Dear Leader and the Buffoon

Extremists benefit politically from crises. History is filled with endless stories of those that exploited people’s uncertainty and fear in their quest for political power. The great depression gave the world both Hitler and Roosevelt. Our most recent national experience with this phenomenon was the 2008-9 Great Recession which was integral in President Obama’s defeat of John McCain. The housing bubble burst, the Great Recession commenced, McCain was defeated soundly, and Obama elected. The lesson is clear – crises polarize voters.

Crisis causes stress. Stress leads to anger, uncertainty, and depression. Stressed people become vulnerable to the siren song of hardline sycophants and extreme ideologues. In Hitler’s Germany it was the Jews. In the Great Recession it was the greedy banks and corporations. The economic uncertainty induced by Covid 19 created an environment worse than the Great Recession, with “non-essential” workers, unemployment shutdowns, and riots. The response by Montana’s unscrupulous political actors was predictable. Let’s meet key “players.”

Playing the role of the “Buffoon” is none other than Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci. Randy is currently infamous for the chaos and disgrace he created within the Public Service Commission. This Great Falls Tribune article entitled “Fear and Loathing at the Montana PSC…” and this Billings Gazette article entitled “Montana’s PSC commissioners are spying on each other…” both provide a real glimpse into the empty suit that is Randy Pinnoci. Should you still be in doubt, ask conservative stalwart Roger Koopman what he thinks about Randy.

Not to be outdone, Representative Brad Tschida is playing the role of “Dear Leader”. Tschida, who likes to collect titles but avoid real work, is the consummate example of the Peter Principle. His “leadership” during the 66th legislative session effectively destroyed Republican unity. His leadership failures are so huge that keen political insiders consider Brad Tschida to be the worst Majority Leader in the history of the Montana House. 

Recently these two simpletons penned an outrageous Facebook post declaring “victory” over Montana’a Conservative Solution Caucus(CSC) in the June 3rd primary elections and then, while caught up in the throes of their own lunacy and hubris,  threatened every Montana small business owner for their political views by “putting on notice” the Montana Chamber of Commerce. Let’s now consider their main contentions:

Contention: Montana State Government grew out of control because of the CSC. Fact: Montana is one of the nation’s best fiscally managed states – holding spending in real terms flat while reducing government employment.  These facts are easily verified but, once again, Tschida and Pinnoci never let facts get in the way of a good tall tale.  We usually label this behavior “lying” but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt by simply assuming they are just too ignorant to know better.

Contention: The CSC had a bad night in the primary. The CSC did have some disappointments and lost some valued incumbents. However, so did the extremists, with their chosen antivaxxer incumbents Greg DeVries, Rodney Garcia, and David Dunn losing. And in new seats, the CSC had several pickups.

In short, despite ruthless attacks by extremists, the CSC is effectively the exact same size in 2020 as it was in 2019, thus ensuring that it will be a key player in the next legislative session.  Again, however, neither “Dear Leader” nor the “Buffoon” can be relied on to accurately count into double digits.

Now, let’s consider the wisdom of these two dandies threatening to “put on notice” the Montana Chamber or any other group. First, it is illegal for a legislator to use his or her position to threaten anyone. Next, why wouldn’t the members of the Chamber have the right to free speech or to support candidates of their choosing? These two hypocrites claim to support free speech. And finally, the Montana Chamber is the state’s largest business organization with members in almost every town. Could it be that the Chamber might have some real world insight into business issues?

“Dear Leader” Brad Tschida and “Buffoon” Randy Pinnoci are best known for their ability to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. By threatening the membership of organizations Republicans must rely on to win in the fall – they are on course to defeat Gianforte, Rosendale, and Daines in November’s general election.

Bill’s Girls

As the old saying goes: “Birds of feather, flock together”, and Ravalli County Representative Theresa Manzella fits right into the flock with Former President Bill Clinton. Bill is best known for playing fast and loose with the truth and with the ladies.  Rich Hood, in the Baltimore Sun had this to say of Bill Clinton, “He has lied repeatedly — to his family, to his friends, aides and confidantes, and the American public. He has reshaped himself scores of times to gain sympathy or support.”   

