Polson Republican Sen. John Brueggeman could face some unexpected opposition from within his own party as he runs for re-election this year. Last week plans surfaced by conservative Bozeman Rep. Roger Koopman encouraging Ron Paul supporters to run against more moderate GOP incumbents.
In an e-mail to David Hart, state coordinator for libertarian presidential candidate Paul, Koopman outlined his intention to recruit up to 13 “pro-freedom Constitutional conservatives” to run in primary elections against “socialist incumbent ‘Republicans,’ who have consistently sold out the cause of liberty in the Montana Legislature.”
Koopman went on to list 14 Republicans – two senators and 12 representatives – he would like to unseat “in rough order of priority.” Brueggeman was at the top of the list, though he’s not losing any sleep over it.
“I don’t care,” Brueggeman said. “If they want to have a serious debate about what it means to be a Republican, or what it means to be a conservative, then any time, anywhere.”
As part of the plan, called “The Liberty Project,” Koopman also lists four other districts “that need a good Republican to file,” including House District 1 in Libby, where incumbent Ralph Heinert is not running for re-election.
Koopman said the names on the list aren’t intended as a personal attack, but will hopefully compel incumbents to explain their voting records during re-election campaigns.
“There’s nothing here that’s a sinister plot or anything along those lines,” Koopman said when reached last week. “It’s an opportunity to step back and say, ‘What do we believe as a party?’”
“If a person is going to think like a Democrat and vote like a Democrat, then they probably ought to run as a Democrat,” Koopman added, noting that most of the lawmakers on his list were among those who “went off secretly and conspired with the Democrats’ side of the aisle and the governor’s people,” during the 2007 special session to reach a budget compromise – ending the session over the protests of conservatives.
Other Republicans topping the list include: Sen. Dave Lewis of Helena; Rep. Llew Jones of Conrad; Rep. Walter McNutt of Sidney; Rep. Duane Ankney of Colstrip; and Rep. Jesse O’Hara of Great Falls.
Koopman wrote that he was working under the Republican Assembly’s name, and described his plan as an effort to return the Republican Party to its “low tax, limited government, free market roots.”
Hart continues to work on the Paul campaign, despite John McCain winning the Republican nomination. But Hart forwarded Koopman’s e-mail on to the network of Paul supporters and said he would do what he could to help.
“There’s obviously a need in the party to clean house and get rid of the ‘Republicans in name only,’” Hart said. “I want to assist in that.”
Asked why he might be a prime target of Koopman’s “Liberty Project,” Brueggeman listed several issues where his legislative actions might have gone against some type of conservative orthodoxy, but fulfilled a need in Polson and the surrounding area.
“If we’re all guilty of anything, it’s representing our districts well,” Brueggeman said. “Every district in Montana doesn’t look like Roger’s.”
For example, Brueggeman supported funding for all-day kindergarten in the 2007 session, while most Republicans opposed it. But in Polson, Brueggeman said, all-day kindergartens are already widespread, so his vote didn’t create new public schools, it backfilled funding for institutions already there.
Brueggeman pointed to legislation he championed as a representative in the 2003 session that he said any conservative would be proud of, like tort reform legislation he helped pass with McNutt and an early termination incentive for state employees – ultimately unsuccessful – that would have eliminated some 800 positions in state government. Taking a slight jab, Brueggeman mused that Koopman may not be aware of that work, because the Polson lawmaker tackled it before Koopman began serving in the Legislature.
Brueggeman also hammered the source of Koopman’s list, a conservative voting index rating assembled by University of Montana law professor Rob Natelson, who has also run for governor twice.
“It’s an absolute hack piece,” he added. “It was very narrowly tailored to make a number of us look bad.”
But while Koopman might be easy to brush off, Paul supporters may not be. In Lake County, Paul won the Feb. 5 GOP caucus, along with Missoula. The emergence of Paul supporters, and how they will jibe with Montana Republicans remains an unknown. GOP state chair Erik Iverson has said he would like to include Paul supporters in the party’s tent, but Koopman’s maneuver is unlikely to win him and other Paul supporters many friends in the party establishment. Hart said the Paul constituency can not be easily categorized.
“We’re all pretty individualistic,” Hart added. “It’s like herding cats; I can’t do anything more than what I’ve already done.”
Hart went on to defend Koopman’s list as a healthy part of politics, not an attack on well-meaning public servants.
“The primary process is an opportunity to hold the incumbents accountable,” Hart added. “It’s nothing personal about the individual – either they represent our point of view or they don’t.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.