New GOP chair Essman calls for fresh ideas to criticize governor with

Jeff Essmann rehearses a play about a mean state senator

Jeff Essmann and Scott Boulanger rehearse a play about a mean state senator

The Republican Party of Montana elected Jeff Essmann its party chair last month, replacing Will Deschamps after six years. Essmann was president of the senate in 2015, so this move finally unites the two branches of Montana’s state government: the Republican legislature and Republican politics.

You may remember Essmann from the most wonderful email chain in the world, in which he discussed ways to reduce the power and perhaps number of moderates in his party with then-majority leader Art Wittich (now the representative from Glendive) and then-senator Jason Priest (now convicted of partner/family abuse.) Arguably, Essmann’s struggle with moderates began when he defeated Jim Pertersen in the 2011 vote for senate president. It hit a snag this past session, when Democrats joined moderate Republicans to pass Senator Ed Buttrey’s (R–Colstrip) Medicaid expansion compromise. But now that Essmann is party chair, it appears the conservatives have won.

He has a mandate. He controls the machinations of his party and the levers of the senate. And from this catbird seat, he sent an email to the state’s Republicans calling for “examples large and small” of bureaucratic failures under Democratic Governor Steve Bullock.

“It is our goal to develop a list of all these failures and begin a drumbeat of steady criticism,” he wrote, echoing the dream of ancient Greeks as they built the first democracies. You can read all about it in this weeks’ column for the Missoula Independent.

I know many of you struggle to explain why Montana politics is important to your lives—and possibly, on a causal level, it is not. But my lands, it’s entertaining. Everyone is crookeder than a dog’s hind leg and lacks the skill or the inclination to keep it secret—except for the ranchers and schoolteachers who make law 90 days every other year and take it really seriously.  The news from Helena is like a musical about trying to save the town from speculators, but without the songs. So it’s perfect. I encourage you to get hooked.

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