Third Party Power Broker

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Meet Rick Jore. In the 1990s he was a Republican legislator in Montana's state House. He switched parties and became the Constitution Party's only legislator, but since the party had a healthy majority they didn't sweat it. Until this year, when the state legislature split almost 50-50 and the GOP was faced with a choice: Shut Jore out or sweeten the deal to bring him in?

They chose the latter route, to Jore's surprise.

Republican leaders are giving the House Education Committee chairmanship to the Legislature's only third-party member, a Constitution Party lawmaker who opposes more money for public schools.

The rare appointment of a third-party member to chair a committee—especially in his first session after a six-year hiatus from politics—comes as the GOP courts Rick Jore and his swing vote. Republicans control the chamber by a slim 50-49 margin.

Jore said he never specifically asked for the chairmanship. "Quite frankly, I was surprised," said Jore, a Ronan resident who served as a Republican legislator in the 1990s before switching parties.

Education lobbyists are pulling their hair out, as Jore is miles more "extreme" on the issues than anyone they've dealt with before. They probably don't appreciate the lesson in how a small third party can leverage its effectiveness by blowing off big statewide races and winning crucial legislative seats. But I do.