As the ideologies of the two major political parties pull further apart, the issues where they could support each other seem few. So when party members go as far as crossing party lines, the issue gains attention.
This election year, several party members have endorsed candidates of the opposing party in at least two races, which has caused those candidates to crow.
In the race for Public Service Commission District 3, eight Republicans, both office-holders and former office-holders, have endorsed Democratic candidate John Vincent instead of Republican Roger Koopman.
Speaking against a party candidate is a big statement, especially in the Republican Party, where it is frowned upon, said state GOP party spokesman Bowen Greenwood.
“There’s a very old funny line from Ronald Reagan that the 11th Commandment was not to speak ill of another Republican,” Greenwood said. “Every time a Republican criticizes another, there’s a significant level of discontent with the person who did the criticizing.”
It was actually California Republican Party chairman Gaylord Parkinson who coined the 11th Commandment in 1965.
Former state Rep. Walt Sales said he knew he’d probably hear from Republicans about his Vincent endorsement.
“I served with John in the Legislature and appreciated his willingness to listen and consider different views,” Sales said. “I don’t agree with (Koopman’s) style of politics.”
Fully supportive of GOP ideals, Sales said the endorsements probably didn’t indicate a trend back toward more moderate politics; it was about the individuals. He added that he didn’t think PSC commissioner should be a partisan position.
Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger also said his Vincent endorsement was more about the individuals than ideology.
In 2008, Koopman created a list of Republican representatives, including Walter McNutt and Jesse O’Hara, that he labeled “socialist incumbent ‘Republicans.’”
“He tried to oust people like me from the Republican Party,” Bohlinger said. “I knew John as a legislator and as a person who could deal with both sides.”
Koopman said he expected the GOP endorsements for Vincent, and that he knew of a number of Democrats who want nothing to do with Vincent, “although they will vote for me quietly instead of saying it publicly.”
On Thursday, he told Lee Newspapers that the eight Republicans were all individuals with an ax to grind and don’t represent the party.
Bohlinger said he hopes the GOP has space for moderates, not just single-issue candidates.
“This is the party of elephants,” Bohlinger said. “Hopefully there’s enough room for moderates in the tent.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones breaking ranks.
State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, has endorsed Republican Sandy Welch in the race for superintendent of public instruction. Unlike his Republican counterparts, for him, it’s about the issues.
Windy Boy, a self-described blue-dog Democrat, endorsed Welch because she supports charter schools, which he said have been given a bum rap. He said he did his own review of graduation statistics and found the public school system wanting.
“If the system doesn’t work, I’m willing to consider alternatives,” Windy Boy said. “Yeah, I’ve been criticized for the endorsement. I think it’s unusual for most to stop touting the party line. But I’ve been in Helena for 10 years and seen the gridlock. It needs to stop.”
State Democratic Party spokesman Chris Saeger said the Democrats don’t have rules similar to the GOP’s 11th Commandment.
“We let people think for themselves,” Saeger said.
Gallatin County Democratic Committee chair Billy McWilliams was able to add a little insight to the complaints Windy Boy received from fellow Democrats.
“Politics is a team sport, so all the Dems would get mad at you if you endorsed the other party,” McWilliams said. “I’m not saying it’s right. But the Republicans are in lockstep and the Dems are criticized when they aren’t.”
Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Republican Party members who have endorsed Democrat John Vincent for Public Service Commissioner:
- Gallatin County Commissioner Bill Murdock
- Former state Sen. Don Hargrove
- Former state Rep. Walt Sales
- Former Secretary of State Bob Brown
- State Rep. Walter McNutt
- State Rep. Jesse O’Hara
- State Rep. Gary MacClaren
- Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger