Their astroturf “group,” Americans for Prosperity, is fighting Medicaid Expansion. That’s right–the Koch Brothers, who are worth $50 Billion – each, are trying to ensure that someone who makes $15,000 is not able to afford health insurance or medical care.
Zach Lahn, a young GOP operative who was once a Steve Daines campaign aide, is now the head of AFP’s Montana chapter. Lahn has thus been targeting pro-Medicaid Republican legislators, sending mailers comparing them to Obama, demanding that they sign anti-Medicaid “pledges,” and showing up in a suit holding astroturf “town meetings” in their districts designed to intimidate them.
None of it is working, and the town hall meetings have blown up altogether. In Dillon this weekend, the legislator being targeted, Rep. Jeff Wellborn (R-Dillon, actually showed up like an adult at the AFP meeting and naturally wanted to speak. Lahn would not allow him to. Wellborn walked out, as did a number of attendees. You can see a video of this on the Great Falls Tribune website here-- the crowd was not pleased with AFP’s action.
Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell), the former police chief and now a pro-Medicaid Republican legislator from Kalispell, drove eight hours to be at the town hall meeting in his district this weekend and muscled his way to the podium. That meeting, too, blew up in Lahn’s face. A Flathead Beacon reporter covered the event: You can also see some of the Flathead Beacon’s video coverage on the Great Falls Tribune site.
Garner’s mere presence had a chilling effect on the AFP presentation, which was frequently derailed by laughter, booing and shouting from audience members who overwhelmingly expressed support for Garner.
Following a hasty exchange with AFP State Director Zach Lahn minutes before Thursday’s meeting commenced, Garner took the podium to defend his record before the crowd of mostly supporters, who cheered the lawmaker on.
“I promised the people here when I ran that I would listen to you and not out-of-town special interests,” Garner said to raucous applause. “If every time they want me to sign a pledge card and I don’t do it they are going to rent a room and have a meeting, then this is going to get real expensive. Cause I’m not signing the pledge card.”
This is an example of a Tea Party event gone terribly wrong. And it indicates to me that the Medicaid expansion battle will likely be won. The moderates will break away and support some version of the Governor’s proposal.
This debacle in Kalispell (which played out in several other districts as well) is part of a larger emerging trend in the country in which classic Tea Party hooligan tactics are not working out like they used to. A few years back, Tea Party town hall meetings were places where a moderate Republican would overwhelmed by a Tea Party mob. Now the opposite is happening. This means that the Tea Party is in retreat. Even AFP’s own employees know how terrible their reputation is.
Perhaps the person who has best summed this all up is GOP Sen. Llew Jones, who penned an op-ed in the Fairfield Sun Times today:
Irrespective of your stance on this, or any issue, these intruders need to get out of Montana politics. I know that I now consider any issue or individual that AFP advocates for or against as highly suspect. To me these folks are on the same level as the predator who called my 89 year old mother last week, pretending to be her Grandson, supposedly trapped in a “bad situation” in New York, desperately needing her help, which was defined as $900.00 on her credit card. “Please Grandma, don’t tell anyone…..!!” How despicable.. It took my son calling, and me talking to her, to finally calm her down, but she is still very upset and confused.
Predators: get out of Montana, we do not want you here. We can take care of our own.
The problem AFP is running into is that these districts have rural hospitals that need the medicaid expansion because they currently provide health services to poor people who can’t pay the bills. Plus Medicaid expansion helps all Montanans – without it, we are all are subsidizing the cost of the uninsured through our insurance bills. So while Lahn and his pals are making angry speeches at these Munich Beer Hall-type gatherings, Governor Bullock and Lt. Governor McClean are touring the hospital down the street, meeting with workers and even the Republican legislators being targeted, and getting the majority of the community behind them, such as chambers of commerce, as well as local media such as editorial boards. The major newspapers have all turned against AFP and are supporting Medicaid expansion, as has the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
It might seem natural for Steve Bullock to be supporting this but keep in mind that he has taken on a herculean task. Bullock stands alone as the only Democratic Governor in America who both presides over a Red state and is actively pushing Medicaid expansion.