Essmann pushes extremist agenda in northern Montana

The following letter to the editor ran in the Billings Gazette on March 9, 2014. It refers to Jeff Essmann and his allies such as Jason Priest and Art Wittich, and their attempts to recruit extremist Republican candidates to run against responsible Republicans in northern Montana.


Go home, Jeff, and don’t come back until you can behave yourself! Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, reminds me of the nasty neighbor kid who calls people names and then tattles to the adults when he gets it back.

I remember when Essmann and his extremist friends referred to Sen. Peterson, R-Buffalo, and Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, by inference as a “chump” during the last legislative session.

To infer members of your caucus are “chumps” and then complain when you’re called “extremist” seems a bit immature.

Essmann recently paid for ads in some north central Montana newspapers, listing his business and civic accomplishments in Billings, while attacking Jones’ voting record. Essmann needs to be aware Jones has an equally laudable list of accomplishments in our area.

I contend Jones’ list of accomplishments may exceed that of Essmann since Jones was able to accomplish meaningful change by his willingness to work across the aisle during the last legislative session.

Many past north central Montana Republican and Democrat state legislators have suffered the wrath of their legislative leadership by abandoning their caucus’ position and voting the best interest of their constituents. We are an independent lot in the north country, which apparently irritates Essmann and his cronies.

I support Jones in his Senate District 9 campaign and encourage voters to shun any candidate Essmann is able to recruit. We need to realize an Essmann recruit may be beholden to him and his extremist “dark money” friends rather than the residents of this district.

Go home, Jeff, and don’t come back until you can play nice!

Brent Gaylord


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Montana Soap Box: Retiring legislator slams extremism

The following was written by State Rep. Jesse O’Hara, the longest-serving member of the Montana House of Representatives during the 2013 Legislature. He is a Republican whose final term runs out in early January.


“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot do, so well, for themselves — in their separate and individual capacities.”

This quote is from Abraham Lincoln, the first president representing the Republican Party. Lincoln goes on to say that he considers public schools, infrastructure and the machinery of government to fit into this category.

If we compare Lincoln’s words to the purity standards implied in the recently released Montana legislators’ voting record hit piece, concocted by former legislator Roger Koopman, we would have to conclude that Lincoln was an “undocumented Democrat” and that he should have been purged from the Republican Party.

Somewhere along the way, extremists have anointed themselves the arbiters of all things Republican. The failed leadership team of Sens. Art Wittich and Jason Priest, along with their mouthpieces, Jeff Essmann and Edward Walker, illustrated their 10-year plan to purge the party in a series of leaked emails.

Other extremists have proposed candidate “purity tests,” further limiting the electorate’s choice in elections, often recruiting Libertarians to run as Republicans to further drive their agenda. Extremists engage in this duplicitous behavior because they recognize it’s their best chance for a successful coup.

I have been active in Republican politics in five decades. In the most recent decade, the extremists have begun to pursue a hyperpartisan policy of divisiveness while formally rejecting the benefits of statesmanship and compromise. We now risk becoming a fringe party, misaligned with the needs of the electorate and incapable of sustaining a governing majority.

Extremists work to have us believe the Libertarian fallacy that all government is evil. In their words, the only test to be used when judging a bill is, “Does this bill increase or decrease the presence of government?” A question like, “Does state government have a role in ensuring the availability of rural health care?” never enters their minds.

The Republican Party I began with would never gut Montana services so brutally that classrooms are crowded, schools are shuttered, roads aren’t paved, predators walk the streets, rural health care disappears and infrastructure collapses. Extremists seem willing to do so. They just avoid revealing their plans to the people. Extremists are stealing the Republican brand, moving Montana toward D.C. gridlock and chaos.

Our party’s shift to the extremes is being accelerated by out-of-state dark money. Dark money is an organized, dangerous enemy that spends millions polishing their message to maximize voter appeal. Sound bites such as “smaller government” or “more freedom” are proven favorites. Lost in the allure of the sound bite is the responsibility of detailing real solutions to real problems.

