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Montana Republicans Split Over CSKT Water Compact

Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway (R) HD-22.
Montana Legislature

The Montana Republican Party is distancing itself from a statement signed by more than a dozen Republican lawmakers condemning the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact. 

A mix-up in a group text earlier this week led to the Montana Republican Party issuing a statement Wednesday saying the party’s vice chair does not support criticism of Republican Sen. Steve Daines. Daines worked to pass the water compact through Congress.

Republican Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, who is vice chair of the Montana Republican Party, appeared to have signed the statement with 17 other current and former state lawmakers rebuking Daines’ sponsoring of the legislation. The statement also calls for a lawsuit to block the water compact.

Sheldon-Galloway said in a news release Wednesday that she did not agree to sign the statement and that the party has not taken a formal stance on the Montana Water Rights Protection Act.

“I support Steve Daines, I worked really hard to help get him elected. And I’m going to trust him on this one," Sheldon-Galloway said. 

Sheldon-Galloway said she and her husband, who is also an elected representative, were asked whether they both wanted to sign the statement in a group text. She says her husband replied yes, but she did not respond, leading to the confusion.

Sheldon-Galloway said it’s normal for Republicans to have opposing views.

“Republicans aren’t sheeple. They all have opinions," She said. 

Spenser Merwin, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, said that although the party opposed the water compact when it was approved at the state level, the party has not taken a formal stance on the federal bill that Daines and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester shepherded through Congress. Merwin said the party supports Daines.

Rep. Brad Tchida, a Republican from Missoula, signed the statement criticizing Daines. He says he didn’t expect the party to back the sentiment.

“This is a matter of individual legislators speaking their mind and having their piece," Tchida said. 

Montana Republicans have been known to split on an array of issues over the years. For example, moderate Republicans voted with Democrats in 2015 and 2019 to pass Medicaid expansion.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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