By Evelyn Pyburn

The people of Montana have “thrown down the gauntlet,” and have challenged Republicans to show what they can do, stated Republican Brad Tschida, who was 2019 House Majority Leader and recently re-elected to HD97 in Missoula. On Nov. 3, the Republicans swept all statewide offices and netted many new positions in both houses of the state legislature, achieving a rare “trifecta” in state political power.

The Republicans have been saying they can govern better and the voters of Montana have said, “prove you are in fact better to run the government,” surmised Tschida, regarding the fact that Republican Greg Gianforte won the governorship and Republicans won a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate.

“It’s the first time in 84 years that something like this has happened, “ said Tschida, “It doesn’t take much insight to know it is significant.”  But why it happened isn’t all that clear, Tschida puzzled, adding that it was probably a myriad of factors. Significant, however, was probably “seeing all the riots and lawlessness that was going on, and I think people think Republicans have a better grasp on supporting law enforcement and safety.”

This may be the first time in history that Republicans swept all the offices – including all the State Land Board Offices, as well as the Public Service Commission positions, said Jon Benion, a senior staff attorney for the Montana Attorney General’s office. Benion is something of an expert on the history of Montana politics having written the book, “Big Sky Politics.”

“I don’t know if we have ever had a time when Republicans controlled all Land Board offices,” said Benion, “The Democrats did in 2008, “when they swept all offices except for Dennis Rehberg’s  US Congressional seat.”

When looking at history, it becomes obvious that there is something of a 16- 20 year cycle regarding party control in Montana, said Benion.  “From 1988 to 2000 the Republican brand was strong, and then Democrats were golden from 2004 to 2008.”

Montana is typically known as a red state, said Benion, but that is mostly because the state predictably votes for Republican presidents. Clinton winning in 1992 was out of the norm, but that was because Ross Perot was a third party candidate. One has to go back to 1964 before Montana supported another Democrat presidential candidate as part of the Lyndon B. Johnson landslide.

Asked what he thought the Republican sweep would mean in the next state legislative session, Benion quipped, “It means a lot fewer vetoes.”

Tschida, too, cited that as one of the most significant aspects of the election wins. Having a Republican governor for the first time in 16 years, will undoubtedly more easily advance Republican policies. Even though Republicans have controlled both houses for the past couple of sessions, a lot of their measures were vetoed by Democrat Governor Steve Bullock and before him, by Democrat Governor Brian Schweitzer, who gained some notoriety for the number of his vetoes.

Going into the 2021 session, the Republican majority in the House will be sufficient to override a governor’s veto or to pass measures that require a two-thirds majority without winning Democratic votes.

With Republican Greg Gianforte winning the governorship, Republicans also picked up nine legislative seats in the Montana House and one in the Montana Senate — enough to expand their majorities to 67 of 100 House seats and 31 of 50 Senate seats. Cascade County Republicans made a total sweep of their legislature districts. Democrats didn’t win a single Republican-held legislative seat.

Tschida was not too certain what the priorities for the Republicans will be. There are a lot of things that need to be addressed and he quickly recited a long list starting with First and Second Amendment rights, water rights and protecting “the most vulnerable.”

Tschida wants to demonstrate that the Republicans do not just stand opposed to expanding government, “but that we want smart government.”

The rules and details of how the legislative session will be run and their leadership will be ironed out in caucuses of both parties on November 18 and 19 in Helena.

“We are going to see some good legislation that will save money and benefit Montanans….we will get business-friendly legislation passed, reduce the size of bureaucracies and the regulatory impact on businesses….We will have a legislative and executive branch that will create a positive environment to serve the needs of the population and not government.”

Property taxes will undoubtedly be a big issue, given that the rapid rise in home values is pushing a lot of people out of their homes.

An obvious issue will be what Tschida called “over-reach by the outgoing administration regarding masking people up and shutting business down. If you look at what they did — not a single state, county or city job was deemed as non-essential.  Every one of them kept their jobs. The entire impact of COVID was born by the private sector. It caused businesses to shut down forever. “

The government failed to look at the broader impact of its actions in shutting down the economy and imposing other restrictions, according to Tschida. “By their actions they promoted more domestic violence, child abuse, an increase in the amount of drug and alcohol abuse… they didn’t look at the myriad of impacts that those decisions had on people.”


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