The Republican Party cannot return to greatness in Montana by falling for this extremist dogma. It is not proper or wise for Republicans to simply denigrate and disparage.

Realigning ourselves with the solutions approach of President Lincoln is the first real step in winning back our brand, the Republican brand I support and respect.

Extremist GOP leaders target lawmakers who supported public education

In a Jan. 16 guest opinion, Yellowstone County Republicans Dale Mortensen, Jennifer Owen and Anna Woods argued that primary efforts under way to purge so-called moderate Republicans from the party in Montana are something to cheer. This power grab from the right wing of the Republican Party would have serious consequences for state funding for education, an issue with which the voters of Billings have been grappling for several years.

Anyone who has paid attention during the past few years in Billings is well aware that our school district lacked the funding to keep pace with the population growth that affected our schools. This has led to overcrowded classrooms and an inability to hire the teachers needed to alleviate that overcrowding. In the 2013 Legislature, Senate Bill 175, which overhauled state financing for our schools, passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock. This gave Billings badly needed additional dollars to hire more teachers and helped lead to the overwhelming 2013 victories for staffing and building bond levies.

Senate Bill 175 was sponsored by Republican Sen. Llew Jones of Conrad.

The bill passed because moderate Republicans like Jones — who are now subject to the purity tests being celebrated by Mortensen, Owen and Woods — bucked the Republican leadership and joined with Democrats to move it forward. Republican moderates also fended off a number of poison pills introduced by their right-wing colleagues.

The voters of Montana, and of Billings especially, owe these moderate Republicans a debt of gratitude for stepping up to the plate to govern and for supporting Montana’s outstanding public education system.

What is truly galling about the SB175 story for the residents of Billings is that not one member of our Republican House delegation stood with their civic-minded colleagues from elsewhere in the state. Reps. Doug Kary, Daniel Zolnikov, Dennis Lenz, Donald Jones, Cary Smith, Dave Hagstrom, Clayton Fiscus, Jonathan McNiven and Sarah Laszloffy all voted against SB175 despite the fact that their constituents in Billings were desperately in need of additional funding for education. A month later, those constituents took it upon themselves to locally fund more teachers and classrooms. Also opposing SB175 was Sen. Jeff Essmann, who changed his initial nay vote on the issue to a yea only after enough House Republicans had defected to send the bill back to the Senate largely unchanged from its original version.

These are the sort of Republicans that Dale Mortensen, Jennifer Owen and Anna Woods want to send to Helena. Would any of the residents of Billings who voted to locally fund teachers and classrooms think that rewarding legislators who don’t share that priority with another trip to Helena is a wise vote? I would certainly hope not.
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After Dismantling Campaign Finance Laws, Montana Group Under Scrutiny

Check out a very good article about Western Tradition Partnership and their illegal coordination with extremist candidates in Montana. 

Evidence of coordination?

Internal documents for ATP, obtained by the Montana Commission on Political Practices and reported on by the investigative news show Frontline on PBS in October, seem to support charges that ATP has coordinated with several candidate campaigns since 2008.

One of those making such claims is Debra Bonogofsky, a Republican who has run unsuccessfully for Montana’s state House of Representatives three times.

During her 2008 run, Bonogofsky was puzzled by a call from former state legislator John Sinrud, one of ATP’s founders, offering to lend a hand.

“They wanted to know if they could help with my campaign,” said Bonogofsky. “I didn’t know what they meant by that.”

Bonogofsky found out two years later, when she faced Republican Dan Kennedy in a 2010 primary contest for the state’s 57th District house seat. And this time, ATP did not call to offer her help.

Instead, ATP sent out a letter warning voters that Bonogofsky, a moderate Republican, was part of a movement by “radical environmentalists and their anti-business allies” to take control of Montana.

Kennedy knocked off Bonogofsky in the primary, and Bonogofsky filed a complaint with the state’s election commission, alleging that ATP and her opponent had coordinated illegally.

“These groups are convoluted and intertwined and are clearly meant to confuse and deceive Montana voters and circumvent Montana law,” her August 2010 complaint read.