But ol’ Bill has nothing on Ravalli County’s Theresa Manzella.   Theresa says she is against a sales tax, yet in the 2019 session she voted to bring the sales tax bill to the floor for a vote to pass (HB300).  Theresa says she is for a free market, yet last session she voted for socialist price controls (HB747).  Theresa says she opposes sanctuary cities, yet last session she voted against a bill banning them in Montana (HB147).  This list of examples where Theresa says one thing, then does another is seemingly endless, just like Bill.

Theresa says she would never associate with a Democrat, let alone one of Bill Clinton’s infamy.  Yet in this picture from her own Facebook, she exudes excitement about the opportunity to pose with Bill Clinton on the streets of D.C.’s swamp.  They truly seem to have so much in common, perhaps she really is one of “Bill’s girls”.

MT Extremists Falsely Claim Greedy Catholic Hospitals Support Government Funded Abortion

Montana’s religious extremists may have gone a bridge too far last week as they are now implying that Montana’s Catholic Hospitals support publicly funded abortion. What has led them to this outrageous claim?

Last week, in a carefully crafted and thoughtful response to the extremists’ previous assertion that expansion increased abortion access, Karen Costello, President of Holy Rosary Healthcare offered this response: “Indeed, we would not have supported the Medicaid reform legislation last session if the legislation provided for taxpayer funded abortions. Those who argue otherwise are incorrect.” And there you have it, from the perspective of Montana’s Catholic Hospitals, expansion did not increase abortion funding.

And, until April Fools’ Day, this was also the position the Montana Family Foundation had taken: “Neither the 2015 nor the 2019 Medicaid Expansion bill affected a change in this (abortion) coverage.”

But the need to remain financially solvent and fund the director’s salary has a way of distorting the truth and, in what can only be surmised as a reaction to donor outrage, the Montana Family Foundation diametrically altered their position. We see the evidence of this vacillation in their most recent memorandum on the subject. “This memorandum addresses whether Montana’s Medicaid Expansion program increases abortion availability under Medicaid. Although as shown below the analysis requires considerable scrutiny to unpack, the ultimate answer is yes.”

I hope the phrase “considerable scrutiny to unpack” raised your eyebrows as much as it did mine. Hell, mine were so far up my forehead that they almost reached peak Pelosi. This phrase, in any memorandum pretending to be a legal analysis, should be understood for exactly what it really is – an excuse for the speciousness of the argument that follows. But don’t take my word for it, read the memo yourself and appreciate the tortured logic its author must employ to reach the conclusion that expansion increases abortion access.

And so we find ourselves in a position where we could choose to believe that the nuns and other caregivers that comprise our state’s Catholic Hospitals are acting true to their faith, or we could accept the ever evolving incoherent logic and inconsistent position of a fringy, cash-starved, evangelical group. Given these choices, ol’ Rooster is going to put his faith in the truthfulness of nuns – rather than accept the twisted argument of a donor driven political action committee.

~ Rooster Cogburn

Montana’s Extremists Need A Safe Space

The 30-Ain’t Special, a collection of anti-public school crusaders, anti-vaccination health science gurus, Tesla-like 5G electromagnetic wave conspiracists, and some plain ordinary John Birchers has apparently felt the need to start a new Facebook Group where they can all commemorate the downfall of Western Civilization in their own handy little “safe space.”

In their introduction to the group, these acolytes of freedom tell you that they are “…the self proclimed (sic) .38 Special, who are standing for you and with you on a daily basis.” And they promise this: “We strive for transparency in government and we expect to be held accountable to our voting records.

Well now, I say “Hold my beer!” Let’s just see how well they actually represented Main Street Montana and its small business owners and their employees. Let’s see how well they represented our agricultural industry. And let’s see how they feel about the preservation of our state’s infrastructure – especially in our small rural communities.

