BILLINGS -- Conservative Republicans issued a tough election message Tuesday to moderate GOP incumbents in the Montana Legislature: Get right or get gone.
Republicans Carol Lambert of Broadus, Bruce Malcolm of Emigrant and John Ward of Helena lost re-election bids after being accused of having "consistently sold out the cause of liberty in the Montana Legislature."
Ultraconservative politician Roger Koopman of Bozeman made the allegation in March, while branding Tuesday's three losers as socialists and vowing to help conservative candidates campaign against them. Earlier in the year, he said he wasn't trying to dictate how Republicans should vote, but simply wanted "more political competition within the party."
On Tuesday, he called the unseatings a sign the party was headed in the right direction.
Koopman said he was involved in several races, challenging less-than-conservative Republicans, while helping lawmakers big on morals and smaller government. He acknowledged that he specifically turned to supporters of conservative presidential hopeful Ron Paul for candidates.
"From my standpoint, it's a very powerful message to the Republican Party and to the Legislature that people are watching and they do care and they are going to hold Republican legislators accountable," Koopman said.
The three incumbents who lost were targeted by negative campaign mailings in the last days before the election.
Voters in Park and Sweet Grass counties received bulk mail cards accusing Rep. Bruce Malcolm of coddling child-molesting serial killers. The cards featured photographs of 1970s Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy and Nathaniel Bar-Jonah, arrested in Great Falls in 1999 for raping and killing young boys.
"Bruce Malcolm believes monsters like this deserve to live," read the card, which was issued by Mother's Against Child Predators, a group that only recently registered with the state's political practices commissioner.
The card did not mention or endorse Republican Joel Boniek, who defeated Malcolm by 195 votes.
Jennifer Paul, a contact for the Bozeman-based Big Sky Pachyderm Club, was listed as treasurer for Mother's Against Child Predators. Attempts by The Gazette to reach her Tuesday were unsuccessful.
"They say I'm a sex maniac and child predator because I voted against the death penalty," said Malcolm who voted for a bill to abolish the death penalty in 2003. The bill failed.
Another group mailed fliers suggesting that Malcolm voted against "a chance to take back local control of U.S. Forest Service roads and paths from the federal government." However, the vote in question was over a joint resolution. Resolutions are merely expression of opinion and don't really do anything.
The flier was sent out by another new group, the Coalition for Energy and the Environment. Fawn Kirkpatrick, the group's treasurer and only identified member, could not be reached for comment.
Malcolm accused Koopman of being behind the mailings.
"This movement is Roger Koopman's movement," Malcolm said. "A while back he called me a socialist. He told the (Bozeman) Chronicle that if I didn't change my ways, I was going to have to leave the Republican Party."
Koopman said he had nothing to do with the mailings to Malcolm or the other targeted candidates and knew little about who mailed the fliers.
Kirkpatrick was also identified as a contact person for a third political group, Western Tradition Partnership, which mailed fliers to voters in Broadus incumbent Carol Lambert's House district.
In that race, Lambert was attacked for supporting House Bill 3, a proposal in the first 2007 legislative special session to create low tax rates or exemptions for land used for energy projects or transmission lines. The fliers suggested $40 million in utility bill cuts were possible if Lambert had voted no.
Lambert's opponent, Lee Randall sent voters a letter stating that he was the only candidate in the race who was solidly pro-life. Lambert lost to Randall by 37 votes.
"Time has already run out for the 1.37 million babies killed last year by abortion," the letter begins.
Lambert said the flier made her sound like a candidate who favored abortions for sex selection and allowed teenage girls to have abortions without parental consent. She supports neither.
However, Lambert did vote against a bill to ban abortion for all reasons. She said she didn't think doctors should be limited by the law if they thought the procedure was unavoidable.
Similar fliers were mailed to voters in John Ward's House District 84, which includes parts of Powell and Lewis and Clark counties. Ward lost to Mike Miller by 24 votes.
Scott Seilstad, who challenged Winifred incumbent Ed Butcher in House District 29, was also targeted by campaign fliers. He lost by 20 votes.