by Roger Koopman
Talk to any Democratic politician about 10 different issues. Then count how many times they will propose a governmental solution to the problem, versus how many times they express the belief that people, left alone and free, will come up with better solutions than the “programs” devised by meddling politicians.
The final count will be: programs 10, freedom 0. That’s because, like their statist predecessors from ages past, today’s liberal politicians wear blinders that do not allow them to look ahead with the eyes of freedom. They fundamentally distrust freedom, feel threatened by all “unplanned” human action, view government as the source of all wisdom, and government spending as the answer to all problems.
Yet there is another political group that thinks exactly the same way. They have recently dubbed themselves “Responsible Republicans” (as opposed to all other Republicans, who are evidently “irresponsible”,) and on most key issues, they are indistinguishable from their soul mates on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Because they run as Republicans and end up representing many of the state’s most Republican legislative districts, these RRs have the net effect of delivering a working majority to the liberal Democrats in every session of the legislature. Conservatives are on the short end of every stick. Taxes rise, government grows, freedom diminishes, and the GOP, being the “majority party,” gets the blame.
During my second term in the legislature (’07), I witnessed firsthand, the absolute betrayal of the Republican Caucus by these “Responsible Republican” types. Led by ringleader Llew Jones, they conspired with Schweitzer and the Democrats at a cabin in the woods, to pass a huge budget increase opposed by mainstream Republicans and the GOP leadership. They even hatched a plan to join with the Dems in ousting Republican House Speaker Scott Sales. Such was their definition of “responsible.”
For many, it’s hard to believe that Republicans can be big government liberals. I mean, how many Montana Democrats are small government conservatives? Not a one. But despite the RRs many attempts to convince us that voting like a Democrat will make you a good Republican, rank and file Republicans aren’t buying it. What they are seeing are Republican office holders who have decoupled from the core values of their own party, and have fully adopted the Democratic approach to government.
I can still recall my conversations with then fellow House member Llew Jones, as I tried to help him grasp the dynamic — and miraculous — nature of a free society. Llew just couldn’t get it, because his entire perspective was elitist and top-down. His faith was in the imposition of political will, not the free exercise of human initiative and liberty.
Jones is what I call “government-minded, liberty-blinded.” Once we understand that he and his “Responsible Republican” followers are entirely caught up in this progressive mindset, we’ll begin to make sense out of the conflict that currently rages within the Republican Party.
So in 2007, Montana Conservatives decided to create a broad-based, objective analysis of legislative voting records through a rating system later to be known as Taxpayer’s Advisory Bulletin (TAB). TAB’s approach was as unique as it was simple. To establish the state’s most reliable conservative index, TAB takes the 150 votes that best demonstrate each legislator’s adherence to small government principles. TAB has no issue-specific bias, but instead, creates a rating system that turns entirely on a more government/less government axis.
Each session, TAB’s analysis dramatically confirms that while Democratic legislators are concentrated on the big government end of the scale, Republicans are all over the place, with the “Responsible Republicans” comfortably sleeping in the same bed with the Democrats, sporting conservative scores well under 20%.
Predictably, Jones has loudly protested these results, accusing TAB of “cherry picking” (whatever that means,) while concocting his own rating system to make the “Responsibles” look like Republicans – based only on those bills our liberal governor was willing to sign! It seems Sen. Jones has not only picked the cherries, he’s sorted them, pitted them and baked them into a bitter Big Government Pie.
The problem with all this jousting and game-playing is that it belies the seriousness of the situation. Freedom is not a game. It is not a bargaining chip to procure political power. Men bled and died on a hundred battlefields so we might possess what we have now come to esteem so lightly. So Llew Jones and Jesse O’Hara can play their political games, dance merrily on the graves of our forefathers and fart loudly at the funeral of freedom.
Where the “Responsible Republicans” are concerned, it’s time for the Montana GOP to stop and smell the skunk cabbage. It is the fragrance not only of party betrayal and alignment with Democratic goals and agendas; it is also the essence of everything dark and dishonorable in Montana politics. Among the distinguishing marks of Responsible Republicans are these tactics:
- Intensely vicious name-calling as a substitute for an honest discussion of ideas and philosophy. Extremists! Radicals! Obstuctionists! Secretive! Violent! These and other anti-conservative epithets are taken straight out of the Democratic playbook, and have the singular intent of blackening reputations by spreading fear and hatred.
- Openly endorsing and supporting Democrats in the general election if the Republican nominee is a conservative. There are many examples of this, including the eight who publicly endorsed John Vincent in my PSC race, and the contingent of Helena Republicans who threw fund raisers for Linda McCullough. By contrast, how often do Democrats endorse Republicans in the general election? Never.
- Sicking the government on fellow Republicans. There is no question that Commissioner Motl’s scorched earth witch hunt against conservative Republicans has been both encouraged and fueled by Responsible Republicans, who have no conscience when it comes to using the power of government against their political enemies.
- Orchestrating Democratic cross-over voting in GOP primaries, to defeat conservatives and advance liberal Republicans who will do the Democrats’ bidding. This hijacking of Republican primaries by the opposing party is one of the Responsibles’ favorite tactics. It is like declaring war on your own party.
Republicans across the state need to come to terms with the cancer that festers within their party. It will, in time, destroy the host if we do not confront it – and defeat it. Pretending that it doesn’t exist, or calling those conservatives who are sounding the alarm “radicals” and “extremists” just doesn’t cut it. Facing the truth, and with courage and conviction, acting upon that truth, is the only pathway that leads to liberty.
It begins on June 3.
Roger Koopman currently serves on the Montana Public Service Commission from District 3. A former 2-term state representative from Bozeman, he is a 35-year small businessman and is a director of Montana Conservatives (TAB) and Montana Conservative Alliance.