I suggest you hang on to your hat…

Gosh, it sure looks to me like somebody has been fibbing! I say give them what they say they want: Hold them accountable to their voting records. Next time these folks roll out their fake “Legistats Score” to justify their blatant disregard for their constituents, ask them why they don’t represent you? Ask them why these, mostly rural legislators, sold out agriculture? Ask them why they hate public education, the cornerstone of upward mobility? And ask them why they hate roads, bridges, indoor plumbing, and the other conveniences of modern American life? Who would have thought it was possible to hate an indoor commode?

Until next time – follow the current Covid19 recommendations and be safe.

~ Rooster Cogburn

Medicaid Expansion Tall Tales?

If you tell a lie big enough and repeat it often enough, people will eventually come to believe it’ (according to infamous and vile NAZI propagandist, Joseph Goebbels). Apparently anti-government extremists such as Representative Derek Skees, Representative Theresa Manzella, and some of their ‘special 38’ friends are fans of Goebbel’s approach because they are continually stating that those who voted for Montana’s Medicaid Expansion solution supported hidden language in the Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act (HB658) that expanded the Medicaid rules on accessing abortion in Montana, which is absolutely not true! 

To distribute their “38 Special version of the “facts”, these legislators are utilizing local fake news sites (Pastor Jordan Hall’s Montana Daily Gazette and Jim White’s Northwest Liberty News) to present incorrect and slanted “news” articles. Their goal is to fool the voter by twisting the facts. 

Here are the facts:   

❏    While there are always challenges with Medicaid Expansion that require continual monitoring, to limit fraud, waste, and abuse, nothing in the 2019  HB658 Medicaid Reform changed the Medicaid access rules for abortion in any way.

❏    For 43 years, the Hyde Amendment has barred the use of federal Medicaid funding to finance abortion care in almost all cases. Since its passage the premise has remained the same — the Hyde Amendment bans federally funded abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and lifesaving medical necessity. 

❏    Since 2007 Pregnant women in Montana already had access to Traditional Medicaid for their healthcare up to 150% of poverty. This access was defined in law long before Medicaid Expansion in 2015 or the 2019 Medicaid Reform.   Thus, for pregnant women -the only group that could consider an abortion- Medicaid Expansion did not increase access to any medical process.

❏    Montana is one of 15 states that has a court defined twist. Montana’s Judge Sherlock, in a 1995 court case, responded by broadening what Montana’s state share of Medicaid could cover to include abortions deemed “medically necessary”; however, the “abortion on demand” process supposedly included in the 2019 Medicaid Reform is a “big lie”. The truth is that HB658 could not change the federal Hyde amendment rules, did not increase pregnant women access to care,  and did not impact the Sherlock “medically necessary” definition in any way.   

❏    In a June 24, 2019 memorandum to the Montana Family Foundation, Chief Legal Counsel Milanoviich correctly stated that, “Neither the 2015 nor the 2019 Medicaid expansion bills affected a change in this coverage.”

Voters should wonder why, if Representatives Skees, Manzella, or other members of their extremist ‘.38 special friends’ had an issue with the 1995 Sherlock decision, they didn’t bring any legislation to address this?  In fact, what the “.38 specials” did was vote to bring a Democrat sponsored Medicaid bill to the floor with no work requirements or additional waste, fraud, and abuse reforms.

In Montana, healthcare polls as the number one concern for our voters, and rightly so – the public demands solutions.  Most Montana Republicans hoped that a Republican US Congress, with a Republican President, would produce better options for Montana via the promised “repeal and replace” process. However, Montana’s Federal delegation did not offer any solutions.  Thankfully, Montana’s legislature had a “Conservative Solutions Caucus” that took a leadership role on healthcare solutions and other critical issues, working tirelessly to actually SOLVE problems everyday Montanan’s were facing in light of the federal system forced upon us all.

If HB658 had not passed, it is likely that numerous rural hospitals would have closed as was the case for 100 plus rural hospitals in other states. In addition, insurance and private payer costs would have risen an additional 8-12%.  It is also a ‘fact’ that many Montanans have family members, neighbors or friends who have been able to access medical care, keep their jobs, or stay in Montana because of the Montana Medicaid  Reform and Integrity Act. 

