A.J. Otjen


LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff

The Nov. 7 election was a reckoning for Republicans nationally and in Montana.

Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins ousted four-term Helena Mayor Jim Smith, a known Republican who embraced the alt-right movement and rejected refugees in Montana.

Bill Cole easily beat Republican leader Jeff Essmann for Billings mayor. Essmann is a strict party-line conservative, denying climate change as an example. He also fought against mail-in voting, arguing it would disadvantage Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives special election. He wrote, it “could be the death of our effort to make Montana a reliably Republican state."

When it comes to Republicans these days, Montana is rich with embarrassments.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now famous for spending tax payer money to scuba dive in the U.S. Virgin Islands and play with contributors in Las Vegas. He insists on a flag raising ceremony at the Interior Department when he is “in garrison.” Instead of showing humility for service he displays a pomp of horseback and cowboy hat arrogance that can only be born from a well-connected Donald Jr. hunting party circumstance.

Senator Steve “What would Mitch Do” Daines had the potential to be a leader but instead fell in party line to be anti-science, anti-choice, and anti-environment, often holding phone-only town hall meetings where he does all the talking and none of the listening. He even uses the exact same talking point words as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He talks of “death spiral” Obamacare and “deeply disturbing and disqualifying” Alabama’s Roy Moore. He is best known for telling Sen. Elizabeth Warren to “take a seat.” And “yet she persisted.” He used this moment to send a fundraising letter, proclaiming himself “courageous” as the acting Senate president with the power of the gavel in his hand for “standing up” to her.

Rep. Greg Gianforte is mostly known for assaulting the press or for being a significant funder of the creationist Dinosaur and Fossil Museum in Glendive, where man walks with dinosaurs on a 5,000-year-old Earth. He, along with the Laszloffy family, fund and lead the Montana Family Foundation, the extreme evangelical group that sends anti-choice and anti-gay emails to pastors asking their flock to vote for legislators who will take Montana back to the dark ages. They also push for school choice with the hidden agenda of teaching creationism as science.

The party that once stood for economic and environmental health and conservation has been distorted and divided with dog-whistle issues. More evidence of the divide is present in the 2018 U.S. Senate race. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has endorsed Matt Rosendale, but Interior Secretary Zinke supports Big Sky businessman Troy Downing. Retired Judge Russell Fagg is endorsed by former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. It will be interesting to see these candidates take turns intentionally enraging the narrow, hateful base with issues as trivial as NFL knee-taking and gender bathrooms. Or they will try and control the vote. Republican Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has yet to prove his list of 360 fraudulent voters from 2016.

When Donald Trump took power, George W. Bush said he worried he was the “last Republican president.” Maybe this is the last Republican grasp at power in Montana. The local victories of diversity, progress, conservation, science and equality give us hope.

A.J. Otjen, of Laurel, is a business professor at Montana State University Billings. She ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for the GOP nomination for U.S. representative and traces her Republican roots to her great uncle Theobald Otjen, Wisconsin congressman in 1895.