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Young gun

GOP's new executive director comes out firing

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At 22 years of age, the recently appointed executive director of the Montana Republican Party, Chuck Denowh, may be the youngest state party executive director in the nation, according to Chad Colby, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. The young Republican from Shelby, Mont., now living in Helena, has come out firing, though his targets are not the suspects one might anticipate.

First, Denowh (pronounced “den-oh”) went after former Montana Congressman Pat Williams, who now serves as a teacher at the University of Montana’s O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West. In the Aug. 6 edition of the GOP E-briefs that Denowh authors, the new executive director accused Williams of “using half-truths, twisting statements, and manipulating scientific data to his environmental ends.” Denowh went on, in a sarcastic tone, to mention that “All UM students should be honored to have such a hard-working and outspoken environmentalist on the faculty, and we doubt that any student would question paying just a little bit more in tuition to cover the healthy salary Mr. Williams commands,” for what Denowh described as a course-load of one class.

A few weeks later, Denowh attacked retired Supreme Court Justice Terry Trieweiler for applying for a non-paid position on the board of the Montana Environmental Information Center, an organization which Denowh described as “Montana’s leading enviro-litigation (read ‘obstructionist’) group.” “Trieweiler evidently believes that enviro-activist groups need to circumvent [the] system in order to achieve their obstructionist aims,” Denowh wrote, before concluding, “Trieweiler’s term as justice is up; he will not be missed.”

Of course, it is not uncommon for Republicans and Democrats to take jabs at one another, but why is Denowh attacking a former congressman and a retired Supreme Court justice, as opposed to Democrats currently in office?

“What motivated me on [Williams] was I read an article in the Great Falls Tribune by him, and in the article he said that he was a teacher at the University of Montana, and I disagreed with that…When I went after Mr. Williams it wasn’t pre-meditated by any means. I noticed that in the paper that day and I just decided to go with it.”

Deciding to “go with it” in what some may see as an impetuous manner could be attributed to the youthful exuberance of a 22-year-old neophyte. Denowh says that he has simply decided to amp up the aggressiveness of his party’s dialogue.

“I think we are a little more aggressive than we have been in the past,” Denowh says. “We’re not looking to get overly aggressive and ignore the issues, but I think those sorts of things do have a place in the political discussion.”

Pat Williams is, in fact, a professor at UM and teaches three classes.

“I think what he probably did was just look in the catalogue,” where Williams is listed only once, Williams says.

“Both his research and his manners need a little improvement,” Williams says.

Denowh’s attack on Trieweiler for applying for a non-paid environmental board spot irked at least one letter to the editor writer enough to argue that Trieweiler’s action was much less suspect than Gov. Judy Martz’ purchase of what many considered unusually low-priced land from Arco during a tenure in which she was charged with enforcing Arco’s statewide cleanups of toxic waste sites, or former Gov. Marc Racicot’s acceptance of a paid position with Enron lobbyists Bracewell & Patterson after helping to push energy deregulation through the Montana Legislature.

“I think those are separate issues,” Denowh says. “I don’t really see a correlation there. The accusations against the governor were politically motivated and didn’t really contain much substance.”

Could Denowh’s attacks just as easily be deemed “politically motivated?”

“Certainly,” says Denowh, “they could say that I’m politically motivated. And I think that I am, because the difference that I had with Mr. Trieweiler was a philosophical one regarding the role of the courts and the appropriateness of judicial activism.”

Denowh was appointed executive director by friend and colleague John Rabenberg—Montana’s new GOP chairman, with whom Denowh volunteered prior to his appointment—after graduating from UM with an undergraduate degree in political science this past May. If Montana’s Republicans are “taking on a younger face these days,” as Denowh puts it, then the new executive director appears an appropriate choice. Denowh’s industrious political motivation stems back to his resuscitation of UM’s College Republican Club. When Denowh attended college, the only school in Montana with an active Republican club was Helena’s Carroll College. The College Republican Organization (CRO), a self-governing national group affiliated with the Republican National Committee, wondered why there was no Republican activity at UM. Denowh then took up the reins.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I just set up a recruitment table and went from there. We recruited some good people and we built an organization around that.”

As for his goals for Montana’s Republican Party, Denowh says that he wants to work on what he considers “a communications problem with the people of Montana.”

“Our biggest message for the Republican Party is that we’re a pro-jobs party, and that means lower taxes, responsible use of our natural resources. I think too often we’re portrayed as kind of the tool of big business, and I would resist that charge…we recognize that we’re a natural resource-based state, but there’s a lot of value in just keeping this state a nice place to live in, and if we kowtow to the corporate interests, we’re not going to get there. Not to say that the businesses that we have in Montana don’t treat the environment right. I think we just need to make sure that they have the image that they deserve.”

Whether the Republican Party can improve corporate images, or even whether that’s an appropriate job for a political party, remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Denowh is one 22-year-old Montanan with a running start on his political future.

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