The Montana Legislative Solutions Caucus understands that sometimes the ‘solution’ to a problem must be a ‘human’ one that fits Montana, not simply a political one.  Montana voters will not be fooled by the .38 special fiend’s devious big abortion lie. 

Silly Little Games…

What silly little games do the so called .38 Special group of extremist republicans spend their time playing when they should be governing?

Lets recall the 2019 legislative session: The .38 Special officially branded themselves as such during this session, but due to their extremist nature some of their own members failed to even show up for the group photo to memorialize such an event! Perhaps the shame was caused in part by their ringleaders decision to try to send an ill fated message just before the photo? To whom, for what, and how you might ask? They had concocted a half baked plan to vote with the Democrats on a blast motion for Medicaid Expansion without any republican minded reforms to eliminate waste, fraud or abuse! When their efforts failed, they later alleged it was all a stunt to prove a dangerously misguided point – on the backs of Montana taxpayers! Was their vote to support the Republican version of Medicaid Expansion that included asset testing or work requirements? Of course not! So what was the message? Or perhaps more importantly, what would they have done if their scheme had worked and bound Montana to a fiscally irresponsible plan?! Silly little games.

The .38 Special then tried voraciously to kill the bill that would have prevented Sanctuary Cities across Montana. While they campaign and rally against illegal immigration, they spent that 2019 session devoting maximum effort to kill the bill that would prevent sanctuary cities! What was the message? Silly little games.

Perhaps their overarching message is simply that the extremist ideologies of the .38 Special drive them to play silly little games while the responsible republicans are focused on governing? Their messaging is incoherent, like most of the policies they pursue. Their messages make no sense, like most of the rants they post. Much of their extremist legislation is a waste of taxpayers dollars, using time and resources during the legislative session to try to send what message? The average cost of drafting and moving a bill through a legislative session is over $4,000. While they complain about government waste, they add to it with frivolous bills used to prove points rather than to focus on improving the lives of Montanan’s. Silly little games.

When the .38 Special didn’t like a particular vote that some of their fellow Republicans took, they snuck onto the House floor early the next day to place tubs of vaseline on the desks of those legislators with whom they disagreed, because the .38 Special thinks anyone who dares to cast a vote for their constituents instead of in lock step with the .38’s bizarre ideas “screws” the people of Montana. How becoming is that kind of sexual innuendo of the people’s house?! Silly little games.

Most recently, the .38 Special reportedly sold a gun at a Republican party fundraiser. Too bad they were again trying to play another silly little game. During the social hour with free flowing cocktails, one of their ilk distributed live rounds of ammunition that would have fit the gun they knew would soon be auctioned and they proudly wore them in clear name badge sleeves around their necks. Thankfully they lost the gun at auction to a fellow second amendment enthusiast who was willing to contribute more to the Montana GOP’s victory fund than they, thwarting their plot to threaten and intimidate their peers. The silly little games just keep coming.

Maybe the .38 Special should focus on doing actual work for the people of Montana instead of playing silly little games...

UPDATE: Legistats Just Can’t Keep Its Story Straight!

As was reported here last month (Legistats: Scorecard of Montana’s Extreme Right), Legistats is a weapon being wielded by extremists in the Montana GOP as they attempt to purge the party of those they alone they judge to be lacking in ideological purity.

One among many problems for those hawking Legistats—the disgraced former legislator, Ed Butcher, and his sidekick, Lonny Bergstrom—is that their “objective statistical evaluation” misses over 400 of the “partisan” votes they claim to score.  (Maybe it’s just a coincidence that excluding these votes boosts the scores of their legislative allies.)

When confronted with this dilemma, Bergstrom concocted a convenient solution: Ignore their own definition of “partisan” as advertised right on their own website since its creation, and cook up an ever evolving new one that explains away those pesky 400 missing votes as non-partisan.  Slick trick—if you believe the truth doesn’t matter.

