They led the charge in Montana to ban gender affirming care for children, which the governor signed on Friday. In South Carolina they slowed down the budget process with failed amendments this year to punish universities that have diversity programs. In Wyoming, certain library books were deemed 'crimes against humanity'
The groups across the country have, with varying degrees of success, followed the playbook developed by the House Freedom Caucus. This eight-year-old alliance of conservative Republicans is determined to move Republicans in the U.S. Congress towards the right.
The Montana Freedom Caucus, which was founded on the second anniversary the siege of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, has successfully pushed GOP leadership to punish Zephyr (a Democrat) for her support of transgender people and statements.
Zephyr was able to use the controversy as a platform from which she could advocate for transgender rights. Robert Saldin, University of Montana's political analyst, says that though she has seized the moment to gain support from the Left, her increased profile could be to the GOP’s advantage, as Republicans attempt to portray Democrats as extremists going into 2024. U.S. Senator Jon Tester will be running for reelection as a moderate Democrat farmer in a race that is considered crucial for the control of Senate.
Saldin said, "This is exactly what the Freedom Caucus people wanted." Zephyr is now the second-most well-known Democrat from Montana. She is the face of the Montana party, which is great for the Freedom Caucus.
Zephyr was punished in a way that is unprecedented for Montana. The punishment comes after the political landscape of the state shifted sharply Republican in the last 15 years. This gave the GOP a supermajority of two-thirds at the statehouse. This shift has pushed out the Republican moderates and brought social issues to the forefront.
Theresa Manzella, state senator and chairwoman of the Montana Freedom Caucus, said: 'They call us extremists but we see the extremists from the left taking center stage.' We're supporting the issues dear to us and our constituents.
Zephyr has also been misgendered by the caucus, and members of it. Manzella said that this will continue.
Montana's Republican House speaker stopped acknowledging Zephyr's request to speak after she warned her colleagues that they would have blood on their hand if they limited gender-affirming health care. Zephyr was removed from the House floor by a party line vote a few days later. She had been accused of provoking demonstrators who were loudly demanding that she be allowed to talk.
Bob Phalen is a Freedom Caucus Member and farmer from eastern Montana. He said that the actions against Zephyr were the culmination of a session during which the caucus was instrumental in passing laws prohibiting gender affirming care for children and restricting pornography dissemination. Phalen, a Freedom Caucus member and eastern Montana farmer, said the moves against Zephyr capped a session in which the caucus played a key role passing laws banning gender-affirming care for minors and restricting pornography dissemination.
Phalen and other members of the caucus described the disruptions on the House Floor this week as a 'riot or insurrection,' using the same terminology that was used by Donald Trump supporters during the siege at the White House on Jan. 6.
State Freedom Caucus Network was created by Republican strategist Andy Roth, and U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs from Arizona. They wanted to expand the House Freedom Caucus to all 50 states in preparation for the 2020 elections.
The network relies on members of the House Freedom Caucus to set up state-level affiliates. Congressmen such as Biggs and U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale from Montana, along with U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman from South Carolina, provide informal advice to lawmakers in their respective states, in an effort to build a pipeline for conservative legislators to reach higher offices. They all backed Trump’s false claims about fraud in 2020 elections.
Roth, Roth's network president, stated that the network has advised lawmakers on strategy and policy since its founding.
State-level strategies are similar to those of the House Freedom Caucus who led the GOP revolt against U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy's bid for speaker in January. They extracted major concessions from the leadership, including committee assignments and important leadership positions.
Roth stated, "We are trying to expose the hypocrisy in all states, but especially in red ones." Liberal Republicans go to voters and say, "I am conservative. Then, when they get to the Statehouse and vote exactly opposite.
Biggs said that freedom caucuses are a way to 'promote a conservative cause'.
Biggs stated that leverage is key. When I have what you want and you feel that you have to have it then you cannot get it from anywhere else.
Roth said that's by design. Roth explained that this is deliberate. Roth said that the national network encourages its members in each state to be vocal against Republicans who compromise on fiscal conservative principles and cultural conservatism.
From Idaho to Pennsylvania, the Freedom Caucuses have focused on abortion and crime, as well as how race, gender, and sexual orientation are handled in schools and offices. Roth has also targeted what he called "corporate welfare" including tax incentives to attract Hollywood film productions in Wyoming.
The rise of the group in Montana comes after lawmakers such as former state senator Duane ANKNEY, who was part of a group moderate Republicans who routinely negotiated budget impasses with Democrats. Ankney stated that Montana Republicans are now in control and do not need Democratic support or to even engage in public debate.
Ankney, a former member of the Montana House and Senate who served four terms before leaving the Legislature last January, said: "There are people in that place with an agenda. It has nothing to do about jobs, economic health, or the well-being of Montana."