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During the 66th Montana Legislature, it is my hope that the more conservative Republicans and the moderate Republicans can learn to work together. In the Legislature there is, and has been for many years, a moderate faction in the Republican Party that the more conservative Republicans do not get along with. Some call them RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and others call them the Democrat Wing of the Republican party. While there may be a few who truly are not Republican at all, and simply ran as one because they knew that it was not possible to win as a Democrat in their district, most are simply moderate Republicans, and some are conservatives who vote at times choosing the lesser of two evils. Two examples are Ed Buttrey and Nancy Ballance.

Buttrey is a moderate Republican, and he holds a seat in Democrat-dominated Great Falls that perhaps no other Republican could have won. I know Ed. I sat next to him in a cramped committee room on the General Government Joint Appropriations Subcommittee for two sessions. I have stayed at Ed’s house. Ed is hard working. Ed is smart, and he is an asset to our party. If not for Ed, that seat would likely be held by Democrats, but instead it is held by a moderate Republican. Buttrey is not the only moderate Republican who holds a seat in a district like this, yet he and others like him are routinely reviled by the more conservative Republicans.

Nancy Ballance is a conservative. Along with being a strong conservative voice in Helena, she has also been the powerful Appropriations Committee chair for the past two sessions and is co-chair this session. She is a stateswoman who understands that sometimes, especially when working with a governor from the other party, compromise is the only way to gain any forward motion while passing a biennual budget. She understands that political progress is made usually in yards, not single runs or long passes for touchdowns.

The Republican Party would do well to learn the character of statesmen and stateswomen who seek to influence in a steady on manner, compromising when necessary while keeping the uncompromised goals in view, reaching across the aisle to learn the thoughts and concerns of those who hold differing opinions, looking for touch-points of understanding, and sharing their own opinions and reasoning behind them.

It would be good for the Republican Party to understand that many Montanans are independent voters who vote for the person and not the party. Those people want Democrats and Republicans to work together for the best interests of all Montanans. They want the parties to reason out the answers to our great state’s various topics. Republicans need to do this with Democrats, and they must to do this within their own caucus.

Conservative Republicans should embrace moderate Republicans who won in races that would likely have been won by a Democrat, and conservative Republicans need to learn the the wisdom of statesmen to create forward movement in a conservative direction with long-term goals in view. A party divided against itself will fall.

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Republican Champ Edmunds of Missoula is a former state legislator.


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