Montana Republicans face a decision as to which candidate will best serve us in the governor’s office. Several make claims as to who is the most conservative, who is the only one who can win the race, who has the best experience, and whose qualifications and disposition are the best to serve.
Candidates have lined up endorsements, collected campaign funds and set forth talking points and narratives attempting to persuade constituents to cast votes for them. I am one who desires to quiet the noise of sound bites and electioneering and dig into the background and records of the candidates.
One particular Republican candidate has captured my attention as he has spent more than the past decade deliberately positioning himself for the governor’s seat. Rep. Greg Gianforte is that candidate. Claims that Gianforte is the most conservative Republican candidate just don’t hold water.
Four conservative watchdog groups — the American Conservative Union, Heritage Action, Club for Growth and the Conservative Review — all gave Greg failing grades on his voting record and political positions. On the issue of immigration, Greg’s stance is more in line with Chamber of Commerce “Republicans in name only” (RINO’s) than that of true conservatives. Gianforte is a co-sponsor of California Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s HR1044, Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, along with 203 other Democrat representatives. This bill, and its corresponding SB386, benefits corporations who want to hire low-cost foreign employees. How can this be a conservative, Montana-first political position? How will this benefit Montana workers?
Worse yet, Gianforte is aligned with multi-billionaire liberal former New York City mayor and Democrat presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg as a member of the New American Economy (NAE) organization. The members of this organization are a who’s who of corporate business leaders along with various politicians, notably including the former Newark, N.J., mayor and presidential candidate Cory Booker and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The NAE claims it is fighting for smart federal, state and local immigration policies to help grow the economy and make jobs for Americans. Their statement seems duplicitous as it appears incongruent that bringing in more immigrants from outside our country would make more jobs for Americans. Maybe this is a question Greg could be asked at a debate or public event.
Gianforte positioned himself to replace Ryan Zinke in the House seat he vacated to serve as Secretary of the Interior. In the 2017 special election, Greg won that race with barely more than 50% of the vote tally running against a liberal political newcomer with limited qualifications. Pundits indicated Gianforte may not have won the race except for early voting through absentee ballots after Gianforte physically assaulted a reporter one day before the election. In 2018 he won another close race against Democrat Kathleen Williams with only 51% of the vote. Let us not forget that Gianforte lost the governor’s race to Bullock in 2016 with only 46% of the vote.
A recent article in USNews regarding gubernatorial races across the country shows that in Montana, Democrats believe Gianforte winning the Republican primary is the best opportunity for them to hold the governor’s office. The claim that Greg is the only one who can win the governor’s race seems unfounded considering he lost in his first attempt to win the governor’s office and barely won both of his congressional elections for the House.
It is noteworthy that Greg has never won Gallatin County, his home and where he built his multi-million-dollar business, in any election he has run. People in his hometown don’t even vote for him.
While representing Montana in Congress, Gianforte introduced 27 bills, only one of which became law in 2018 - HR4645 - East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Two other bills — HR1972 to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1100 West Kent Avenue in Missoula, Montana, as the “Jeannette Rankin Post Office Building,” and HR297, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act of 2019 — have both passed the House and have been placed on the Senate calendar. No other legislation Greg introduced has moved beyond these positions. This is not an impressive record of legislative expertise.
Gianforte’s campaign and Greg himself state that his background as an entrepreneurial business owner is his primary qualification to lead the state of Montana in the governor’s office. I would think that legislative experience would be a more relevant requirement for the position since a responsibility of the governor is to work with legislators to implement laws and regulations for the benefit of Montanans. It appears that Gianforte has insufficient ability in this area.
Gianforte has lined up a long list of endorsements from various legislators and organizations. As noted by many Montanans who have submitted letters to editors across the state, there looks to be an interesting reciprocity in play. Many legislators who offer their support have received donations from Gianforte. Organizations throwing their support to Greg may have also received significant contributions. Could Gianforte be using his wealth in a targeted manner to garner political backing from individuals and organizations? Gianforte also holds semi-private campaign fundraising events where he “charges” anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars to attend. The average Montanan cannot afford to attend any of Gianforte’s events as $100 goes a long way toward filling up gas tanks and grocery carts. Greg’s manipulative and elitist behaviors are not consistent with Montana lifestyle and values.
Gianforte’s not-so-conservative record, alignment with liberal politicians and business leaders, limited legislative experience, sketchy campaign operations and too-close-to-call elections do not position him as the best Republican candidate for governor. He simply does not possess the political acumen nor the qualifications and temperament to govern the state of Montana.
Perhaps Greg and his wife Susan could step out of politics and instead continue to use their hard-earned wealth philanthropically to support and benefit conservative causes and organizations. Unfortunately, Gianforte is a flawed candidate. Montana can do better.
There is a more worthy Republican candidate campaigning for governor who deserves consideration for the seat: Conservative Republican state Sen. Al Olszewski. His background and qualifications as a battle tested state legislator, orthopedic surgeon, Air Force veteran and life-long Montanan tell an interesting story of service, honor and character which should be examined.
Janet Walters lives in Lakeside.