The Montana Republican Party continues to sit silently while those brandishing the Republican name pillage the state of its values and violate the Republican platform. The pathetic reflection of this fact is a state senator, Jason Ellsworth, was named a “Montana Ambassador” by Gov. Greg Gianforte one week after pleading guilty to obstructing a police officer. Both Ellsworth and Gianforte refer to themselves as Republicans. Both are convicted criminals. Both are in Republican leadership positions. And sadly, they aren’t the only officeholders to have racked up recent criminal convictions.
Ellsworth is the Senate President Pro Tempore. He used his position as a legislator in an attempt to evade punishment for excessive speeding not once but twice. Worse, he defied the lawful authority of a Montana Highway Patrolwoman, and threatened her with his faux connections to her boss and the attorney general. Neither attempt was a valid defense; Ellsworth invoked legislator immunity in situations where the immunity doesn’t exist.
Instead of receiving an admonition by the governor, Ellsworth earned his admiration. Ellsworth was one of a very few select Montanans named by the governor as a Montana Ambassador. Gianforte now hails Ellsworth to other states as reflective of who we are as a state and as Montanans. This is no surprise; from my experience as a prosecutor, I know well that criminals flock together, promoting one another. It is tough to be a criminal when your peer group is people of high character.
Here’s why these events are so concerning to parents like me. We teach our kids the Montana values we grew up with – work hard, treat others with respect, surround yourself with good people, don’t hang out with hoodlums, and keep your nose clean because what you do today can have severe ramifications on your future. These efforts are futile when we elect and re-elect criminals to run the state. These people are proof you can obtain a taxpayer-funded leadership position without needing good character and integrity.
Defiance of law enforcement authority and misuse of public office for personal gain is now acceptable to the Montana GOP. Ellsworth should be hailed as an absolute failure and embarrassment to the Montana GOP and the state. But instead, he’s awarded as a stand-out among all legislators and Montanans.
If the good people of Hamilton are willing to allow a convicted criminal to represent them, Ellsworth will continue to climb the ranks of the Montana GOP. And the Montana Republican Party will continue to create political orphans of conservative Republicans who believe in law and order, who value law enforcement, and expect elected officials to have the character and integrity worthy of the office they hold and worthy of the Montanans they represent.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney, former mayor of Kalispell, and host of Montana Values Podcast.
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