An urgent meeting has been called by the Chairman of the Montana Republican Party. The date is January 10th.
The assembled Republicans will vote on whether to join a federal lawsuit filed a few months ago by a group of Tea Party nuts against the State of Montana, arguing that our primary election system is unconstitutional. The original official plaintiffs are from Ravalli County but the ringleader and lawyer for the group is none other than Matthew Monforton, the Tea Party hot-head from Bozeman who wants to wage war against GOP moderates.
Monforton say that Montana’s primary elections, in which any voter is allowed by law to choose either the Republican or Democratic ballot, violates the constitutional “right of association” under which political groups may decide whom to include and exclude. This bunch think our system is too inclusive, for it allows non-purists to vote in the GOP primary.
If these idiots win, then Montanans will be forced to list their party affiliation when they register to vote, or else be forbidden from voting in the primary. Sounds crazy, right? It is. Montana’s open primary has existed for 100 years and was founded on the notion that the voter deserves as many choices as possible, and that parties should not control politics.
Could a federal judge just junk our setup? Well, it has happened before. A similar challenge by right-wing activists was won in Idaho recently and Idaho’s open primary–identical to Montana’s–was stuck down.
At any rate, the most delicious aspect of this controversy (from a blogging perspective, at least) is the special GOP meeting called for January 10 by the GOP chairman Will Deschamp, who is panicking. At this assembly, those in attendance will vote on whether the Party should join the lawsuit (thus trying to close down the primary) or stay out of it. This is no small thing. If the state GOP refuses to support the lawsuit, it could harm the suit or even defeat it. If the GOP joins the suit, it could help it succeed.
The problem is this: The Montana GOP already voted on this issue, this summer.
At the annual convention a few months back, the Republicans voted in favor of closing down the primary so that only registered Republicans can vote in it. The resolution is now enshrined in the Montana Republican party’s formal platform, just like other crazy things which have been or are still there such as buying back the National Parks from the US government or imprisoning LBGT people. As you know, GOP conventions are heavily attended by lunatics, who set crazy policy positions that often embarrass the GOP. Usually, however, the party is able to allow the lunatics to have their fun, because there’s never any realistic chance for the fringe policies to be enacted.
But this time it’s different. The GOP has to act in one way or another. Monforton has called the GOP’s bluff.
The problem, as chairman Will Deschamps clearly understands, is that a huge portion of Montana voters, and indeed a huge portion of GOP members, will be furious if they are forced to become members of a party as a precondition for voting. These voters, in turn, would blame the GOP. So Deschamps find himself in the humiliating pickle of being forced to call a meeting, and to stack the meeting with moderate delegates, so that he can try to reverse a plank in the Republican platform that was ratified only several months ago at a convention that followed age-old rules of order.
Monforton, who will be in the state legislature come January, has already taken a shot at Deschamp for calling this meeting. “It’s nothing more than an attempt by Deschamps to have a do-over in order to stab rank and file members in the back and get his own cronies to reverse the vote,” he told the AP last week.
Monforton’s gang, of course, has a very clear motive in bringing this suit: make the GOP more conservative by eliminating moderate voters from primaries. This is exactly what would happen if primaries were party-member only affairs. Imagine if the only voters who could participate in a GOP primary were Tea Partiers. What do you think such a party would be like? Nominees would be loons like Matt Rosedale, not Ryan Zinke; not Rick Hill, but Klansmen like Drew Turiano. Rick Santorum, not Romney, would have won the primary in Montana.
It should be great fun to observe this meeting in January. Surely the press will be invited.