I read Rep. Jesse O’Hara’s hit piece calling me an extremist (March 5 Beacon: “Extremists Anoint Themselves Arbiters of the Party”). As soon as we adjourned the 2013 Legislature in April, O’Hara sold his house in Great Falls and moved to Florida. So I was surprised to see O’Hara’s letter, as I hear the only time he leaves his beach chair is to walk to the mail box to collect his teacher pension and state health care benefits. He literally can’t afford to reform the status quo.
Until I was elected to the Montana Senate, I was never called an extremist. I served four years in the military, went to college, married, raised two great daughters, volunteered in various church and civic groups, paid taxes, and grew a business that now supports 11 families in the Gallatin Valley.
So why am I called an extremist? Well, I had the audacity to lead 75 percent of the Senate Republican caucus in opposing the backroom political wheeling by O’Hare and his crossover Republicans dealing with the Democrats, on things like:
• Passing a $125 million taxpayer funded bailout of the state employee pension system, making taxpayers (and our children) again guarantee O’Hara and his friends’ retirement, instead of their own.
• Trying to expand low income Medicaid under Obamacare by entitling over 70,000 more people to “free” health care, even when they are able but unwilling to work.
• Passing an unsustainable budget that increased the state general fund by 14 percent, which is 3 times faster than inflation, or the growth of the private economy.
• Appropriating taxpayer money to organizations such as Planned Parenthood that perform abortions.
The bottom line is that O’Hara and his fellow crossovers had the opportunity to work with their Republican colleagues to support the reform principles that we campaigned on. Instead, O’Hara chose to support the liberal policies of our spendthrift governor and Democratic legislators. Our two-party system, with the choices and alternatives it provides voters, was essentially thwarted. The “party” of bigger government won.
The majority of Republicans stuck together and stood by our platform, because we believe in a smaller, more responsive government. We want quality education, highways and public safety as much as any other Montanan. But we also believe that when we have a huge budget surplus, most of it should go back to the taxpayers instead of disproportionately higher spending for more government. And because we truthfully governed like we campaigned, we are labeled extremists?
Since O’Hara suggested we “realign” with the principles of (Republican) President Lincoln, I will close with one of Lincoln’s quotes O’Hara must have missed while soaking up the sun:
I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, “Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?” (1861)
I cherish liberty, and work hard to preserve it for future generations.
Art Wittich is the Senate majority leader from Bozeman.
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