This resulted in a surprisingly luke-warm TAB score of 54% for both sessions.
Many people have contacted me, asking how a candidate whose campaign rhetoric is so solidly conservative, could have a conservative voting record only slightly better that Corey Stapleton’s 51%. (Elsie Artzen’s average TAB score was 32%, Ryan Zinke’s 22%.)
As a service to conservative voters, I accepted the challenge to find out. I went straight to the source (Rosendale) to get the answers, and asked Matt to respond to me by no later than Friday, the 23rd.
To Matt’s great credit, he did better than just respond. He proposed a personal meeting with me, to candidly discuss his votes (and other matters) on a manly, face-to-face basis. That meeting happened on Friday afternoon, and lasted 3 hours. Matt was anxious to have a free and open discussion, and he did not hesitate to address every issue in a full and forthright manner. My observations and conclusions follow:
(Note: Space limitations won’t allow us to go though every vote individually, so I will try to summarize. If you have a specific question about a specific vote, contact me and I’ll try to give you Matt’s full response.)
(1) Of the 20 selected votes, there were approximately 7 where I would say Matt “stuck to his guns,” offered reasonable explanations (with which, on a “role of government” basis, I happen to disagree), and should similar bills come up again, he would no doubt vote the same way.
(2) Another 7 votes I would put in the general category of Matt genuinely re-thinking the issue, (in some cases, being conflicted or unsure when he cast his original vote.) There is at least some hope with these bills7 that Matt’s position might eventually change.
(3) Finally, there were 6 votes where Matt’s position was, in fact, opposite to what was recorded in the official record. In one case (HB 186 in 2011,) Matt had voted “no” on all third reading votes, but for some reason, TAB used the second reading tally on that one, where Matt’s vote was a “yes.” We’ll credit him on that one. In the other 5 cases, Matt admitted that he simply voted wrong (possibly pushing the wrong button by mistake – which happens more often than people realize.) In any case, he had the integrity to say, “Roger, on that one, I blew it.”
So in reality, is Matt Rosendale better than his 54% TAB score indicates? Is he philosophically more conservative?
I would start by saying that it is not the practice of Montana Conservatives to later adjust a legislator’s rating, if he gives us good enough explanations! Accordingly, we will not do so here.
On the other hand, as a purely personal opinion, I believe Rosendale has shown me enough from our meeting, and from his candid reactions to my concerns, to justify a score at least 10 points higher.
While his official TAB marks will remain 54, I now regard him as a 65 to 70 percenter. This, of course, would put him at the top of the heap, in my book, among the five GOP congressional candidates:
- Matt Rosendale — 65%
- Corey Stapleton — 51%
- Elsie Arntzen — 32%
- Ryan Zinke — 22%
- Drew Turiano — ??
Final Observation: Besides being more philosophically “attuned” than his record would at first indicate, Rosendale made a strong impression on me in another area, too. (Having run a personnel business for 35 years, I’m pretty darn good at reading people.) Matt struck me as a person with a backbone of steel, totally unafraid to stand tall (and if needs be, stand alone) for the principles of freedom in which he deeply believes. I can almost envision him in Congress as “freedom’s junk yard dog,” standing his ground, and being someone you absolutely would not want to mess with.
As a successful businessman, Matt also displays that pro-active, “can do,” entrepreneurial spirit, typical of all true leaders. He’s a high impact kind of guy, who tends to make things happen rather than watch things happen. I’m guessing this is precisely how he has functioned in the legislature, which perhaps helps explain why he has gathered so many endorsements from his legislative colleagues.
What about Stapleton?
It’s unfortunate that Corey Stapleton wasn’t given a similar opportunity to analyze and explain his TAB rating from 2007, and the poor votes that brought about his 51% score. The truth is, Montana Conservatives doesn’t even have the tally sheets from that session around any longer, so sending a memo like Matt’s to Corey was essentially impossible.
From my experience with Corey while myself a legislator, I would observe that many of the personal qualities noted above, re: Matt would apply to him also. Corey very quickly rose to leadership in the state senate, and carried that mantle with distinction. He had the reputation of being a man of integrity, was gracious, professional, and – when necessary – tough as nails. I’ve always admired those traits in Corey.
As I final observation about Corey Stapleton, I want to share with you parts of a brief note he sent to Rep. Tom McGillvray and me. Tom (a good friend) and I were having a friendly discourse over how Christians should, consistent with their faith and the Word of God, view the proper roles of government when dealing with certain so-called “social” or “moral” issues. In this instance, I was taking the more “libertarian” position, and ended up writing a short essay on the subject entitled, “Law, Liberty, and the Call of Christ.”
Corey had read our exchanges, and sent us these words of wisdom and encouragement:
“Outstanding discourse in your essays on life, liberty, and… We can steer the course of our debate on all issues when we eloquently parse issues on basic rights, self-evident truths and Scripture. Not only do we come to conclusions which are conservative, but we steer political bystanders and potentially regain long-lost values and balance in government and in the world in which we live.
Keep up the fight – work to include others, find ways for others less engaged to feel comfortable taking stands alongside you.” – Corey Stapleton
To me, that little note says a lot about Corey, and explains why I have always respected and admired him. In him and in Matt Rosendale, we have two conservatives who aren’t nearly as consistent as we would like – but two very good men.