Four legislators representing the two feuding Republican factions in the Legislature met privately with a facilitator on Friday.
Senate President Jeff Essmann of Billings acknowledged to The Gazette State Bureau that he was one of the four lawmakers at the meeting. He declined to identify the others or the facilitator.
“We discussed the process for trying to work through these issues so we can have an agenda to highlight the differences between the Republican policies and principles and those of the Democrats,” Essmann said. “We had a good conversation, and it lasted about an hour. I felt there was genuine interest in the move from people from both sides. I’m hoping we can build on that.”
The goal, Essmann said, is to have “a single political coalition, which is what a political party should be.”
Although Republicans had majorities in the Senate and House in the 2013 Legislature, bitter philosophical and personal differences divided the caucuses.
One group calling itself the “responsible Republicans” parted company with other Republicans and voted with Democrats to pass a school-funding bill, an overhaul of state pensions, a pay raise for state employees and a plan to pay for construction of new state and university buildings or the repair of them.
The conservative Republicans generally opposed these measures. Their proposals were generally opposed by the so-called “responsible Republicans.”
The dispute carried over into the 2014 primary election in which conservatives challenged some “responsible Republicans.”
Essmann, who was in the conservative Republican camp and is now running for the state House, said future meetings are planned.
“First you have to agree on what the goal is,” he said. “Second you have to have an agreement on the process. Third, you have to hammer some compromises and do some horse trading.”
The group set the date for a future meeting.
Asked if he was encouraged by first meeting, Essmann said, “We sat down. It’s a start.”