Posted: Apr 25, 2013 8:19 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - The book is closed on Montana's 63rd Legislature, with the final gavel falling on Wednesday afternoon.
The House of Representatives finished its business shortly after 9 a.m., but the Montana Senate nearly derailed a negotiated budget deal between Governor Steve Bullock and House Republicans.
As the session came to an end, hard feelings came bubbling to the surface, but not between Republicans and Democrats, but within the Republicans Party.
It seemed like a simple vote as the Senate needed 34 votes to debate the governor's amendments to the budget. But a majority of Republicans felt the $13 million amendment was too expensive, so they blocked the vote, demanding that Gov. Bullock sign some of their bills.
The governor refused, forcing senators back to reconsider their actions. But in motion after motion, after motion, the votes weren't there, as a coalition of Republicans and Democrats flexed their muscle.
Finally, after hours of political arm twisting, Republican leaders gave in and the governor's amendments passed and the end of the session was in sight. Although, it all it became evident the rift in the Republican Party had grown deeper than anyone had realized.
"We've really had a situation where we've had three minority caucuses that would at various times coalesce into different majorities depending on the issues," explained Sen. Jeff Essman (R-Billings).
Throughout the session we have seen a coalition of moderate Republicans partnering with Democrats on key bills, which turned the Republican majority into a minority.
"We had much more partisanship over here in the Senate chamber than we had in the House. But it did spill over to us. I guess that more extreme form of leadership in the Senate, we saw that come into the House and influence the House Republicans," Rep. Chuck Hunter (D-Helena) observed.
The moderate Republicans held their own press conference after adjournment saying Republican leadership didn't speak for them.
"I think you found out today, that sometimes there is nothing common about common sense. And that's what we are all about. [We are] responsible Republicans for common sense solutions, and we will be very active in the next election cycle," Sen. Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo) predicted.
But conservative Republicans say they represent a majority, and the battle for the heart of the Republican party will be hard fought as both sides vie for control of the next legislature.
We'll have much more from the Capitol as we hear from top lawmakers as they grade the legislature's performance during Thursday;s 5:30 News and 10:00 News on the Montana Television Network.