Missoula police turned away at the door two Democratic Party political operatives who were trying to enter a hotel Friday to videotape the Montana Republican Party convention.
Bryce Bennett, a Democratic Party staffer from Missoula, was denied entry to the convention at the Hilton Garden Inn on Thursday. He returned Friday morning with Kevin O'Brien, the party's communication director, who two years ago followed then-U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns around the state with a video camera for Democrats.
Republican executive director Jake Eaton said he told the Democrats to leave because it was a private event, with registration closed since June 10.
"They refused to leave," he said. "I had the general manager of the hotel ask them to leave. They refused. The general manager called the police. The police came down about 8 a.m. and they had a little argument with the Democrats who finally gave up their quest."
In response, O'Brien said Montana Democratic Party conventions and other gatherings are open to the public, including Republicans, and questioned why the GOP won't open its convention.
"I think this is systematic of Montana Republicans excluding Republicans from the process if you don't subscribe to their views," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said Eaton and a couple of GOP staffers "were kind of pushing us and grabbing us." Then one Missoula police officer came to the door with two more officers standing outside.
"I'm not sure if we'll try to get in later," O'Brien said. "When you don't have the management of the hotel or the police on your side, it makes it a little difficult. What's the old saying? Might beats right."
He contended that the Republican convention should be open to the public wherever reporters are allowed to attend under Montana's open meetings law, although that law covers only government agencies.
O'Brien also said that the convention should be open because there likely are more than half of the members of the Republican House and Senate caucuses present. Under a court decisions, party caucuses at the Legislature are open to the public, but it's unclear whether that would affect a party convention.
"The Montana Democratic Party wants to do everything in the open," O'Brien said. "We want them people to hear from our full slate of candidates. Our whole take is Montanans want openness in government. The whole backroom politics is something in the past. The more open things are, the less room there is for shenanigans."
State Republican Chairman Erik Iverson dismissed the Democrats' attempt to attend the GOP convention as "immature and juvenile."
"It's the kind of negative campaigning the Montana Democratic Party is being known for in 2008," Iverson said. "We would never send a political staffer to the Montana Democratic Party and try to crash their convention."
Asked why Republicans would object to having their candidates' speeches videotaped by Democrats, Iverson said the Democrats might eavesdrop and film private conversations as well. Democrats could edit speeches and private conversations selectively to take statements out of context for use in negative political ads.
The Montana Democratic Party also began running a radio ad called "Tent" in Missoula Friday.
"Montanans are excluded from the Republican Party if they don't subscribe to the extremist beliefs of the party bosses," the ad says.
Iverson called it unfortunate that Montana Democrats have already started their attack ads against Republicans.
"Republicans are going to stay focused on a positive message about the types of change and the types of results we will bring to the state with a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor," he said.