Montana’s citizens pride themselves on their rugged independence, strong work ethic, and rugged individualism.  At the same time, however, Montana is extremely dependent upon the federal government for financial support.  As a result, Montana conservatism must be deeply rooted in principles that support limited, but reasonable governmental involvement.  Economic freedom, individual liberty, and private property rights are highly valued by Montanans and must be encouraged while encouraging policies that reward success and enable everyone to succeed.

Montana’s vast and varied geography does not lend itself to one-size-fits-all solutions, requiring a higher priority be placed on ensuring power is left in the hands of local officials whenever possible.  School districts must have the autonomy to satisfy the needs of local communities while ensuring every student has the resources needed to fulfill their individual educational goals and advance to a rewarding career.  Businesses must be supported with policies and regulations that are not overly burdensome and that reward innovation and growth.  Montana’s healthcare system must be accessible and affordable for all Montanans and protect our most vulnerable citizens without over-burdening the taxpayers.

“Practical Conservatism” means finding the right balance between pure conservative principles and the pragmatic needs of Montana’s citizens, businesses and students.


The extensive body of information and opinion labeled as “conservatism” over the past 250 years cannot be neatly defined in rules or specific policy guidelines.  The writings of philosophers such as Edmund Burke, John Locke, Alexander Hamilton, and many others provide food for thought that can be distilled into guiding principles, but conservatism is borne primarily by opinions and ideas rather than a strict set of definitions.  

Several advocacy groups lobby and organize for their “conservative” policies but many of these groups are tied to special interests and their definition of “conservative” principles or policies should not be accepted at face value.  Considerable diversity of views and opinions exist in the world of conservatism and for that reason, the Montana Conservative Index is designed around a broad and high-level set of principles that are determined to serve the interests of Montana’s citizens. 

Legislation is selected for inclusion in the Montana Conservative Index based on its adherence to these conservative principles.  At the same time, it is not the intent of this conservative index to score every bill that has any connection to conservative principles but instead to focus on those bills that present an impactful change in direction or intensity either toward or away from conservative principles that serve the citizens of Montana. 

The research and analysis used to develop the index are nonpartisan and are broadly based on the writings of conservative philosophers, historians, and conservative advocacy groups.  The specific criteria used to determine the legislation to be included in the index is taken in part from the writings of John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Alexander Hamilton and from conservative advocacy groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, American Conservative Union, American Family Association, Eagle Forum, and Freedom Works but is also weighed against the practical and realistic interests of the citizens of Montana.

Each legislator’s votes are assigned point values based on the criteria that follows.  A positive point value is awarded for votes in agreement with the defined criteria and additional points are awarded for their sponsors. Bad bills that are in opposition to the defined conservative criteria receive a negative point value as do their sponsors. Bad bills are weighted slightly more heavily because it is extremely difficult to repeal and undo the negative effects of a bad bill that becomes law while a good bill that is voted down may be brought back in a future session. Votes not taken will be awarded zero points.

Scoring is based on votes taken during Second Reading and Third Reading of each bill.

A legislator’s positive overall score indicates a pro-conservative stance while a negative overall score indicates legislators who vote with an anti-conservative bias.


The specific scoring criteria defined below attempts to define the legislative priorities that have the potential to drive an impactful change in direction or intensity either toward or away from conservative principles.   

  1. Promote policies that limit governmental powers to the minimum needed.
  2. Promote policies that place more power in the hands of local officials.
  3. Promote policies that allow individuals and families to make decisions for themselves and their children about health, education, jobs and welfare.
  4. Promote policies that support the system built on free enterprise, economic freedom, and private property rights.
  5. Promote prudent budget and tax policy that recognizes the priority of K-12 education, public safety, budget stability, and healthy reserves.
  6. Promote policies that support the rule of law.
  7. Promote tax policies that raise only the minimum necessary to fund essential services.
  8. Promote tax policies that reward success and enable everyone to succeed.
  9. Reform burdensome regulations that stifle innovation and opportunity but do not deliver benefits or protections.
  10. Promote quality healthcare that is accessible and affordable to all Montanans.
  11. Promote workforce training and job opportunity.
  12. Protect Montana citizens’ rights as defined in the U.S. Constitution and the Montana Constitution.
  13. Promote policies that emphasize all career pathways for students and expand opportunities for individualized learning.
  14. Promote policies that strengthen the family.
  15. Promote pro-business and pro-economic growth policies that enable individuals to build their businesses without burdensome regulations.
  16. Promote policies that support individual liberty.
  17. Promote policies that support basic welfare for those truly in need and unable to support themselves.
  18. Promote policies that defend the family without prescription of any specific family format.