- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - A conservative group’s effort to target Republican lawmakers who won’t sign a pledge to oppose Medicaid expansion backfired a bit during a meeting in northwestern Montana.

Organizers with Americans for Prosperity-Montana held a “Healthcare Town Hall” in Kalispell on Thursday to ask voters to encourage Rep. Frank Garner to oppose Medicare expansion.

Some of the 100 people who attended learned about the gathering through postcards they received in the mail, while Garner said heard about it from a reporter in Helena.

“I support their right to have an opinion. I just didn’t like how they did it,” said Garner, Kalispell’s former police chief. “They didn’t even extend the courtesy of telling me about the meeting. What does that say about their intentions?”

AFP-Montana Director Zach Lahn said representatives were told about the meetings.

Garner ended up speaking first at the Kalispell gathering, telling those in attendance that he is willing to listen to legislative proposals before rejecting any ideas.

“I promised the people here when I ran that I would listen to you and not out-of-town special interests,” Garner said. “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, because I’m not signing the pledge card.”

The AFP presentation was frequently derailed by laughter, booing and shouts from the crowd, the Flathead Beacon (https://bit.ly/1ID3kK5 ) reported.

Gov. Steve Bullock has proposed accepting federal money to expand Medicaid coverage to 70,000 low-income residents. The Republican leadership says the expansion is an unnecessary welfare program that will saddle the state with millions of dollars in debt.

However, some Republicans, including Garner, have said they are willing to consider alternatives that might help more low-income people obtain health insurance.

“Part of the reason we are doing this is because some legislators are not acting like adults in the Capitol,” Lahn told the Great Falls Tribune. “There are some that would like to be in leadership, but they are not, and so they’ve chosen different alliances.”

AFP-Montana, a branch of the conservative organization founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, also has targeted Reps. Tom Berry of Roundup and Jeff Wellborn of Dillon for not signing a pledge to oppose Medicaid expansion.

Wellborn told the Great Falls Tribune that no one from the AFP contacted him about the Feb. 2 meeting in Dillon.

Some people in the crowd got up and left when word came that Wellborn would not be allowed to address the crowd, the Tribune reported.

“I think my constituents appreciate the fact that I’m willing to listen and have conversations with them rather than sign a pledge from an out-of-state group,” Wellborn told Lee Newspapers of Montana.

Before ending the meeting, Lahn said the “message has been received” on the group’s tactics of targeting specific lawmakers.

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