HELENA — A Republican who casts himself as a tea party favorite and the more conservative choice is running for leader of the Montana House of Representatives.
Rep. Krayton Kerns of Laurel said he is running against Rep. Mike Milburn of Cascade for House speaker. Milburn had been considered by many to be an easy pick for the job before Kerns started telling Republicans he would also like the job.
Republicans won a large majority House in last Tuesday's elections, controlling 68 of 100 seats. GOP legislators will decide House leadership positions next week.
Both Kerns and Milburn promise spending cuts, lower taxes and spurring the economy by easing environmental restrictions. But Kerns said he is seeking more conservative votes with his message on using the state Legislature to fight federal growth.
"We have to fundamentally change government," Kerns said. "The path we are currently taking will be sailing us into the abyss."
He said voters have given Republicans a mandate to pursue a conservative agenda.
Kerns said he has embraced the enthusiasm behind the tea party movement, speaking regularly at their functions. That backing plays into his run for the influential position running the business of the House.
The speaker sets schedules, grants committee assignments, assigns legislation and controls much of the business of the chamber. The position is a key figure in negotiations with state Senate leaders and the governor's office.
Kerns said the state needs to stand up to the federal government on wolves, illegal immigration and other issues.
"In all of this, the states need to stand up," Kerns said. "So far the states have been the battered spouse of the federal government."
Milburn has said that fiscal issues will be his top focus if elected speaker.
Kerns said there is no animosity between the two, and he promised if he loses to be the "best darn soldier" he could for Milburn.
Rep. Ken Peterson of Billings is running against fellow Billings Republican Rep. Tom McGillvray for House majority leader.
Republicans will hold a smaller majority in the Senate. Sen. Jim Peterson of Buffalo is in line to run that chamber.