Following recent disclosures of his checkered financial past, Creston musician and Democratic congressional candidate Rob Quist says his “on the ground” struggles with mounting health-care bills over the last two decades have equipped him with the perspective needed to represent everyday Montanans.
Quist is running against Republican Greg Gianforte and Libertarian Mark Wicks to fill Montana’s vacant U.S. House seat in the May 25 special election.
According to Flathead County court and property records, Quist’s history of financial struggles dates back to at least 2001, five years after he says a botched gallbladder surgery created a host of medical complications and resulting financial difficulties as he struggled to cover the health-care costs.
Quist had a lien filed against him by a Kalispell construction company for failure to pay for work done on his house, was the subject of a lawsuit by a former bandmate for alleged nonpayment of royalties and was sued by a collections company for failure to pay.
The Democrat has since paid off his debts — with the exception of an outstanding $10,000 he is currently contesting in court — and the royalties suit was dismissed last year.
The 16-year history of financial troubles was first reported by the Billings Gazette, following an Associated Press report that political groups had revealed $15,000 in tax liens previously filed against Quist’s home by the Department of Revenue.
Republicans seized on reports of Quist’s financial history to paint the Democrat as fiscally irresponsible, but Quist has sought to turn his past troubles into an asset as he talks to voters across the red-leaning state.
On the campaign trail and prior to earning the Democratic nomination March 5, the Cut Bank native has repeatedly cited his own health problems and subsequent financial difficulties as evidence that he relates better to working-class Montanans than his Republican opponent.
“You’ve probably seen all the narratives in the papers about some of my health-care issues and what happened, and almost like that disqualifies me to be a congressman and this is what, to me makes me the perfect person, because I live life on the ground,” Quist told a roomful of supporters at a town hall campaign stop in Kalispell on Monday. “I’ve worked with the same problems that many of you have, so who better to represent the people of Montana than someone who’s actually experienced these kinds of problems?”
In an interview Thursday, Quist expanded on that theme, emphasizing that his financial issues are largely behind him, and that they reflect the struggles of many Montanans saddled with massive hospital bills.
Quist said the costs of his own medical issues, beginning in 1996, were further compounded during the following years by his wife’s health problems and a decline in her income as a real estate agent.
“We weren’t able to keep our insurance company. We tried to mitigate these things by selling half of our ranch, but unfortunately there was a dispute with the property line that took a long time to settle,” Quist said. “We never declared bankruptcy. We never tried to not pay our bills ... Quite frankly, that’s what a lot of Montana families face.”
He added that he feels unfairly targeted by stories in the media, and noted that his opponent has also faced tax-lien issues. Democrats have pointed to a $3,600 tax lien filed against Gianforte in 1993 in New Jersey, before he moved to Montana. Court documents filed by the state’s Division of Taxation show that the Republican paid off the debt about three months later.
The Montana Democratic Party also released documents on Monday showing that RightNow Technologies, the Bozeman technology company founded by Gianforte in 1997, had failed to pay more than $15,000 in taxes in Indiana between October 2012 and August 2014. Gianforte’s campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon noted in an interview that the period in question began 10 months after the Republican sold the company for $1.8 billion.
QUIST’S FIRST debt-related problem surfaced in September 2001. Kraig Trippel, who owns Kalispell-based Cutting Edge Excavation, filed a lien against Quist’s property on Riverside Road, alleging about $5,000 in outstanding payments for landscaping and driveway work he completed more than three months earlier.
According to documents filed by Trippel with Flathead County, Quist had made a single payment of $1,000 during that time. The contractor dismissed the lien in January 2002 after Quist paid off the remaining debt.
Trippel didn’t respond to multiple phone calls asking for comment, but Quist told the Inter Lake that the nonpayment was a direct result of his ongoing medical troubles.
More recently, Quist was the subject of an April 2013 lawsuit — ultimately dismissed in 2016 — filed by a former bandmate with the Mission Mountain Wood Band.
In the April 2013 civil complaint, Steve Riddle claimed he was the victim of fraud and deceit after Quist allegedly failed to provide him with royalties he was owed from a “Private Stash” box set of earlier recordings by the band released in 2010.
According to the lawsuit, Riddle wasn’t notified of the album’s release until a 2012 conversation with Jeff Ader, the band’s longtime mastering engineer.
Riddle’s suit sought to recover royalties allegedly owed to him, and claimed that Quist had knowingly deceived him.
In an emailed response to requests for an interview, Riddle on Thursday characterized the issue as a simple business disagreement for which he was the only member available to represent the Mission Mountain Wood Band, and that the two longtime friends have since buried the hatchet.
“We always keep any problems we ever have inside the bus and we choose to continue to do so,” Riddle wrote. “We handled it, we settled, and we moved on, putting the fact that it happened behind us. End of story.”
He added that he continues to support Quist, “and always will through thick and thin.”
Quist also downplayed the lawsuit, comparing the royalties issue to a minor dispute between close family members.
“We were trying to survive any way we could. We made good on those [payments] quickly and came into a really good arrangement,” he said Thursday. “Obviously, we did press some of those and sell them, but I never had an intent of withholding. There were some royalties that were owed to me by other members, so it was kind of a convoluted thing.”
QUIST AND his wife also faced liens issued by the Montana Department of Revenue for failing to pay taxes in 2007, 2011 and 2012. He settled the roughly $15,000 of debt in May 2016.
The Democrat is currently suing U.S. Bank and American Homestead Mortgage, alleging that an error by the bank’s surveyor prevented him from selling 10 acres of his ranch to avoid defaulting on a loan.
The December 2014 suit states that Quist was unable to work in 2011 due to his declining health, apparently contradicting his touring schedule that year. According to archived versions of his website, the musician was scheduled to play more than two dozen shows from April through September.
On Thursday, Quist acknowledged that he had worked that year, but in a limited capacity compared with what he said was a typical workload of around 200 shows per year.
“I did, but it sure didn’t feel like it,” he said. “What family can survive only working three days a month? It didn’t come anywhere close to covering the bills that we had to pay.”
Quist stressed that at the end of the day, he succeeded in turning around his financial difficulties and has resolved most of his obligations.
“We could have — and maybe should have — declared bankruptcy, but that’s just not the Montana way,” he said. “That’s not the way I was brought up.”
Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.