Roger Koopman’s so-called “Liberty Project” was intended to lure “pro-freedom Constitutional conservative” candidates to challenge GOP incumbent state lawmakers who he considers to be sellouts in upcoming primaries. And he could have touted the project as a revolution for the right wing of the right, if he himself had filed for reelection – but he didn’t.
Last week, as the filing deadline loomed, Rep. Koopman, R-Bozeman, told the Billings Gazette he had planned to file. But, at the last minute, he apparently changed his mind. How can you lead a revolution, if you’re not a part of it? It’s like John Adams calling to declare independence from the British then refusing to put quill to parchment and actually sign the declaration.
Koopman made headlines recently when an e-mail surfaced that he had sent to David Hart, state coordinator for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, asking him to help recruit Paul supporters to challenge moderate incumbents in state legislative primaries. You see, Koopman had major problems with the handful of Republicans who cut deals with Democrats in the 2007 Legislature to pass the state budget and fund schools. And Koopman is a staunch supporter of Paul, who has quite a following in Montana.
“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 told the Beacon after operation Liberty Project had begun.
By the March 20 deadline, several Republican challengers and Constitutional candidates had filed across the state. In Eastern Montana young Paul supporters stepped up to take down the Koopman-identified RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). Close to home, M. Dean Donohue filed as a Constitutional candidate to challenge incumbent Sen. John Brueggeman, R-Polson, who was at the top of the Liberty Project hit list. Koopman also asked for a suitable conservative to challenge the vacated House District 1 seat in Libby; four Republicans and a Constitutional Party candidate filed.
The number of third-party candidates and contested primaries is encouraging. I have long believed, and agreed with Koopman, that political competition is a good thing. In races where there is an incumbent, that lawmaker has to defend and explain his or her voting record. Moreover, Paul supporters who feel like the recent Republican caucus disenfranchised them had ample motivation to file for office. But I hope that their choice to run was motivated by more than Koopman’s prodding. For many, that is likely the case.
Jacob Busby, 22, a Paul supporter challenging Huntley Republican incumbent Rep. Bill Glaser, told the Gazette, “I see the country going in a severe wrong direction. A lot of people are giving up basic constitutional liberties hoping government will protect them.”
On the flip side, Brueggeman, in response to being targeted by Koopman, told the Beacon, “I don’t care. 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.”
The number of Republican and Constitutional party challengers running should have some incumbents worried. Montana Paul supporters should never be underestimated. But the fact that Koopman spurred the movement, and then didn’t join it, makes me wonder if they chose to follow the right leader.