This backpedaling has created another problem: Bergstrom’s new definition states that “Legistats doesn’t count as partisan those votes on which Republicans were united.”  Unfortunately for Lonny, House Republicans voted unanimously on 100 of the 620 votes already scored by Legistats! So were they lying then or are they lying now? Either way it’s clear yet again Butcher and Bergstrom will be scrambling to reinvent the truth—by any means necessary.

The fact is that when compared to the most reputable legislative scorecards in Montana such as the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Contractors Association, or the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Legistats is the radical outlier. As the attached charts clearly show, where the engines of commerce and agriculture grant A’s, Legistats gerrymanders which votes they choose to score to ensure that those actually doing the work to improve the economic engine of Montana always receive F’s on the Legistats index.

Legistats is falling apart.  How long must we wait before Butcher and Bergstrom quit tap dancing around the truth and admit that their prized scorecard is bogus? Or perhaps the better question is: How long before leaders of Montana’s Republican Party repudiate Legistats and the malcontents behind it?

Extremist Chronicles exists to shine a light on the extremism sabotaging Montana from both the right and the left by making public the radical views and behaviors of those in elected or leadership positions. If you are deeply committed to Montana and have a story of extremism to share, please send it to so that citizens all over our state can make more informed choices about our leaders. Thank you for joining us. Together, we will build a better Montana!

.38 Special: Whiskey, Guns, and Rodney Garcia

Representative Rodney Garcia, a disgraced Montana legislator and a founding member of the now infamous “.38 Special” caucus, has been in the national news of late. It seems that Rodney has found it in his heart to externally verbalize a unique solution to the growing socialist movement. In a public exchange at the recently completed Republican Winter Kickoff event, Rodney said the following: “So actually in the Constitution of the United States (if) they are found guilty of being a socialist member you either go to prison or are shot.” Clearly Rodney should have been immediately called to task for his deranged and dangerous comment, but the larger, ominous background story never appeared in the press.

For the past several years, self-avowed conservative members of this “.38 Special” caucus have disparagingly labelled the Republican Conservative Solutions Caucus (CSC) as socialists. The CSC is a growing faction of the Republican party that is focused on actual governance while the “.38 Special” caucus is comprised of a mixed bag of libertarians, “constitutionalists”, and other extremists that tailor their voting decisions to obtain a high party loyalty score on a scorecard created by their puppet master Ed Butcher. Their mantra is that bipartisan efforts are unprincipled, and that a “good” vote is one where a Republican always votes against a Democrat – irrespective of the issue. The “.38 Special” cares naught for governance, nor do they put due consideration into the interests of their constituents.

At the Winter Kickoff, as a means of promoting their group, a prominent member of the “.38 Special” caucus presented each of the other caucus members a live .38 Special cartridge to wear within the clear event credential badge that was necessary to gain entry into events. The “.38 Special” caucus members proudly displayed the cartridge, using it as a conversation starter with unaffiliated attendees to decry the so called “socialists” in the Conservative Solution Caucus. So prominent was this effort that there are pictures of “.38 Special” members with alcohol in their hand and a live bullet proudly on display around their necks.

Later in the convention, during the live fundraising auction, the premiere item donated for sale by the “.38 Special” members was a handgun – perfectly chambered for those live .38 Special rounds being worn around their necks! Fortunately, given that the weapon was intended to be purchased by a member of their ilk, likely in possession of the ammunition to discharge it, the members of the “.38 Special” caucus who were bidding on the weapon were outbid by another second amendment enthusiast attendee that had the good sense to remove the firearm from the premises.

To summarize: at a Montana Republican Party convention ironically branded as “We Are Stronger Together” by MT GOP Party Chairman, Don “K” Kalschmidt, there was a confluence of the following events: a declaration of homicidal intent by a member of the “.38 special” directed at so called “socialists”, a clear effort by one faction of the Montana Republican party to label another faction as said socialists, an abundance of live ammunition and alcohol, and a readily accessible .38 Special firearm chambered for the live .38 ammo that was distributed and displayed. What could possibly go wrong?

Clearly, nobody should have to fear being killed or injured because of their political associations. And yet, here we are! The everyday messaging emanating from the “.38 Special” caucus has empowered one of its founding members, Rodney Garcia, to suggest that those who meet his personal ever evolving definition of a socialist, should be shot or imprisioned! And yet, while Rodney made this abhorent and reprehensible statement, he should not shoulder all the blame.

