Gazette State Bureau
HELENA - Delegates to the Montana Republican Party's officers' convention in Great Falls in June will be choosing a new state leader because Chairman John Rabenberg of Fort Peck has decided not to seek re-election.
Rabenberg, elected state GOP chairman two years ago, said Friday it's time to give someone else an opportunity to lead the party.
"I enjoyed the whole thing, and we did a lot of grass-roots development," Rabenberg said. "And when I'll leave I'll still help with that because that's what makes the party, precinct committeemen and committeewomen. It's so important to have everything organized and working well."
Among those being mentioned as candidates are former Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs of Helena and Greg Franks of Billings.
Delegates to the state convention June 2-4 at the Heritage Inn in Great Falls will choose a new chairman, vice chairman, secretary, treasurer and assistant treasurer.
Montana Democrats had a highly successful election in 2004, winning four of the five statewide Land Board offices and electing their first governor in 20 years. Republicans had controlled both legislative bodies since 1995, but Democrats captured the Senate, 27-23, while the House is split with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.
Rabenberg said Republicans are seeing more grass-roots interest "due to all the dissatisfaction with the Democrats in this legislative session." Republicans need to get more people involved and build up grass-roots organization and communications, he said.
"Our people are mad," he said. "They're mad that the Democrats gave themselves an artificial advantage through a gerrymandered redistricting and they're mad that Brian Schweitzer misled the state during his campaign with false promises of bipartisanship. We need to channel that anger into productivity and communicate with Montana to remind them why they vote Republican."
The short-term priorities for the Republican Party are to re-elect Sen. Conrad Burns and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and to win back the legislature in 2006, he said.