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Behind-the-scenes politics of leadership votes

by Brad Molnar
| November 27, 2022 12:00 AM

Republican and Democrat caucuses met last week to pick leadership teams for the upcoming legislative session. With the House and Senate being held by Republican super majorities, Republicans met on the House and Senate floors. Democrats convened in committee rooms.

After weeks of unsuccessfully trying to get a conservative Republican to challenge Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls for Senate majority leader I threw my hat into the ring with minutes to spare. The job of the majority leader is to lead in floor debate, negotiate with the Governor on behalf of the caucus, and herald the accomplishments of the Republican caucus.

These are not my strong points. I am best known as a strict constitutionalist, with libertarian leanings, sort of Republican. I am also known for being a sore loser if these traits are defeated by my own caucus.

My platform was simple. First, we have at least $1 billion more than state government could possibly spend wisely. Spending the one-time cash would saddle future taxpayers with maintenance for any new programs. I promised to pass a Senate resolution that would prioritize all tax rebate bills so we could hear all of them at one time and pass one, a few, or a hybrid form of all, to the House floor, before we entertained any spending bills.

Second, though every store and shop in Montana is sporting “now hiring” signs our welfare rolls have grown by 20% since the last session. I offered the path of “able-bodied people in Montana do not get welfare. AKA, “get a job.” We did this in the 90s and cut welfare rolls by 50% in 18 months.

Third, I opined that we should not have a majority leader that was a member of the minority caucus, the conservative “Solutions Caucus.” Only they call themselves “conservative.” They join with Democrats to pass legislation the Republican majority will not pass. The Solutions Caucus was a favorite tool of Gov. Bullock. Gov. Gianforte is a favorite tool of the Solutions Caucus. With Republicans as far as the eye can see I have no idea why he thinks he needs them. OK, you caught me. I do see why but let’s not digress.

Fourth, I opined that last session we passed a record number of bills challenged on constitutional grounds. About one third were protected by the plain wording of the constitution and upheld by the courts, one third were toss ups that could be ruled either way or repealed by judicial activists, the last group were patently unconstitutional based on the plain wording of the Montana and U.S. constitutions. I pledged that as majority leader, if any bills were flagged by our legal division, or if anyone spotted a constitutional weak spot, we would work with the bill’s sponsor to find constitutional compliant wording. When we lose a suit the people suffering from the problem must wait two more years for an attempted solution.


I pointed out that I had voted for the special session to return the tax surplus to the taxpayers before lobbyists could divvy it up. I have legislation in drafting to exclude able-bodied persons from collecting welfare, and I am not a captain in the Solution Caucus rebel forces so would not be working to attack my fellow Republicans. This was in clear contrast to my fellow majority leader wannabe.

Splat! Which is good because I doubt that I would have been majority leader long before various forces would have called for a new vote. So, I was ready to serve as majority leader until the various remedies were in place, the money returned to those that earned it, and a suitable replacement found.

Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, the undisputed leader of the Solutions Caucus, is once again the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. So he again has the keys to the treasury and can protect his funding sources to defeat fiscally conservative Republicans with coordinated independent expenditures from his lobbyist allies.

His captain now speaks for the majority so there will not be a serious challenge to anything fiscal that comes out of the House. Woe to him that presents any opposition and is facing re-election.

I feel more defeated now than I did a week ago.

Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel

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