BOZEMAN — Will Deschamps has been re-elected to a third two-year term as party chairman by Montana Republicans, but the vice-chair changed hands and went to a favorite of conservatives.
Lee Newspapers of Montana reports that delegates at the Republican Party state officers’ convention selected Sen. Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls on Saturday and ousted Rep. Christy Clark of Choteau.
“We do need to bring our platform to the center of our conversation, when we talk about who is a Republican and who is not,” Fielder said. “If we get back on that page, then we’ll be just fine.”
A split in the Republican ranks grew during the legislative session and carried over to the convention. One side calls itself the “Responsible Republicans” and sometimes votes for bipartisan legislation that rankles conservative leaders.
Conservatives contend moderate members aren’t representing constituents when they work with Democrats. Fielder reliably voted with conservatives frustrated by the dissident Republicans.
But the party also has to attract enough voters to win elections. It’s coming off election losses in key statewide offices topped by disappointments in the governor and U.S. Senate races last year.
Republicans “need to embrace all of the different people out there who share our values,” Fielder said.
Deschamps, 67, said it’s time to “fix up our bruises” and work together.
“We’ve made great strides in Montana the last four years,” he said. “Let us leave today and redefine the party as one of being united.”
Party officials didn’t release vote totals but said Deschamps received more than 50 percent in the three-person contest for chairman.
Don Hart of Bozeman, a retired Air Force officer, and Gary Carlson of Victor, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, both said they could do better than Deschamps at leading the part to victory in future elections.
Dissension from the legislative session went on display Saturday morning when Republican Senate leaders held a session pointing out votes they said showed Republicans betraying party principles.
“We funded failing programs that we didn’t reform,” said Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City. “We threw money at systems that don’t work.”
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