He, as a member of the “.38 Special” caucus, is simply the latest exposed tip of a dangerous iceberg whose overwhelming mass prefers to remain hidden, lurking just below the waterline. Montana deserves better!

Extremist Chronicles exists to shine a light on the extremism sabotaging Montana from both the right and the left by making public the radical views and behaviors of those in elected or leadership positions. If you are deeply committed to Montana and have a story of extremism to share, please send it to so that citizens all over our state can make more informed choices about our leaders. Thank you for joining us. Together, we will build a better Montana!

~Rooster Cogburn

Lawlessness and Disorder

The Montana GOP which has long positioned itself as the party of law and order, has turned its back on law enforcement.  From the top down, the party “leaders” neither condemn criminal activity, nor shy away from engaging in criminal activity themselves.   What’s worse, these office holders act like common criminals by remaining righteously indignant about their crimes and violations of public trust. 

Congressman Greg Gianforte denied his criminal assault of a reporter long before he pled guilty.  Instead of respecting the limited law enforcement resources in Bozeman and owning up to his crime, Gianforte forced Gallatin County to expend law enforcement resources to put together a lock solid criminal case against him.  His smug mug shot mirrors that of other criminals who express the same indignation when caught red-handed.

Secretary of State Cory Stapleton has pilfered from Montana taxpayers since he took office.  Beyond his many political blunders he has taken every liberty possible to turn his state job into a personal money tree.  The only reason prosecution of his offenses could not occur is the statute of limitations for his crimes had run by the time the State fully discovered his antics. 

Perpetual candidate Troy Downing [now running for State Auditor] has the audacity to blame law enforcement for his crimes.  His hunting violations [all 9 of them] are equivalent to a knife to the throat of Montana’s heritage, and yet he continues to blame those who protect the State’s wildlife resources for his actions.  He does this, all the while entering a guilty plea to 2 of the charged offenses.

Flathead County Commissioner Phil Mitchell pled guilty to destroying public property owned by the very people he is supposed to serve, and who fund his paycheck. 

Granite County Commissioner Scott Adler followed Mitchell’s playbook.  Adler publicly admitted using county personnel and equipment to pave his driveway.  As with Mitchell, he plead guilty to misdemeanor theft.

We all remember former Representative Art Wittich was found guilty of taking illegal corporate contributions during his primary election campaign.  Despite the jury’s verdict, Wittich continues to protest his innocence. 

Former State Senator Jason Priest white-knuckled his senate term to completion [while serving as chairman of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee] before finally pleading guilty to two counts of partner or family member assault and one each of assault and resisting arrest. 

Criminal activity isn’t the only tie that binds these Republican politicians together.  None resigned in shame and in respect for the seats they hold or held.  None see violations of public trust as consequential to their personal aspirations in holding political office or representing Montana.  None ensured, even in the face of overwhelming and irrefutable evidence, that they conserved Montana’s limited law enforcement resources by accepting responsibility early.  Instead they forced multiple state agencies to devote time and energy into needless investigations and preparation for trial.  Yet all espouse their “fiscal conservative” beliefs.

Knowing this, the Montana Republican Party leadership simply turns their respective heads, offers not even the hint of criticism for the activities, and chooses instead to criticize the Democrats for not having Montana values.  Criminal justice reform used to be a Democrat talking point.  It’s clear now the Montana Republican Party picked up criminal justice reform because it needs it to keep its own out of jail.

By walking away from law enforcement, the Montana GOP has sealed its fate as the party that accommodates criminal conduct.  Makes one wonder: which family value does criminal conduct fall under?

What Can We Do About It?

Extremist Chronicles exists to shine a light on the zealotry and extremism sabotaging Montana from both the right and the left by making public the radical views and behaviors of those in elected positions. If you are deeply committed to Montana and have a story of extremism to share, please send it to so that citizens all over our state can make more informed choices about our leaders. Thank you for joining us. Together we will build a better Montana.

