HELENA, Montana — Members of Montana's Republican Party ousted six-year chairman Will Deschamps on Saturday, electing Rep. Jeff Essmann of Billings to lead them through the 2016 election cycle.
Essmann was chosen for the role on the second day of the Montana GOP convention in Helena. He beat out Deschamps, of Missoula, along with far-right former Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel.
The 62-year-old former senator and Senate majority leader has also served as chairman of the legislative campaign committee and as Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee chairman.
He said he'll be open and honest and pledged to work with every member of the party known for a divide between conservative and moderate factions.
"The time has come for this to stop," Essmann said. "We can't do it (win elections) by drawing battle lines within our party. We should aim our fire at our Democratic opponents."
Tammy Hall, who nominated Deschamps for re-election, spoke directly of the party rift and chastised party members for personal attacks.
"If I hear that one more time, I'm going to throw up," she said of personal attacks lobbed against Deschamps. "He's done a good job. I think we owe this man a little thanks."
Montana Republican Party executive director Chris Shipp said although the party has a new leader, he largely expects party priorities to remain the same.
"It's a shift because it's a new person but it's not a major change in philosophy," he said, describing Essmann's politics as square in the middle of the party.
Essmann will serve two years in the unpaid position he likened to his work as a small businessman, saying organization is one of strengths.
Republicans on Saturday also re-elected Sen. Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls as vice chair, Cyndi Johnson as secretary and Gilda Clancy as assistant treasurer. Mike Hopkins was newly elected as treasurer.