You have got to be kidding me.
That’s what I thought when I heard that new Montana House Speaker, Rep. Wylie Galt, bequeathed Llew Jones chair of the Appropriations Committee. And that thought, “you have got to be kidding me,” wasn’t a vain expression of frustration. I meant it. Surely someone was joking.
For certain, I supported the candidacy of Matt Regier for Montana’s Speaker of the House. The reasons for that support had little to do with a dislike of Galt, however, and are two-fold. First, I have no relationship with Galt and little knowledge of him that extends past his Legistats score (which is superb). Who I do or do not support is partially decided by who I can reach on the phone when I want to, and Regier has always been accessible for me. And secondly, it was Matt Regier who placed a billboard outside of Sidney to put Joel Krautter’s incumbency for HD35 on blast. Krautter’s left-of-center candidacy, like his look-alike, Vizzini from Princess Bride, was simply inconceivable. Regier, so far as I’m concerned, showed leadership and helped Richland County conservatives fight a tooth-and-nail battle against a foot soldier in Llew Jones RINO army.
When Regier lost by a single vote, however, I didn’t lament. After all, Galt was a genuine conservative I was assured by people who best knew him and by legislators I respected. However, given that it was rumored that Llew Jones supported Galt it was enough to make me suspicious; it was not enough to keep some .38 Special conservatives from voting for him, however.
“Oh, well,” I thought. So far as I was concerned, it was like a presidential primary if Rand Paul and Ted Cruz were both front-running candidates. What’s there to complain about?
But then, our collective conservative nightmare began. Galt appointed who is far-and-away the worst enemy of Republican legislators in the last 15 years to the most prominent and important committee in the Montana House of Representatives.
The conspiracies raged instantly. Perhaps Galt was paid-off in a devil’s bargain. Perhaps he was a sleeper-cell for the Solution’s Caucus all along. Perhaps Galt was somehow a frequent flier on the Lolita Express and someone has dirt on him. Perhaps Galt is Jesse O’Hara in a mask. You know, crazy stuff like that entered my mind (only half seriously) because there seemed to be no plausible, rational explanation for Galt’s appointment of the Arch-RINO right after a Red Wave saturated Montana.
So to help break this down, here are some plausible explanations to help us digest this travesty…
#1. Galt was giving respect where respect is due. Jones, after all, has been serving the legislature since 2005 and has chaired the committee before. Obviously, I disagree with the basic premise if that was Galt’s reasoning; you don’t get brownie points for doing a crappy job. You don’t get brownie points for being a Democrat change agent. And the reason “to the victors, go the spoils” is an expression is because you don’t give losers (and Llew Jones was a major loser in the 2020 primaries) a head-pat.
#2. Galt was pacifying Jones, whose caucus could still thwart the Republican agenda. This seems to be the reason most legislators have given me for Galt’s perceived compromise. Jones claims to hold up to 20 votes in his caucus of RINOs. My count, however, is 17. Admittedly, we are not positive where new legislators stand (*ahem* Mallerie Stromswald) and maybe Jones isn’t bluffing. And either way, Jones could present some real obstacles to the conservative agenda if he – as in years prior – caucused his group with Democrats. As the theory goes, this is Galt’s way of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer.
This (above, #2) is the most acceptable reason for Galt’s decision to crown Jones as King of Appropriations. If the logic were sound, it would make sense. But I do not believe the logic is sound, and here’s why: While it’s possible Jones influences upwards of 20 RINO votes, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that 20 RINOs – or even 17, or 12, or 10 – would follow him all the way across the aisle to the Democratic Party in perpetuity. I think it would be a bridge too far for all but the most ardent RINOs (and those who are term-limited and have no intention to run for another office).
Nonetheless, this seems to be the most likely reason for Galt’s decision. Llew Jones told the Montana Free Press that Galt installed him as head of Appropriations because he was trying to bring together the Republican Party. But frankly, we don’t need to unify with the Solutions Caucus because we worked hard to defeat them and marginalize their numbers. I digress…
The fact is, what Galt did looks bad. It looks very bad. But let me be the first to say that things are not always as they appear and I recognize that logically. Perhaps Galt has a gameplan of which we aren’t aware. Perhaps Galt didn’t give Llew his RINO compatriots on the Appropriations Committee in order to intentionally neuter his influence there and it was a purely honorary position to honor a man who doesn’t actually have any tangible honor. Or perhaps Galt was just convinced of the conventional wisdom that you give old dogs a place on the porch no matter what.
Nonetheless, Galt needs redemption. Conservatives need to trust him again, and right now many don’t. I am aware of at least four legislators who voted for Galt who would change their vote if another vote was held. Meanwhile, I’m well aware that a group of conservatives is brainstorming as we speak how to re-call Galt altogether. Supposedly a petition is coming together for mass dissemination to collect signatures to re-do that vote (not as though a petition can do it, but that legislators might be persuaded by such). I’m not sure the procedure for that legislatively, but honestly…can you blame them?
Let’s take for granted – hypothetically – that nothing shady went down between Galt and Jones that would lead to such a back-stabbing gesture to Montana conservatives who turned out the grassroots against the Solutions Caucus. The fact remains, conservatives need convinced that Galt didn’t just single-handedly give the proverbial shaft to everyone who fought so hard to mitigate Jones’ liberal influence. Galt needs redemption.
As I see it, there is one way – one towering, excellent, genius way – for Galt to completely redeem himself in the eyes of conservatives who will no doubt have long memories should he ever again want to run for office. Galt needs to passionately support legislation for a closed primary.
The reason the Solutions Caucus legislators are electable in Montana is simple; Democrats cross over to vote in Republican primaries. We saw it, for example, with Rep. Joel Krautter (HD35, Sidney). We saw members of the Democratic Party and local Democrat Central Committee write letters to the editor to support Krautter. There was an active campaign among Democrats to cross-over to meddle in our election. Western Montana also saw this repeatedly in 2020 and Jones’ Solutions Caucus RINOs pledged to represent Democrats as much as Republicans.
The danger in a mostly-red state like Montana is that even Democrats run as Republicans. While that type of ideological dishonesty can’t be legislated away, we can help keep Democrat voters from meddling in our elections by closing the primary. Make Democrats vote on their own ticket.
A closed primary, of course, would be vehemently opposed by Llew Jones and his RINOs who are largely elected by Democrat cross-over voters. And, obviously, the measure would be opposed by most Democrats who know how this “fake your party” game is played and know the value of having their leftist colleagues run dishonestly as Repubilcans. However, with strong party leadership, there appears to be enough votes to make this change happen.
Although the Red Wave this election cycle didn’t show it, Montana is a state that is turning gradually purple. The population boom in Bozeman, for example, is sure to bring in new California expats who are fleeing the Land of Fruits and Nuts only to turn Gallatin County into a slightly upscale version of Missoula. If we don’t close our primaries – and close them now – Republicans will lose ground election after election until we have a Grand Old Party that is mostly indistinguishable from the Party of Infanticide and Socialism. And if we don’t want to put up a border wall just west of Billings to keep Montana conservative, we need the legislation and we need it now.
I would call upon Galt – in good faith – to redeem himself in the eyes of conservatives and take a bold step to ensure our Republican majority for years to come.
Representative Galt, help close our primaries and make our elections more honest.
[Editor’s Note: This op-ed was contributed by MT Daily Gazette publisher, Jordan Hall]