Legistats: Scorecard of Montana’s Extreme Right

Following every Montana legislative session, various interest groups produce “scorecards” designed to show how well a legislator’s voting record conforms with each group’s goals. Every scorecard serves two purposes: to inform the public and to influence legislators.  A prudent citizen will carefully evaluate the structure and content of a scorecard to be sure it measures what it claims to measure, and to discover inevitable embedded biases.  Those scorecards focused on a single issue or policy area, say farm policy or gun control, generally are of the most value. Those that claim to measure abstract characteristics, such as a legislator’s political philosophy, are harder to interpret and should be viewed with caution.

Legistats, Inc. purports to have found a simple way to reveal how good of a Republican any legislator is. But it does nothing of the sort.  Rather, Legistats generates a misleading “objective statistical evaluation of a [Republican] legislators party loyalty,” which (1) is designed to guarantee that some portion of the Republican caucus will always be identified as “anti-Republican,” (2) is biased by cherry-picked data, (3) is not an exclusive, or even the best measure of party loyalty, and (4) despite its evident flaws is being employed as a cudgel to remove Republican legislators who  fail to tow the line drawn by the self-appointed leaders of the party’s extreme right fringe. 

Conjuring RINOs. Legistats selects a limited number of the votes cast by a legislator to manufacture a “loyalty index.” It then grades legislators on a skewed curve to assign grades ranging from A to F.  Now let’s engage in a thought experiment to see how this works: If 50% of legislators have identical voting records and the other 50% have the same record except for one vote, then 50% will receive an A from Legistats while the other 50% will receive an F and thus be branded RINOs (Republicans In Name Only.) Does this make sense? Of course not. But by its very design Legistats must find RINOs even where none exist.

Is this flaw from Legistats’ design a matter of ignorance, or are those hawking Legistats intent on purging the Montana Republican Party by any means necessary? Read on and draw your own conclusions.

Missing Votes. Legistats claims that it only scores “partisan” votes, defined as “over 50% (the Majority) of the votes ‘FOR’ are from one party, and over 50% of the votes ‘AGAINST’ are from the other party. For the 2019 legislative session, this comes to 1,022 votes of the of the over 1,850 votes taken on the House floor. Yet when assigning grades, Legistats used only 620 votes. Why? Perhaps it’s because including the missing 400 votes doesn’t bolster the story Legistats would have you believe. Forr example, when the missing votes are counted, the fraction of time Rep. Theresa Manzella and Rep. Derek Skees (standard bearers for the extreme right) voted with their Republican colleagues falls from 91% to 82% (Manzella) and 94% to 82% (Skees).  The numbers Nancy Ballance and Llew Jones (prominent members of the Republican’s Conservative Solutions Caucus) increase from 63% to 75% and 66% to 77% respectively. When these “lost” votes are included, voting differences between legislators fade, thus complicating the ‘Legistats’ quest to identify RINOs.

Did Legistats lose 400 votes due to a flaw in its scoring algorithm, or has its purveyor cooked the books to exaggerate the severity of legitimate policy differences within the GOP caucus? You be the judge. 

(Mis)Measuring Loyalty. When considering loyalty, one should start with the question: Loyalty to what? Is it to one’s constituents, to ones conscience, to one’s party, to one’s political party… to what? In politics, a statesman finds a principled way to reconcile competing loyalties while history shows that extremists demand slavish loyalty to an object of their choosing. For the ideologues of Legistats, that object is “party loyalty.” The problem for Legistats is that an arguably better measure of loyalty exists – one that tells an entirely different story.  The most important votes taken on the House floor are those on “Second reading,” since these votes almost always determine the fate of a bill.  There were 1,018 such votes during the 2019 session. When these votes are used to calculate a loyalty index – using the same mathematical method as is employed by Legistats – one finds an almost complete reversal of the grades assigned legislators.  Many legislators with high Legistats grades are the least likely to vote with their fellow Republicans. Of the 20 legislators who received an A from Legistats, only one earns an A for second reading votes, while 12 see their grades fall to either a D or an F. And of the 20 legislators receiving an F from Legistats, none fail the second reading test, while nine see their grades fall to either a D or an F. And of the 20 legislators receiving an F from Legistats, none fail the second reading test, while nine see their grades rise to either an A or a B.  (For example, the grades for Representatives Skees and Manzella fall from A to D, while those for Representatives Jones and Balance increase from F to B.)

