Posted: Jan 17, 2013 8:18 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)
HELENA - Republicans of the Montana Senate met on Thursday to address the growing divide between moderate and more conservative members of the party.
The division among Senate Republicans became evident in November when Senator Jeff Essmann (R-Billings) ousted Senator Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo) as President of the Senate.
Republicans said at the time that Essmann was the more conservative candidate and after losing many statewide races in Montana, Republicans needed to be more clear about what they stand for.
President Essmann is now telling his caucus that their number one priority should be to pass a conservative budget. He is asking every senator to write down their priorities so the caucus can try and unite.
"Obviously there are some bruised feelings among part of the Montana Senate," Essmann said in an interview. "We are working hard to patch those differences up just like any family would have to work to try and resolve it's family troubles."
During the meeting Senator John Brenden (R-Scobey) cautioned his party remembering back to 1983 when he was elected Chairman of the Republican Party. He said at the time Republicans hadn't won elections for years and with a common direction they won several key elections.
"My experience was with love, cajoling and a direction we can win," Brenden said. "If we would have continued down the path of fighting with each other we wouldn't have won."
He encouraged the caucus to remember the words of President Ronald Reagan, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."
In a one on one interview Peterson says he views himself as a Reagan Republican.
"I would just like to know that we have some safe space to debate these issues," Peterson said expressing his concerns about the direction the party is going.
Peterson says he has felt like there is little room for Reagan Republicans in the caucus.
"I think there have been changes, younger people are coming in and term limits have removed some of the institutional knowledge in this building," Peterson said.
Peterson and Essmann met on Thursday to discuss their differences and begin to open up communication.
"It's a start," Peterson said.