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October 5, 2023

It’s been a busy week for Montana Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale, a likely entrant to Montana’s 2024 U.S. Senate race and a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, a role that has given him a megaphone to repeatedly agitate against GOP leadership in Congress. 

On Sept. 30, Rosendale was among the 90 (out of 221) House Republicans who voted against a continuing resolution to avert a shutdown of the federal government and keep the lights on (and federal workers employed) until mid-November. Rosendale decried the measure — which was pushed by now-erstwhile House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and ultimately signed by Democratic President Joe Biden —as an effort by the “uniparty” to sell the American people short by circumventing the normal appropriations process and ostensibly furthering the policies of Biden and former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Fellow Montana House Republican Ryan Zinke, who had previously voted for a different stopgap funding measure, voted with Rosendale, though neither of their votes impacted the outcome. The resolution passed 335-91. 

As promised, the passage of the continuing resolution ignited a rebellion from the GOP’s right flank, which has not hidden its ill will toward McCarthy. On Oct. 2, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz — not technically a Freedom Caucus member, but about as far-right as it gets in Congress — made a motion to oust McCarthy as speaker. Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries made clear the minority party wasn’t going to bail McCarthy out, as odious as its members might find the Freedom Caucus. When the vote came up the next day, Rosendale was one of eight House Republicans to vote against McCarthy, the gray-haired “young gun” from Bakersfield, California. It was the first time the House had voted to fire a speaker in its history. 

“I am tired of being lectured by people who have been here for decades and have increased the national debt to $33 trillion. It’s about time we did something differently,” Rosendale said ahead of the vote, per Lee newspapers’ Tom Lutey, who has spearheaded Montana’s in-state coverage of the budgetary cluster-fiasco in Washington. 

Rosendale elaborated to TV news outlet NonStop Local that he felt McCarthy had betrayed the trust of Republicans by negotiating with Democrats over GOP objections. 

On this vote, Zinke stuck with McCarthy and aimed invective at his seatmate and the Freedom Caucus. 

“You can’t complain about smoke from the fire when you’re the one holding the matches,” Zinke told NonStop Local in a text. “Vacating the chair is a waste of time all due to personal disagreements when we should be doing our jobs and funding the government, defending our country and securing our border. We’re here to build, not burn.”

Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, wasn’t thrilled with Rosendale either, telling the D.C. tipsheet Punchbowl News that he “didn’t realize that Matt Rosendale and Nancy Pelosi attend the same prayer group.” 

Daines is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party organization tasked with electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate and, this cycle in particular, defeating longtime incumbent Montana Democrat Jon Tester. Daines and other prominent Republicans have tapped Belgrade businessman and novice candidate Tim Sheehy for the task, a casting decision that has generated consistent criticism from Rosendale. That’s where the GOP hardline’s concept of the “uniparty” comes in — that despite their expressed policy differences, the apparatuses of two-party power have more similarities with their counterparts across the aisle and the big-money donors backing them than they do with their constituents. 

Rosendale expressed a version of that belief in a talk to donors last week, a video of which was reported by yet another D.C. news site, the Messenger. 

In the video, Rosendale is heard saying he repeatedly prayed for a small Republican majority following the 2022 election because he recognized “that a small majority was the only way that we were going to advance a conservative agenda.” 

The current split in the House is 221 Republicans to 212 Democrats. 

He confirmed that position to Lutey, with the Lee papers: “I will absolutely verify, I said I was hoping that we had a small majority because I knew that if a majority was very big, we would not be able to move the conservative agenda. And guess what? I was right.”

Those remarks have generated criticism from Republicans both in state and out. 

“Maryland Matt Rosendale prays for Democrats to win elections? Did God answer his prayers in 2018 when Jon Tester humiliated him?” Arkansas Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said on X, f.k.a Twitter, parroting Democrats’ nickname for the East Coast transplant Rosendale. “This is just one of many, many reasons that Maryland Matt won’t come within a country mile of the Senate.”

GOP state legislative staffer Kyle Schmauch — who worked for Rosendale when he served as Montana’s state auditor — came to his old boss’ defense, contrasting Rosendale’s opposition to Ukraine funding with D.C.’s general willingness to buy more bombs. 

“Thankfully, Montana elections are not decided by warmongers like Tom Cotton,” Schmauch said on X. “Whether it’s Rosendale or Sheehy, our next senator will be determined by Montanans, not Arkansas neocons.”

Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag 

“Since January of 2021, The Commission has undertaken a large, long-term project to improve agency culture — including engaging in strategic planning, making significant changes to the organizational structure, and thoroughly updating its agency policies. Because of these changes in management and internal operating processes implemented by the PSC, the five commissioners who serve as the PSC’s agency heads are pleased with the progress that has been made in such a short time to make the PSC a model government agency.”

—Public Service Commission President James Brown, in comments attached to a 2023 legislative financial-compliance audit of the commission, which regulates utilities in Montana. In 2021, auditors questioned the commission’s spending and the competence of certain members, and generally painted a picture of an agency in disarray. The 2023 audit indicates that while things aren’t perfect, the PSC has made several improvements. 

—Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Interim Committee Opposes “Citizen Grand Jury” Initiative 

A legislative interim committee voted not to support a proposed ballot initiative that would allow for so-called citizen grand juries in Montana, Lee newspapers’ Seaborn Larson reported this week. The Law and Justice Interim Committee’s 5-3 vote in disfavor of the proposal won’t keep it off the ballot — Attorney General Austin Knudsen has already deemed what is now known as Ballot Issue No. 8 legally sufficient — but will add language to the petition that initiative backers will circulate stating that the proposal lacks support from the Legislature. 

The citizen grand jury concept surfaced in the 2023 session as a pair of unsuccessful bills, one a statutory change and another a proposed constitutional amendment. Grand juries are groups of citizens that can investigate claims of criminal conduct. Under current Montana statute and the state Constitution, only a district court judge can impanel a grand jury. 

The primary backer of those bills, and of the initiative, is Bart Crabtree, the president of a non-governmental group called the Montana State Council on Judicial Accountability. Crabtree has said he envisions what amounts to citizen-led prosecutions of serious crimes. Opponents — including the Montana County Attorneys Association — have countered that what Crabtree is describing is an inquisition. 

Supporters will need to gather a number of signatures equivalent to 10% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to qualify the initiative for the ballot in 2024. 

Arren Kimbel-Sannit

On Background

Blown speaker: Rosendale, Democrats end McCarthy’s ruleLee’s Tom Lutey has the definitive take on how Matt Rosendale joined with a handful of other Republicans to tank Kevin McCarthy’s speakership. 

Bills seek to permit citizen grand juries in MontanaMontana Free Press explained the dynamics of the citizen grand jury proposal when it surfaced in the form of legislation this session. 

PSC rebuked after audit suggests waste of state resources: As the PSC receives a clean-ish bill of health from legislative auditors, it’s worth remembering how bad things looked in 2021.