HELENA (AP) – The executive director of the Montana Republican party said Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger is not welcome at the party’s convention here this week because he is no longer a Republican.
“To me, it’s pretty cut and dried,” said Chris Wilcox, the party’s executive director. “He filed for office as part of a Democratic ticket. This is about Republican candidates and values and promoting our candidates.”
Bohlinger said he was angry and hurt. Erik Iverson, who is seeking the party’s chairmanship, called Bohlinger’s reaction disingenuous.
“This would be like Rob Ash, the new coach of the Bobcats, asking (Griz football coach) Bobby Hauck if he could come into the lockerroom at halftime and listen to his strategy,” Iverson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Bohlinger, who served three terms in the Montana House and two in the Senate as a Republican, ran for lieutenant governor on a Democratic ticket with Gov. Brian Schweitzer. State law doesn’t allow for a split ticket.
Bohlinger was snubbed by GOP officials Tuesday when his executive assistant, Jackie Williams, called the state headquarters to buy two dinner tickets for him _ eight days after the registration deadline.
Wilcox called back to tell Williams that tickets for Friday’s dinner were no longer available, and that Bohlinger was not welcome at the convention, the Lee newspapers reported Wednesday.
“I was almost too angry to speak,” Bohlinger said. “It was all kind of puzzling, and it was a little hurtful.”
Bohlinger said he wanted to attend the dinner to “certify my Republican credentials,” and “reconnect with my old colleagues and friends from the House and Senate.”
He said he also wanted “to show that ours really is a bipartisan ticket. The thing that really drew Brian (Schweitzer) and me together is we share common values, the same faith and the same hope for Montana’s future.
“We feel we are Montanans first and members of a political party second,” he said.
Iverson said Bohlinger’s attempt to buy the tickets amounted to political gamesmanship.
“I think there are some crocodile tears on his part,” Iverson said Wednesday. “This is a game of political gotcha. Two days before the convention, well over a week after the registration deadline, he asks for two tickets for the dinner. It just seems a little too convenient, a little too staged. This was all about getting a press hit.”
Republicans note Bohlinger’s campaign contributions over the past four years show $1,710 to Democrats, including $1,000 to the Schweitzer-Bohlinger campaign, and $250 to Republicans.
Bohlinger insisted that he’s still a Republican.
“There are people within the party that would like to exclude me,” he said.
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