Montana voters left no question which direction they want our state to go in 2020. This Primary Election was the beginning of the great “Conservative Comeback.” Llew Jones (R-Conrad) and the so-called “Conservative Solutions Caucus” were the biggest losers Tuesday night. Two of Jones’ top three deputies, Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton) and Eric Moore (R-Miles City), went down by unfathomable margins many never saw coming. He also lost freshman Representative Joel Krautter (R-Sidney) who voted with Democrats 213 times. Furthermore, nearly all the primary challengers that incumbent conservatives faced were defeated. Across Montana, we saw many Republicans, who joined with Democrats to pass hundreds of bills that grew government and raised taxes, go down in double digit losses.
With this outcome, three other entities were put on notice about how this next legislative session will go: our next governor; those who support the CSKT Water Compact; and the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
The Montana Chamber poured a truckload of money into Nancy Ballance, who lost to a conservative firebrand, Representative Theresa Manzella (R-Hamilton), by more than 25%. During the 2019 legislative session, Ballance supported countless anti-business bills, including job-killing taxes and larger government, like the 33% Bed Tax increase and Medicaid Expansion. With the fall of other members of Llew Jones’ team, we also saw the defeat of some who support the disastrous CSKT Water Compact which illegally takes water rights from Montanans in 2/3 of the State and may not hold up in the United States Supreme Court.
Conservatives will be in a position to defeat legislation that would raise taxes and grow government. The results of the Republican Primary also serve as a warning to Solutions Caucus members who survived their primaries. The Republican Party has taken an appropriate turn back toward the party’s core principles of limited, effective government, low taxes, and individual responsibility. It’s now up to the next Senate President and Speaker of the House to place conservatives at the helm of key committees such as House Appropriations and Senate Finance & Claims.
We can also be encouraged by the wave of young conservatives on the ballot. Representative Casey Knudsen (R-Malta) won his primary in a landslide. Young conservatives like him, Representative Seth Berglee (R-Joliet), and Senator Kenneth Bogner (R-Miles City) could be joined next session by House candidates Braxton Mitchell (R-Columbia Falls), Mallerie Stromswold (R-Billings), and Katie Zolnikov (R-Billings) – all under the age of 25.
This is not to say that there’s no place for independent thinking within the Republican Party. We are, and have always been, the party of ideas – and that’s something to be proud of. In the Senate, Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) and Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls) vote their districts and are known for hard work on important legislation – including strong pro-life and pro-business bills.
As Republicans move back to our core principles, Montana citizens are the beneficiaries of the sound, fiscal leadership they deserve and desire.
[Editor’s Note: This op-ed was written by Randy Pinocci and Brad Tschida]