Kalispell Senator Disputes Censure from Flathead Republicans

Longtime legislator Bruce Tutvedt says ‘kangaroo court’ convened to make false statements

By Tristan Scott

The Flathead County Republican Central Committee publicly and unanimously censured veteran Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, for “official misconduct and for undermining the credibility of Republicans in Flathead County,” but Tutvedt says the censure is groundless and erroneous.

The panel, which sent a copy of the two-page censure to every Republican legislator in Montana, accused Tutvedt of attacking GOP candidates in Flathead County and statewide “using deceptive, inflammatory and unethical allegations,” using his financial involvement with the Montanans for Responsible Leadership political action committee and MT BASE PAC.

Tutvedt, a farmer who represents Senate District 3, has emerged as a leader in a Republican effort to disrupt a faction of hardline conservatives who last session opposed Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s policy initiatives at nearly every turn.

Tutvedt and other so-called “responsible Republicans” at times split with the more conservative leadership to work with minority Democrats and pass key legislation, including an increased state budget and a major bill that increased state support for public schools.

The censure, which was signed by the committee’s chairman, Jayson Peters, also accuses Tutvedt of improperly accepting a $22,000 donation on behalf of the Montanans for Responsible Leadership PAC at a Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal meeting in May.

“Tutvedt … used dark money expenditures to support efforts against fellow Republicans who had expressed their concerns about the CSKT Water Compact as currently written,” according to the censure.

At the tribal meeting, the censure says Tutvedt told tribal leadership that he had secured a slate of Republican candidates who would vote early in the 2015 session to approve the CSKT tribal water compact. The censure says Tutvedt, who is one of the largest irrigators in the Flathead Valley, used the money to oppose hardline conservatives who pledged to reject the compact in the June primary.

But Tutvedt said he has done nothing improper, calling the censure meritless and counterproductive. He said it references a “tiny snippet” of a lengthy conversation with tribal leadership.

“It was a kangaroo court and they didn’t invite me. It was conducted by a small subset of the Republican party that doesn’t respect responsible Republicans who want to craft solutions and represent their constituents,” Tutvedt said.

The PACs that he represents have done nothing wrong, he said, which is why the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices dismissed earlier complaints filed against Tutvedt and other Republicans as “frivolous.”

The timing of the recent censure, Tutvedt said, also smacks of dubious intent by the Flathead Republicans as it was distributed just before the Montana Senate committee assignments were announced. He said the censure was an effort to derail his assignment as chair of the taxation committee.

“It was a concerted attempt done the night before the Senate Committee assignments, so they met and had their brouhaha and they failed, because I’m chair of taxation,” he said. “They wanted to stop me from being chair of Senate taxation because I am a fiscal conservative who believes you don’t pass tax cuts you can’t afford.”

“Why perform this meaningless public charade to again highlight the division in the Republican Party when they have absolutely no facts?” he added.

In the 2012 Republican primary, Tutvedt defeated Peters and Rollan Roberts II for the Senate seat. Peters’ name appeared on the ballot even though he had withdrawn from the race.

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