UPDATED: Tea Party Advocate Makes Run for Control of GOP

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A tea party advocate is making a run for chairman of the Montana Republican Party as the GOP faithful gather later this week in Butte to pick leadership in advance of the critical 2012 election cycle.

Republicans are gearing up to back undisputed GOP leader U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg in his challenge to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, and Rehberg’s speech on Saturday highlights the event.

But first Republicans will have to sort out a challenge to current Montana Republican Party Chairman Will Deschamps. Tea party advocate Mark French of Paradise says the GOP has not done enough to protect individual liberties.

French unsuccessfully challenged Rehberg in a primary battle last year, and made some waves by tying himself to the fledgling tea party movement.

“The Republican Party must move from a course of degrading as slow as possible in trade for short term power, to a winning strategy even if it is costly, in regard to our rights as a people,” French said in an e-mail. “Losing rights at a slow pace is not acceptable. Gaining rights back is my focus.”

Deschamps is completing his first two-year stint at the helm, and says he hopes to build on successes Republicans had sweeping up legislative seats around the state — including a few seats in places like Butte, Great Falls and Helena that normally favor Democrats.

“There is a new enthusiasm out there that I sense in the party,” Deschamps said. “I don’t think it’s a dream, we are seeing people involved, and who want to be involved, because they don’t like what is going on in the national scene.”

There have been growing pains. Some of the more moderate Republicans elected from those Democratic strongholds led to complaints from ardent conservatives that the newcomers were RINOs, or “Republican in name only.”

Deschamps said he has even heard the complaint leveled at him, but believes the party is best served by getting as many Republicans elected as possible, even if they don’t toe the most conservative line all the time.

“I would rather have somebody sitting at a seat at the Legislature who is a Republican that votes with me 70 percent of the time rather than a Democrat that votes zero percent of the time with me,” Deschamps said. “Sometimes you have to take the lesser of two evils. It is not always palatable. But, by gosh, I would rather have someone that votes with us than votes against us.”

French said support from those who favor the tea party movement will be critical in his run, but recognized he needs more than that to win. GOP officeholders, such as state legislators, along with local Republican central committee officers and others get to vote.

“Personal responsibility needs to increase while government intervention decreases,” said French. “We need to back up and embrace the limited powers of our Constitution, which all elected officials swear to uphold but frankly, most ignore.”

The 2012 election cycle is a big one. Both parties are already putting a great deal of effort into the Rehberg-Tester matchup. Rehberg will rally the GOP faithful to his campaign to help volunteer, such as by taking a role on a phone bank fundraising initiative the campaign is launching.

“In order to be successful in a state as large as Montana you just have to have people that are willing to represent you and go out there and spread your message,” said Rehberg campaign spokesman Brian Barrett.

Other races loom large as well. Republicans are gathering behind Bozeman businessman Steve Daines, who will also have a big presence at the convention, to replace Rehberg in the state’s lone House seat.

Five GOP gubernatorial candidates will be at the convention shaking hands and gathering support for the crowded primary battle.

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