A “Healthcare Town Hall” set up by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) group, in Kalispell, Montana, turned raucous on Thursday night. Americans for Prosperity has been crisscrossing the state of Montana, in an attempt to pressure moderate Republican lawmakers into signing a pledge to block Medicaid expansion. On Thursday, they brought their traveling road show to Kalispell. However, the residents of the small Northwestern Montana town were unpersuaded by the Koch-funded group.
The AFP chose to set a meeting in Kalispell because the district is represented by Frank Garner, a Republican who has declined to sign a pledge opposing Medicaid expansion in Montana. AFP targeted Garner along with fellow representatives, Jeff Welborn (R-Dillon) and Tom Berry (R-Roundup), for not bowing to the Koch Brothers’ edict to block Medicaid expansion.
The expansion would extend affordable health care access to 70,000 low-income residents in the Big Sky state. Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock (D) has vowed to support the expansion, but he faces an uncooperative Republican-controlled legislature. However, some Republicans, including Garner, have indicated a desire to compromise with the Governor so that more Montanans can get inexpensive health care coverage. That willingness to cooperate with Democrats has made Garner a target for the Koch brothers.
Americans for Prosperity sent out flyers with Garner’s face superimposed over Barack Obama’s, to tie the GOP lawmaker to the President. The mailers urged constituents to “Tell Frank Garner to stand with us and vote no on ObamaCare’s expansion in Montana”. Garner claims he was not extended an invitation to the meeting. He found out about the event from a reporter on the House floor, in the Capitol building, in Helena.
The Koch brothers may have been expecting an easy propaganda victory in the small Montana town of 20,000. However, the plan backfired, as around a hundred local residents, and Representative Garner, gave them an earful, instead. The AFP spokesperson was frequently interrupted by boos, shouts, and derisive laughter. Feeding on the crowd’s boisterous energy, Representative Garner blasted the Koch Brothers’ organization, declaring:
I promised the people here when I ran that I would listen to you and not out-of-town special interests. If every time they want me to sign a pledge card and I don’t do it they are going to rent a room and have a meeting, then this is going to get real expensive. Cause I’m not signing the pledge card.
Thunderous applause followed.
Local residents were incensed by the outside group trying to intimidate their representative. An audience member, Nathan Kosted, confronted the AFP spokesperson and said:
Why did you call this a town hall meeting? I didn’t get an invite. I wish I’d been invited, because I want to know how we get the Koch Brothers out of politics. I want to know how we get you out of politics.
Another person in attendance was even more blunt. The man stated:
You have pissed me off. Character assassination does not go down well in Montana. If he (Garner) has to take a pledge then I want it to be the Pledge of Allegiance, because they don’t represent you, they represent me.
The Koch Brothers probably thought opposition to Obamacare would be an easy sell in small town Montana, but their town hall meeting backfired in epic fashion. Much to their chagrin, there are still some Republican lawmakers in Montana who can’t be bought off, and some voters who won’t fall in line, no matter how many millions the Koch Brothers’ decide to spend.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.