The foregoing analysis is not meant to be an argument for replacing Legistats with a different measure of loyalty. Rather it is to suggest that “party loyalty” can easily be weaponized against anyone.  Responsible politicians don’t obsess over “loyalty”as a means to purify their party but instead work on building coalitions that can get things done – and win elections. 

Purging the Party. Legistats portrays Republican legislators who don’t conform to its authors dubious definition of “loyalty” as anti-Republican RINOs. Some of its more ardent supporters go further, claiming that Legistats tracks every vote and reconciles it with constitutional and conservative principals.  They go on to assert that a low Legistats grade brands one as being a socalist.  By now it should be apparent that these characterizations are nonsense. And the operators of Legistats, in a display of unexpected (and probably unintended) candor, admit as much.  A disclaimer on their website warms that the Legistats loyalty index “does not reflect legislators [sic] voting records based on specific issues in relationship to party platforms or their own social, constitutional, or fiscal ideology.” Let that sink in. This “objective statistical evaluation” of voting records, besides providing at best an ambiguous measure of party loyalty, reveals nothing about a legislator’s political principles.” So why do Legistats’ proponents continue to tout this useless tool?

To find an answer to this question, one needs look no further than the man behind Legistats. A former legislator from Winifred, Ed Butcher, runs Legistats, Inc.  His time in the legislature was punctuated by outrageously vulgar public outbursts that led to him being compelled by Republican leadership to publicaly apologize on at least two occasions.  Ed hasn’t changed much since leaving office. He holds to extremist beliefs that might charitably be considered eccentric.  His obvious goal is to purge the Republican party elements he personally deems impure.  Ronald Regan would have been aghast. Unlike Butcher, Reagan understood American political history. He warned against the GOP becoming a “narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments.” He went on to observe that “such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections…soon disappear[ing] n a blaze of glorious defeat… never put[ting] into practice its basic tenants, no matter how memorable they may be.”

Ed Butcher and his right-wing extremist comrades (and for that matter left-wing extremists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the “Squad”) fail to understand that in America successful political parties are by necessity coalitions. Conservatives, libertarians, and yes, even some members of the far right comprise Montana’s Republican Party. The key to the party’s success is to follow on those issues that unite this coalition, e.g., respecting the rule of law, protecting the unborn, strengthening the family, increasing border security, and preserving constitutional rights, while at the same time seeking compromise on those matters on which members of the team disagree. 

Ed Butcher will certainly take issue with this analysis. We can almost hear him shouting, “What about the RINOs who have infiltrated the party”? To answer his question, consider the below figure, which is based upon public information compiled by the non-partisan Montana Free Press and depicts how often a legislator voted with at least half of the members of one party or another. Three features stand out in the data. First. Democrats are tightly clustered together, which could be a survival mechanism for a beleaguered minority party or could be evidence of enforced ideological conformity in the aftermath of a “successful” ideological purge. Second, Republicans are more dispersed, which is consistent with the existence of a (so far) successful multifaceted coalition.  Finally, notice that there is no overlap between the two parties. If there were, then Butcher might have a point when he rails against RINOs. As is evident, the problem for Ed is that RINOs are figments of his imagination.  But every extremist must have an enemy to target. If one cannot be found, one must be invented.  Legistats is a tool for inventing enemies, The problem for the Montana Republican Party is that the targets of Butcher’s jihad comprise a substantial portion of its conservative wing. 

In a perfect world, Ed Butcher and his extremist acolytes might come to their senses before furthering damaging statesmanship in Montana. But we don’t live in a perfect world. The best that can be hoped for is that reasonable Montanan’s will reject Legistats and those behind it in order to do the hard work necessary to best serve the people of Montana.