A Republican state legislator from the Bitterroot Valley got into a tiff with the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee over the weekend when he refused the group’s requirement to sign the party platform in order to be reimbursed for his registration fee at the state GOP convention.

Rep. Pat Connell, who serves in House District 87 at the southern end of Ravalli County, is running as the Republican candidate for Senate District 43 this November.

He attended the Montana Republican convention in Billings June 19-21. On July 3, he and the other Republican candidates from Ravalli County received an email from Sue Pyron, secretary of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee.

In the email, which was made public on the political blog mtcowgirl.com, Pyron said the central committee had unanimously voted on June 10 to “fund only candidates who agree to sign and support the Republican Platform.”

Pyron reminded all the candidates to sign the platform by July 8 to receive reimbursement.

On July 6, Connell fired back an email stating: “The Central Committee is well aware that I attended, and participated in the Platform Convention in Billings. I will not sign such a statement as frankly, it is a rather unseemly quid pro quo for reimbursement. As for the platform, it is a perfect example that not only do words make a difference, but so does wording.”

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Connell explained that there are many parts of the state GOP platform that he supports.

“There was a whole bunch of stuff that I supported,” he said. “I actually sponsored successfully the inclusion of wording that the Republican Party would support the rapid completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which I am proud of. There was a spontaneous batch of support from other people for that.”

But Connell said there was a specific bit of language under the national affairs portion of the platform that he objected to.

“I objected to it in the National Affairs Committee, and objected to it on the floor,” he said. “I cannot support it and will not sign my name to it. It states, as close as I can quote from memory, that the Republican Party supports the requirement of having a constitutional declaration of war before approving a regular troop operation. I understand what they were trying to say. They do not want to see a Korean War or a Vietnam or something like that without full disclosure by Congress. But a regular troop operation could include a health and welfare operation to save flood victims in Haiti or New Orleans. There are operations to protect and save a ship that has been captured. Troops could be backed by a full military contingent to do that. That detail is something that I cannot agree with.”

Connell thought the requirement that he sign the platform was unnecessary.

“I felt it was inappropriate to say, ‘We’ll help reimburse your cost’ because my total cost was pretty damn close to $1,000 for travel and registration fees and accommodations,” he said. “Their expectations of my signing is a little bit unseemly I feel. They are expecting something that has never been done and is probably a philosophical exercise. I’m a guy that looks for solutions on the street, and I don’t want anyone to be misled.”

Nancy Ballance, a Republican who represents House District 89 and lives in Hamilton, said she was at the Republican Central Committee meeting where they approved the requirement to sign the platform.

“We in Ravalli County spent a lot of time over the past year making changes to the platform that we wanted to propose at the state convention, and we made it clear that everyone was able to participate,” she said. “We wanted the best representation of the Republican platform. And from a Ravalli County viewpoint, we wanted to see if we could convince others. We put together the preamble, several people worked on it. Anyone who was interested worked on it. And we worked on other planks and brought those to the convention.”

“The whole idea of the platform convention is to define what Republicans stand for, what their goals are and what they want to accomplish so people can understand,” Ballance explained.

Ballance said she agreed with the resolution requiring people to sign the platform if they wanted reimbursement from the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee to attend the convention.

“The central committee funds anyone who is entitled to the convention and votes on the platform; they fund their attendance,” Ballance explained. “Their feeling was, which I particularly agree with, if they are going to fund you to go to the platform convention and participate in defining the platform, you should be willing to say, ‘I support the platform.’ All the resolution was asking was ‘do you support the Republican platform?’ If you don’t, why would they pay for your convention fee, pay you to go vote? To me it was simple.”

Ballance said Connell was the only Republican to object to signing the platform.

“Pat wrote a letter to the central committee saying he would not sign,” she said. “I felt the resolution was perfectly reasonable. Fundraising is hard. If they raise funds, and they decide to use those funds to pay your convention fee to develop a new platform, you should be willing to come back as a Republican and say, ‘I support the platform.’ If they don’t, it’s not fair for the committee to pay to send you there.”

Ravalli County Republican Central Committee chairman Terry Nelson could not be reached on Wednesday.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.