While Americans remain transfixed on the presidential election and the unpredicted rise in popularity of candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, there’s another election much closer to home that will, in many ways, affect Montanans far more profoundly than the presidential race. I’m talking about Tuesday’s primary election and the hotly contested seats, especially on the Republican side, that will determine control of Montana’s legislature before November’s general election even arrives.
While most voters understand the concept of numerical control in terms of Republicans and Democrats, few understand the concept of philosophical control. When Republicans control the legislature, we assume conservative laws will pass, and when Democrats are in the majority, liberal laws will carry the day. But when Republicans are in control and spending increases and liberal social programs expand, we ask ourselves, “How can this be?” We thought Republican control meant lower spending and smaller government. We don’t understand because we have fallen victim to the fallacy that numerical majorities equate to philosophical majorities. And nothing could be further from the truth.
In recent sessions, a liberal faction within the Republican caucus has increasingly joined with Democrats to help the Democrats pass a liberal agenda. These are Republicans who claim to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate. In reality, they are neither. They are liberal through and through and align much more closely with the Democratic platform. They often score as low as 30% on conservative legislative score cards at a time when 90% of Republicans score 90% or higher. They are consummate “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and it’s really only a problem on the Republican side of the aisle. Democrats tend to be uniformly liberal on most issues.
Another interesting twist to this primary cycle is the number of liberal Republicans being supported by organizations that used to be solidly conservative. These include the contractors, the medical community and the Farm Bureau. On closer examination, the common denominator within all of these groups is the fact that their members increasingly rely on government spending. It makes perfect sense, then, that they will support candidates who will vote for higher taxes and increased government programs. All that to say that Tuesday’s elections are extremely important for anyone who wants to forward a particular political philosophy, not just a political party. Numerical majorities mean absolutely nothing if members of the majority are willing to abandon their party’s platform and side with the other party on key votes. It used to be unthinkable; now, it’s just part of the game.
Yes, it’s frustrating. But what’s more frustrating is that these unscrupulous politicians continue to get elected. They say one thing while their voting records tell a completely different story. As I have said before, it does not have to be this way. Primary elections may not seem as important as general elections, but in many ways, they are more so. It is up to us to engage enough not just to vote, but to cast informed votes. And the hard work has already been done. Many groups publish voting records that tell at a glance whether or not a candidate is who they claim to be.
Tuesday’s primary election will determine, in large part, the outcome of the 2017 legislative session, and it’s up to us to determine who will carry our values to Helena.