Montana GOP sets platform and priorities for next session
BILLINGS — Moderate Republicans failed to temper Montana’s Republican Party platform convention last week as the GOP said it wanted a ban on all abortions, including in cases of incest and rape.
Republican lawmakers, presidential hopefuls and other party members gathered in Billings last week for the first time since 2018 to review the party’s platform. Divided into sections, or planks, the platform articulates Montana GOP positions on major issues, such as education, taxation and crime.
Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, read the party’s proposed language on abortion, which supported a comprehensive ban on elective abortions. Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, later clarified that this did not exclude medical abortions, including cases where the mother’s life was in danger.
However, other party members felt the language left no room for people with different beliefs, said Heidi Streiger, a proxy delegate. She wanted the platform to oppose elective abortion, not in favor of a ban, and she didn’t believe the platform should take a position on the beginning of life. The hall rejected his suggestions.
Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, also called for exceptions to the abortion ban.
“We support a ban on abortion, elective abortion,” Bedey said, reading the language he wanted to see in the platform. “Except in cases of rape or incest or where there is an imminent threat to the life of the mother.”
The wording proposed by Bedey was also rejected.
The party’s platform also provided a preview of legislation that Republican lawmakers could introduce in the 2023 Legislature. Key pieces of legislation related to the platform can also be used in the next session to create a Legislative scorecard, showing how individual lawmakers voted on Montana GOP platform issues.
Representative Derek Skees has defended the accountability tool, which he says will give voters insight into which lawmakers are voting the “Republican brand.”
“(Voters) expect small taxes, personal accountability, small government,” Skees said. “…But the problem is that we have a majority in our caucus who are conservative and a minority who are not. And they trade votes left and right to advance their business and kill our business.
Streiger cautioned against the idea of a scorecard moments before attempting to introduce softer language into the platform’s stance on abortion. The 21-year-old Montana Tech student said, “We don’t want to force people to support anything they might somewhat disagree with.”
Skees acknowledged that people did not like heavy partisan politics and that he was one of the most extreme members of the party, as he said he was a “shamelessly conservative”. But the scorecard is meant to increase transparency and label what the party and candidates believe, he says.
During roughly five hours of discussion, delegates booed moderate views more than once, and some more controversial views drew scorn even from other conservatives. Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, mocked a line in the platform’s National Affairs board, which talked about the Jan. 6 defendants.
“It refers to people held indefinitely,” Mercer said. “Let me quickly say how the criminal justice system works.”
Mercer, who served as U.S. Attorney in Montana from 2001 to 2009, described how a typical federal case unfolds and how and when people can be released. When another delegate rose to refute Mercer and reaffirmed the belief that prosecutors are disenfranchising the Jan. 6 defendants, Mercer rolled his eyes. However, the January 6 wording was approved for the platform.
When the topic of election management and ballot counting came up, Bedey again advocated a more moderate stance. Unfounded attacks on Montana’s electoral system only degrade people’s confidence in the fundamental voting process, Bedey said.
“If we are a conservative party, it wants to maintain our institutions,” Bedey said. “We should stop throwing gasoline on the fire.”
The party then adopted language stating that the Montana Republican Party would push for a return to hand-counted or mechanically-counted ballots. Any technology involving digital tabulation or digital storage of voting information should no longer have a place in Montana’s elections, according to the party’s platform goal.
Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, said she doesn’t understand voting machine technology and it’s hard to call elections transparent.
“I can admit that I’m so clueless on this subject that I don’t even know what I don’t know,” Manzella said. “And I think most people fall into that category.”
The updated platform is expected to be available on the Republican Party of Montana’s website later this month.