HELENA — Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., through a spokesman Tuesday, expressed support for the Big Sky Tea Party dismissing its president.
In July, Rehberg joined the House Tea Party Caucus, although he is not a member of any Montana Tea Party groups.
The Big Sky Tea Party’s board of directors on Sunday voted to remove Tim Ravndal from the presidency of the Helena-area group and kick him out of the organization for a posting on his Facebook profile implying that he condoned violence against homosexuals.
“Denny hasn’t seen the posting,” said Evan Wilson, Rehberg’s campaign manager. “That said, he believes the movement to control government spending and protect small business from record tax increases is bigger than any one person so the folks running the Big Sky Tea Party made the right decision.”
In joining the House Tea Party Caucus, Rehberg told the Gazette State Bureau on July 22: “You don’t have to be an extremist to participate in the Tea Party, and most of those who participate in Montana are folks who are rightly frustrated by where (Democratic House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi is taking their country.”
Rehberg’s campaign manager’s comments came in response to a Montana Democratic Party press release that questioned why Rehberg was silent on the Ravndal’s postings on Facebook.
“When it comes to bigotry and hate, silence is not an appropriate response from the Montana Tea Party’s highest ranking member,” Democratic Party spokesman Martin Kidston said. “I would think Rehberg would lead by example, but so far he hasn’t said a word.”
There is no Montana Tea Party in the state, but 24 local and regional Tea Party groups, according to the national Tea Party Patriots website.
Meanwhile, James Lopach, a long-time University of Montana political scientist, said he believes Ravndal’s comments could hurt the Tea Party in Montana.
“I know we can’t ascribe hatred and fear of homosexuals to any segment of the electorate across the board,” Lopach said. “I’m sure there are Republicans, Democrats and independents who would take offense at advocacy of violence toward homosexuals.”
Ravndal’s statements might hurt Rehberg politically, Lopach said, but added that the congressman could deflect it too.
“It’s one thing if this were coming from the chairman of the state Republican Party,” Lopach said.
“So I think he (Rehberg) could credibly deflect any criticism of him. I presume what he would say is: ‘The Tea Party in general shares my goals, which are small government and low taxation.’”
Lopach said the Tea Party movement is “really a decentralized model of organization” so it’s hard to paint it “with a very broad brush.” Ravndal’s comments are a reflection of the person who said them and not necessarily to the group, he said.
“I think it is very hard to speak in very sweeping statements about the Tea Party,” Lopach said. “It’s a loose association of many groups.”