For Ron Catlett’s interview with Jeff Essmann, click here.
For Ron Catlett’s interview with Will Deschamps, click here.
Campaigns Former Madison County Commissioner and current candidate for Chairman of the Montana Republican Party, Dan Happel.
When the 2015 Montana Republican Party Convention convenes on June 26th in Helena, delegates will be tasked with electing a chair who will be faced with the difficult job of uniting a party currently mired in factionalism and building a base from which the party can win races — particularly statewide races — in 2016.
There are three candidates vying for the position in 2015, including the incumbent chair, Will Deschamps of Missoula. The two challengers are Dan Happel of Madison County, and State Rep. and former State Senate President Jeff Essmann of Billings.
Media Trackers conducted interviews with all three candidates. Our second interview is with the former Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel.
Happel is a retired businessman and longtime Republican Party activist. While Happel is getting support from many conservative grassroots activists who want a state party apparatus that more consistently reflects and fights for the party platform, Happel has also faced questions regarding presentations he has given about the alleged dangers of a United Nations program for “sustainable development” called Agenda 21. Happel’s views have been called “conspiratorial” and “fringe” by some, though the candidate insists that the issue is not fringe and has offered $1,000 cash to anyone who can definitively prove his basic thesis to be incorrect.
We provided each candidate with the same ten questions and allowed each to write out their answers. The answers provided come straight from the candidates themselves. We have not altered the answers in anyway.
1. Why are you seeking the position of Montana GOP Chair? What would be your goals for the next term if you become the head of the party?
I am seeking the position of Montana GOP Chair because I see an urgent need to unify the party and know that many conservative Republicans feel excluded or alienated from current State Party actions. I am respected by conservative Republican groups and know for an open mind and strong adherence to our constitutional republican principles. Conservatives know that I strongly support the closed primary lawsuit being brought before Federal District Court by a number of County Central Committees and the State Party. Many of us in the Republican Party feel that may be the best hope for the election of conservative Republican candidates that support our State Platform. My goals as the head of the party would be to re-energize the grass roots conservative base that builds the party from the bottom up. I would install a state of the art social network and media center in the state headquarters that would allow us to get our message to every corner of Montana and would provide the technical and logistical support needed by county central committees on local and state campaigns. I would again focus on local political races as the heart and soul of Republican politics. I would widen our outreach to the youth as the future of the party, concentrating on the wasteful spending that is destroying their future. I would institute statewide training on constitutional and historical political issues that provide the background for informed and involved voters and local leaders. I would work very hard to recruit the best informed and most electable conservative candidates at all levels and provide the technical and logistical support to assure their success.
2. Can you provide a brief biography of your background and work in politics?
I am a fourth generation Montanan, am a retired businessman with a successful Architectural Design/Commercial Construction Company currently doing business in 11 states. I own a ranch near Pony, Montana where I live with my Wife Ingrid. We have 3 grown children and 4 grandchildren of whom we are especially proud. I have been a County Commissioner in Madison County, and served many terms as the Chairman, Finance Chair, and State Committeeman of the Madison Republican Central Committee, and served on the State Party Executive Board as a District Chair representative. During the past 4 legislative sessions, I have provided research and technical support for Legislators statewide on: fiscal policy, property rights, public lands, water, large predator and natural resource issues. I currently serve on the Western Montana BLM RAC, am a Trustee for the Montana Forest Stewardship Foundation, Chair the Montana Forest Stewardship Steering Committee, and am 1 of only 2 certified MSU/UM Extension Master Forest Stewards. I have been very active in Republican politics and organizations for most of my adult life and am known for my outspoken stands on Constitutional, natural resource, conservation, government overreach, and property rights issues.
3. The Montana Republican Party has seen great electoral success in the last two mid-term elections, yet had a difficult time winning statewide offices in 2012. How can the party be successful in presidential election years that are typically more favorable to Democrats?
We must strengthen our message as the party of true conservative values and prove our mettle as true conservative after we are elected. We need to do a much better job at the grass-roots level of educating voters and providing boots on the ground to get out the vote. We must concentrate on filling precinct positions and provide the logistical and technical support from the State GOP office to energize our county central committees and give them the tools that they need to spread our conservative message. When we rebuild our grass-roots infrastructure we will have a much greater success at the polls in all elections.
4. What is your strategy for building a ground game (i. e. raising money, hiring staff, managing volunteers, knocking on doors, etc.) that can win elections.
The key to building a strong ground game lies in a commitment to a re-energized grass-roots and putting our party back on the solid footing of conservative principles. When we get back to the basics of solid Republican values, our grass-roots conservative base will come back en-masse to support the party with funding, volunteers, local activities, knocking on doors and the effort necessary to win elections. I know of many former Republicans that now consider themselves Independents because of their disappointment with the lack of principles in the party and the crossover voting by some Republican Elected Officials that support Democratic Party positions. Closed primaries and a return to support for the Republican Platform on key issues will again attract donors and grass-roots supporters with a new energy that we have not had for years.
5. Rumors of financial troubles continue to follow the Montana Republican Party. How will you as Chair, get the party on solid financial ground.