Last month a judge released ATP’s bank records, giving more evidence of coordination between Kennedy and ATP. A $557 check from Kennedy’s campaign was made out to a company called “Direct Mail,” and deposited into the Wells Fargo bank account of ATP.

In November, Kennedy told the Associated Press that he made the payment to a printing house called Direct Mail and Communications to send fliers for his campaign — not to ATP.

The print house is owned and operated by Allison LeFer, the wife of ATP’s Christian LeFer.

Mr. LeFer told the Center his wife’s business is a separate operation from ATP. He told the investigative reporting group ProPublica that they have “scrupulously endeavored” to avoid illegal coordination with candidates.

Allison LeFer told the Center she is not involved in ATP, and referred questions to her husband.

When a Montana judge released the organization’s bank records in early November, they revealed that Ms. LeFer has actually been deeply involved in ATP’s day-to-day operations as a signer on many of the organization’s checks.

Open Letter to Voters of House District 57

Dear Voters of House District 57,

Picture of a man stepping on campaign laws

Don't let dirty politics win in Montana

You will soon be getting my Open Letter to Voters of House District 57 in the mail explaining, in detail, the illegal and unethical activities of the organizations that supported my opponent Dan Kennedy. I hope you will take the time to read it and do your own research into the extremist groups such as Western Tradition Partnership and Assembly Action Fund. These groups have no respect for Montana’s campaign laws and Dan Kennedy has never repudiated their tactics or misleading attack pieces.

I appreciate all of the support that people have given me over the last couple of months and hope you will consider writing my name on your ballot in November.



Colorado political group Western Tradition linked to nasty Montana race

Check out the newest article from the Colorado Independent about  the groups who used illegal and sleazy tactics to influence races in  Montana, including mine. It is a great overview of the people and  organizations that supported my opponent Dan Kennedy.  western-tradition-linked-to-nasty-montana-race

Western Tradition Partnership and Assembly Action Fund as well as a  business called Direct Mail and Communications (which Dan Kennedy used to send out attack mailings) are all connected to  Scott Shires, a man who has been hauled into court and found guilty of  numerous election law violations, tax fraud and has been involved in  money laundering and bilking the EPA out of millions of tax payer  dollars.

Is Scott Shires the type of person we really want influencing Montana elections with out of state money? Does Dan Kennedy, my opponent, condone this behavior?  He never signed the Code of Fair Campaign Practices. I am asking him to to publicly repudiate the illegal tactics and criminals who worked to get him elected.

Billings Gazette reports on illegal activities of Western Tradition Partnership, National Gun Owners Alliance and Assembly Action Fund

On July 9, the Billings Gazette highlighted the illegal and unethical activities that  were conducted against our campaign earlier this year. I believe this will be the first    of many articles that highlight the misdeeds of Western Tradition Partnership,  Assembly Action Fund, Montana Citizens for Right to Work and National Gun  Owner’s  Alliance. It is important for candidates who are targeted by these groups to stand up to groups that use scare tactics, illegal mailings, radio ads to try to influence elections.

It is also important to hold the candidates who are the beneficiaries of these illegal activities accountable. For example, my opponent Dan Kennedy, never signed the Code of Fair Campaign Practices (Form C-3), a code that candidates sign voluntarily to uphold the basic principles of decency, honesty and fair play that every candidate for public office has a moral obligation to observe and uphold. (Form C-3, Montana Code Annotated 13-35-301) One provision directs candidates to publicly repudiate any unethical tactics that groups use on their behalf.

I am asking Mr. Kennedy to sign the Code of Fair Campaign Practices.  According to his profile on the Montana GOP website, he states that  “his parents instilled in them the basics of hard work and honesty.” Unfortunately, his refusal to come out against the activities of these groups has shown that he believed that the ends justified the means and that honesty and ethical campaigns take a back seat to winning at any cost.

My campaign was based on myself and my ideas for Montana’s future. His campaign was based on attacking me and working with groups who filled their mailings and radio ads with outright lies. This is why I am running a write in campaign. Voters in House District 57 deserve a choice.

To read the full Billings Gazette article: