In 2007, a group of left-leaning Republicans gathered in a log cabin with members of Governor Schweitzer’s Democratic staff. The topic of conversation was a devil’s bargain solution to a legislative impasse. Led by Llew Jones (Conrad), the progressive wing of the Montana Republican Party struck a deal with the governor to give him everything he wanted in a budget stand-off. Initially calling themselves the Log Cabin Republicans (a term used elsewhere to denote LGBTQ members of the Republican Party), the name of this contingent changes every few years to stay below the radar of the voting public. The Log Cabin Republicans, Responsible Republicans, Solutions Caucus, and now the Conservative Solutions Caucus continues to work with Montana’s Democratic governor (now Steve Bullock) to give him “everything [he] wanted.”
Although the make-up of the Democrat Crossover Wing of the Republican Party, who one conservative group has labeled the Abortion Caucus, has changed over the years with term limits, at the center of the group remains Llew Jones, the girthy man with a powerful personality and presence that consistently stirs members of Montana’s GOP to the left. Today’s leaders also include Geraldine Custer, Nancy Ballance, Eric Moore, and others. Almost all have F or D-ratings in party loyalty from the impartial computer-generated scorer, Legistats.
It has been speculative for years, but now it is becoming hard to deny, that the Abortion Caucus members have actively recruited candidates for office who have dubious Republican credentials. Most members of this caucus have little to no background as Republicans before running for office. Hoodwinking and deceiving Montana voters in their local precincts, they have actively recruited candidates whose Republican credentials are limited to the ticket they run on. And most run in conservative districts, disguised as conservatives, until they win office and gain the power of incumbency. Once in power, they are hard to remove.
These leftist so-called RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) are more than just moderate Republicans. Their voting records are almost indistinguishable from Democrats. Geraldine Custer crossed over with Democrats on partisan bills 317 times, Bruce Grubbs crossed over 304 times, Walt Sales crossed over 254 times, Ed Buttrey crossed over 227 times, Nancy Ballance crossed over 219 times, Joel Krautter crossed over 213 times. These votes do not reflect procedural non-partisan bills, but bills of crucial legislation either supported or opposed by the Democratic governor. To put it simply, the Abortion Caucus is counted upon by the Democratic Party to ensure leftist control of the Montana legislature even though Democrats are in the technical minority.
The .38 Special, the caucus of traditional Republicans who better represent their home districts, have done everything possible to provide resistance to the rubber-stamping of the governor’s legislative wishlist each session. Should a Republican gain ascendency to the Montana governorship this Fall, one can rest assured the Democrats and the Abortion Caucus will provide roadblock after roadblock to his agenda.
Reports are being circulated around the state of a phenomenon not previously seen in Montana. Counties with conservative-leaning Republican central committees are having their precinct committeemen and committeewomen primaried at record pace. Ordinarily, primaries between low-level precinct spots are rare, but this year will likely set a record – by far – for challenges to conservative precinct committee holders. Almost without exception, the opponents of these grassroots Republicans are either Democrats running fraudulently on the Republican ticket or liberal Republicans or supporters of their Abortion Caucus candidate.
The Montana Daily Gazette ran a story earlier this week about Joel Krautter, a freshman Abortion Caucus member from Richland County, who has received the endorsements of two precinct committeewomen on the Richland County Democratic Central Committee. What Richland County is seeing is a coordinated effort by Democrats to tamper with a Republican primary. To summarize, instead of running a candidate in the Democratic primary, they’re running a candidate in the Republican primary.
Simultaneously to Krautter’s endorsements by the local Democratic Party, conservatives on the Republican Central Committee are being challenged by dubious candidates, including former Rep. Walt McNutt (F-score, Legistats) and other Krautter supporters, eager to rid the committee of those who support the Montana Republican platform. Thankfully, it seems that the conservatives could lose every precinct election and still, if they stay united, hold their own, but barely.
However, conservatives around the state have noticed that what’s happening in Richland County is actually happening all over Montana. In what seems to be a coordinated effort, Abortion Caucus members are being strategically endorsed by local Democrats.
What is happening seems to be a deliberate undermining of the integrity of Montana’s election process. Knowing that they cannot be elected as Democrats in many conservative districts, the Abortion Caucus has sought to recruit and support Democrats who are running as Republicans. Joel Krautter is only one of those candidates, although – as someone who was an outspoken Democratic activist before moving to Richland County – he stands out more than the rest as an obvious Manchurian Candidate working on behalf of Llew Jones and the Democratic Party.