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Attempting to Control your Legislature – AFP Montana

by Sandy Welch

Montanans repeatedly say they hate the mailers that get delivered throughout the election season.  Well, now they come all year long!

Welborn AFP flyer

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Montana sent issue advocacy mailers against three legislators and held meetings in Dillon – Jeff Welborn, Roundup – Tom Berry, and Kalispell – Frank Garner.

By now, we all know what issue advocacy mailers are – those cards that say call your legislator to vote NO, with pictures in black and white.  These are Republicans superimposed with the President.  Of course, AFP claims that they aren’t attacking any legislators.  While that may be technically true, no one can claim these postcards are endorsements.

Garner AFP flyer

Efforts like these are intended to widen the split in the Republican party with outside groups trying to establish just who is good enough to be in the party and who is not.  The eleven paid staff members of AFP and unknown number of staffers working for the Montana Family Foundation have the money to spend to define their issues and amplify the divide.

I had the opportunity to attend two of the three events, in Dillon and Kalispell.  AFP State Director and former Daines campaign staffer, Zach Lahn, kicked off each event.  He tries to explain that they are not attacking the legislators in whose districts these events are held.  The audience was not buying that message.  Both events had an audience that was predominantly there to support their local legislator.

The speaker was Kristina Ribali.  A quick check online and you find that she is a keyboard patriot, social media guru, and activist expanding to podcasts and online video interviews with positions against welfare and now Medicaid Expansion.  What you won’t find is any background or experience in healthcare or public policy.

The speech is a compilation of data from the internet.  She is not clear whether she is talking about Montana (rarely) or other states or national averages.  But the story is dire.  Every example of something gone wrong has been cherry-picked to prove the predetermined outcome.

Lots of presentation time is spent denigrating the 70,000 Montanans who are currently in the healthcare donut – not disabled, thus not qualifying for Medicaid and not making enough to qualify for tax credits.  According to her presentation, national statistics shared describe these people as childless adults, who don’t work, and many have a criminal record.

Gap description

There is no recognition that Montana has a large tourism industry – that doesn’t provide year long, full time jobs.  Nor recognition of construction jobs – on our roads and buildings – that shut down over the winter.  There is no recognition of our rural nature that provokes a high percentage of Montanans to start their own business because there isn’t a job to be found.  This entrepreneurialism is hailed by organizations like AFP on one hand, but denigrated if they aren’t making enough at it.

Any efforts to address the healthcare donut is Obamacare and vilified.  The speaker states that they are working state legislatures, not at the federal level, to fight Obamacare.  There is little recognition that Obamacare is federal law or recognition of the problems faced by Montanans and fewer solutions offered.  Just quick throwaway lines to follow Florida’s example.

A half dozen states or so are used as examples of how wrong things can go if a legislature actually tries to do the heavy lifting and address the problem.  A handout includes a list of waiver denials trying to prove that a state plan just can’t be done with federal money.

No reason to try

The not-so-veiled threat is included on a handout highlighting the politicians and administrators who lost their elections or jobs because they worked on a state solution.  This is followed with examples of those who won re-election by fighting all aspects of Obamacare.



Throughout both sessions, questions and conversation were discouraged.  It seems that Zach Lahn does not define Town Hall Meeting the way it was originally intended.  These were not meetings for them to listen to what voters had to say, but for them to present their one-sided picture to indoctrinate.

Representative Frank Garner ran his campaign on listening to his constituents in Kalispell.  He refused money from out of the area.  He returned money from PACs.  He does not sign pledges to groups.  So groups looking for power and influence do not like Rep. Garner.

Near the end of the meeting in Kalispell, Mr. Lahn explained that AFP Montana is tracking every vote of Frank Garner and other House members.  They don’t believe they can change the outcome in the Senate but they believe they can affect the outcome in the House.

Montanans should heed the message – outside groups are spending lots of resources trying to pressure your legislator and control the outcome of critical votes.

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