The GOP Eats Its Own

By Beacon Staff

This is not what the state GOP needs, or wants. An ultra-conservative lawmaker fielding candidates to run against his own party members who he deems too moderate. It’s called the “Liberty Project,” and it succeeded in ousting a handful of incumbent Republicans in the recent primary. It also succeeded in infiltrating a few small-town elections with some big-time smears.

Tom Lutey of the Billings Gazette reported on the worst of them. In the days leading up to June 3rd’s election, Bruce Malcolm, an incumbent Republican who had been targeted by the Liberty Project, was accused in mailings of pandering to child-molesting serial killers because he had voted to abolish the death penalty in 2003.

“They say I’m a sex maniac and child predator because I voted against the death penalty,” Malcolm told the Gazette. He lost to his Republican opponent by 195 votes.

Liberty Project coordinator, GOP Rep. Roger Koopman of Bozeman, told the Billings newspaper that he had nothing to do with the negative mailings, nor those sent out in other districts he targeted.

In Broadus Rep. Carol Lambert’s race, her primary opponent sent out a letter implying that she was pro-choice because she voted against a bill that would have banned all abortions for all reasons. The letter began: “Time has already run out for the 1.37 million babies killed last year.” In reality, Lambert is pro-life, but she doesn’t think doctors should be limited by law if an abortion is unavoidable. Nonetheless, she lost by 37 votes. Similar negative mailings were sent out in Helena Rep. John Ward’s district. He lost too.

Closer to home, Polson Sen. John Brueggeman was at the top of Koopman’s hit list, which the Beacon reported on in March. But luckily, Northwest Montana voters were spared from the smear tactics since no one stepped forward to challenge Brueggeman in the primary.

What is perhaps most ironic about the efforts of the so-called Liberty Project, is that Koopman described it as a way to make incumbent lawmakers more accountable to voters by forcing them to explain their votes in the Legislature, and more clearly define the conservative principles in which they believe. That’s an admirable and healthy component of any good primary election. But somehow, the vicious and distorting mailings sent to voters in these three districts likely served only to confuse the public about their elected officials, and preyed on their basest fears and concerns. If there’s a connection to conservative principles in there somewhere, it’s lost on me.

In an election year where the GOP is hoping to broaden its base – state and nationwide – it’s off to a bad start. While the party eats its own, Koopman, who isn’t even running for reelection, claims he is simply purging it of socialists and supporting candidates who are big on morals; a virtue he seems to be lacking himself.

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