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“The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot do, so well, for themselves – in their separate and individual capacities.” This quote is from Abraham Lincoln, the first president representing the Republican Party. Lincoln goes on to say that he considers public schools, infrastructure and the machinery of government to fit into this category.

If we compare Lincoln’s words with the purity standards implied in the recently released Montana legislators voting record hit piece, concocted by former legislator Roger Koopman, we would have to conclude that Lincoln was an “undocumented Democrat” and that he should have been “purged” from the Republican Party.

Somewhere along the way extremists have anointed themselves the arbiters of all things Republican. The failed leadership team of Art Wittich and Jason Priest, along with their mouthpieces Jeff Essmann and Ed Walker, illustrated their 10-year plan to purge the party in a series of leaked emails. Other extremists have proposed candidate “purity tests,” further limiting the electorate’s choice in elections, often recruiting Libertarians to run as Republicans to further drive their agenda. Extremists engage in this duplicitous behavior because they recognize it’s their best chance for a successful coup.

I have been active in Republican politics in five decades. In the most recent decade, the extremists have begun to pursue a hyper-partisan policy of divisiveness while formally rejecting the benefits of statesmanship and compromise. We now risk becoming a fringe party, misaligned with the needs of the electorate and incapable of sustaining a governing majority.

Extremists work to have us believe the Libertarian fallacy that all government is evil. In their words, the only test to be used when judging a bill is, “Does this bill increase or decrease the presence of government?” A question like, “Does state government have a role in ensuring the availability of rural health care?” never enters their minds.

The Republican Party I began with would never gut Montana services so brutally that classrooms are crowded, schools are shuttered, roads aren’t paved, predators walk the streets, rural health care disappears and infrastructure collapses. Extremists seem willing to do so.

They just avoid revealing their plans to the people. Extremists are stealing the Republican brand, moving Montana toward D.C. gridlock and chaos.

Our party’s shift to the extremes is being accelerated by out-of-state Dark Money. Dark Money is an organized, dangerous enemy that spends millions polishing their message to maximize voter appeal. Sound bites such as “smaller government” or “more freedom” are proven favorites. Lost in the allure of the sound bite is the responsibility of detailing real solutions to real problems.

The Republican Party cannot return to greatness in Montana by falling for this extremist dogma.

It is not proper or wise for Republicans to simply denigrate and disparage. Realigning ourselves with the solutions approach of Lincoln is the first real step in winning back our brand.

The Republican brand I support and respect.

Rep. Jesse O’Hara, R-Great Falls, represents House District 18 in the Montana Legislature.

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