BILLINGS — Moderate Republicans failed to temper the Montana Republican Party platform convention last week as the GOP declared it wanted bans on all abortions, including in cases involving incest and rape.
Republican lawmakers, candidates for office and other party members met in Billings last week for the first time since 2018 to revise the party platform. Broken up into sections, or planks, the platform articulates the Montana GOP’s stances on major issues, such as education, taxation and crime.
Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, read out the proposed party language on abortion, which supported a complete ban on elective abortions. Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, later clarified this did not exclude medical abortions, including cases where the life of the mother was at risk.
However, other party members felt the language didn’t leave room for people with differing beliefs, said Heidi Streiger, a proxy delegate. She wanted the platform to oppose elective abortion, not support a ban, and she did not believe the platform should take a stance on when life begins. The room voted her suggestions down.
Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, also called for exceptions to the abortion ban.
“We support a ban on abortion, on elective abortion,” Bedey said, reading the language he wanted to see in the platform. “With the exception of cases of rape or incest or when there exists an imminent threat to the life of the mother.”
Bedey’s proposed language was also voted down.
The party platform also provided a preview of what legislation Republican lawmakers may introduce during the 2023 Legislature. Major pieces of legislation tied to the platform may also be used next session to create a legislative score card, showing how individual lawmakers voted on Montana GOP platform issues.
Rep. Derek Skees championed the accountability tool, which he said will give voters insight into which lawmakers vote the “brand Republican.”
“(Voters) are expecting small taxes, personal responsibility, small government,” Skees said. “…But the problem is we have a majority in our caucus that are conservative and minority who are not. And they trade votes left and right to get their stuff done and kill our stuff.”
Streiger cautioned against the idea of a scorecard moments before she attempted to introduce more mild language in the platform’s abortion stance. The 21-year-old Montana Tech student said, “We don’t want to compel people into supporting what they might disagree with somewhat.”
Skees acknowledged people don’t like heavy partisan politics and that he was one of the more extreme members of the party, because he said he was an “unapologetic conservative." But the scorecard is meant to increase transparency and label what the party and what candidates believe, he said.
During about five hours of discussion, delegates more than once booed moderate views, and some more controversial views drew contempt from even other conservatives. Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, mocked a line in the national affairs plank of the platform, which talked about the Jan. 6 defendants.
“It refers to people being held in indefinite detention,” Mercer said. “Let me quickly say how the criminal justice system works.”
Mercer, who served as Montana’s U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2009, described how a typical federal case proceeds and how and when people can be released. When another delegate got up to rebut Mercer and restated the belief that prosecutors are depriving Jan. 6 defendants of their rights, Mercer rolled his eyes. However, the language about Jan. 6 was approved for the platform.
When the topic of how to handle elections and count ballots arose, Bedey once again advocated a more moderate stance. The unfounded attacks on Montana’s election system does nothing but degrade people’s confidence in the fundamental process of voting, Bedey said.
“If we’re a conservative party, that wants to maintain our institutions,” Bedey said. “We should quit throwing gasoline on the fire.”
The party later adopted language declaring the Montana Republican Party would push for a return to hand counted or mechanically counted ballots. Any technology involving digital tabulation or digital storing of voting information should no longer have a place in Montana’s elections, according to the party platform’s goal.
Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, said she doesn’t understand the technology in voting machines and it makes it tough to call the elections transparent.
“I can admit that I’m so ignorant about this subject that I don’t even know what I don’t know,” Manzella said. “And I think most people fall into that category.”
The updated platform is expected to be up on the Montana Republican Party website later this month.