The answer to a solid financial plan is very similar to the building of a strong ground game. When we again gain the respect of Republican voters and traditional conservatives, we will get their financial support as well. The existing party concentrates far too much on large donors and too little on grass-roots donors. Ten thousand $50.00 donors will strengthen the party much more than ten $50,000.00 donors, because the ten thousand folks will also vote and may provide a base of volunteers for a get-out-the-vote effort. We want and need the support of large donors, but we should never forget that our success as a party will be strengthened if we return to the appeal to grass-roots groups and a simple message of liberty and sound principles for dedicated conservatives.
6. What are the most important issues facing the State of Montana and the nation?
The loss of our individual, state and national sovereignty. We are losing our unalienable rights to life, liberty and property because of Federal over reach through administrative rules and regulations. Congress accounts for only a small percentage of new laws, with Cabinet level administrative agencies like the EPA and Department of the Interior accounting for 85-90% of all new regulations with force of law. The Office of the President has assumed the role of Legislator and is writing all kinds of new laws through executive orders and through his handpicked administrators, in direct violation to the Founders original intent. Our Republican majority is seen as feckless and ineffective in dealing with clear constitutional violations by the Executive. We are being stripped of our rights through the efforts of bureaucrats in Washington that know or care nothing about Montanans. We need to return to rule of law and unalienable rights as guaranteed by our Constitution.
7. Differences between the party’s “conservative” wing and so-called “responsible” Republicans persist and have undermined GOP legislative efforts, particularly in the last two sessions. How will you as chairman work to unite these factions? What is your plan to grow the party in coming years?
I believe that support of the party platform on key Republican issues is imperative if we are to succeed and grow as a party. We cannot continue to lose on key issues that undermine the platform and hand easy victories to Democratic opponents. Our success in the Legislature is an accurate measure of our success as a party and we will lose Republican voters when we fail to follow our own rule book, the State Republican Platform. It is time to close our primary elections to cross-over voting by Democratic voters that are morphing our party into something never intended by our Republican base. The way to unite the party is to expect a certain level of support by all professed Republican Legislators on key issues. When they refuse to support the Party, the Party should have the right to not support them. Legislative votes are a matter of public record and we should make those records available to all candidates and the voters of Montana.
8. How much emphasis should the Republican Party continue to put on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage? Should the party move its central focus more towards economic issues?
Answer: The Republican Party should follow the U.S. and Montana State Constitutions on all issues and when further clarity is needed, they should follow our rule book: the Republican State Platform. We are constantly being drawn into Democratic traps on issues that expand governmental over reach on social issues. Often these issues require funding in areas far outside our delegated authority. We should concentrate on personal responsibility, and fiscal policies in conformance with our US and State Constitutions, which will give defensible positions to social and economic issues.
9. Do you support current efforts to institute closed primaries in Montana? Why or why not?
I very definitely support closed primaries because it will allow us to be more coherent and consistent in our efforts to honor the wishes of our Republican base as expressed in our Platform. We are losing too many battles on key issues that are negatively impacting the perceptions of our voters and the conservative base that is the heart and soul of the party. We must return to an honest electoral process with reasonable expectations of adherence to Republican principles enshrined in our platform.
10. Given that Democrats often win majorities of younger voters, how does the Montana Republican Party increase the involvement of young people? Also, why has the Democratic Party had more success in recent years attracting female activists and candidates.
Democrats have been winning majorities of younger voters because our message of liberty and fiscal discipline has become muddled through too much pandering with our opposition. Many young people no longer believe our message because many Republican Legislators are perceived as compromisers and deal makers instead of protectors of liberty. Our colleges and universities are incubators of propaganda selling the ideas of utopian socialism, and we have not effectively countered that culture with our message of fiscal responsibility. Dr. Ron Paul was winning the hearts of young people nationwide and had a level of support for his Presidential bid that exceeded Obama’s. Dr. Paul’s message was a return to the sound money, constitutional principles, and fiscal discipline that would assure a future for our youth. He meant it and the college youth knew that because of his long history in the U.S. Congress defending constitutional values. Dr. Paul got almost zero support by the power structure in his own party who marginalized him as a candidate. We can win the debate between a return to constitutional liberty and progressive socialism with the reality of the enormous amount of debt and unfunded liabilities that confront our youth. It is their future that is being destroyed though unsustainable spending. We need to send that message loud and clear to our youth, then back it up with actions and fiscal discipline that speaks of our commitment to them. Young people will flock to the party if they truly understand their predicament and our commitment as a party to protecting their future. To help facilitate that outreach to our youth, we need to develope a social media site second to none.
The Democratic Party has attracted female activists and candidates that really believe that progressive socialism works and that money really does grow on trees. We need to be clear in our message that liberty and responsibility cannot occur if we are willing to compromise on our basic values and continue to hammer on the reality of our national and international debt crisis. When we again stand on principle, we will gain much more support from female activists and attract better female candidates for office. It’s hard to argue against the illogic of unsustainable debt.
Read our interview with incumbent chair and candidate Will Deschamps.
Media Trackers Montana is a conservative non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting accountability in the media and government. Read more at mediatrackers.org/montana. Follow Media Trackers on Twitter @mediatrackersmt.