The big news this week is that Greg Gianforte, the ultra-right-wing billionaire from Bozeman, is giving indications that he might run for office in the near future.
Gianforte founded the high-tech computer software firm RightNow Technologies, and sold it for few billion dollars in 2011. Interestingly, this means that Gianforte could be one of the first Tea Partiers in Montana history who knows how to turn on a computer.
Gianforte was profiled generously in today’s Great Falls Tribune, in a piece that openly promotes Gianforte’s new “jobs” website. In creating this site, Gianforte is trying to raise his profile in the political arena, taking a page from Steve Daines’s playbook.
Daines (who was Gianforte’s Vice President at RightNow Technologies) launched his political career by creating a website entitled “GiveItBack.com” which urged the state of Montana to return the budget surplus to taxpayers. It was an idiotic, childish idea like most of the rest of the things Daines does or proposes (like shutting down the national parks, which he did in 2013). And it proved wrong. The recession hit shortly after Daines made his proposal, and the state’s surplus provided the state a nice financial cushion which helped it avoid a budget crisis.
Gianforte’s website, and his proclamations in his interview in the Great Falls Tribune that he plans to spend his retirement “talking about bringing jobs to Montana” make him sound like an aspiring candidate.
A billion dollars would be a formidable arsenal, for sure. But Gianforte has serious flaws as a would-be politician. Notably, he apparently believes (like Steve Daines) that the earth is 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve shared their garden with dinosaurs. Gianforte is a major funder of creationist museums around America, including one in eastern Montana where the main focus is on showing that “there is no scientific evidence that evolution ever took place on earth,” as the museum’s director explained. I believe that such a belief presents serious problems for anyone seeking to become a statewide officeholder in Montana, regardless of how much money such a candidate might be prepared to spend. And how it is that a successful computer scientist could believe in such hogwash, and spend his hard earned money on it, is beyond me.
Gianforte also bankrolled the effort to force the state of Montana to use your tax dollars to subsidize private sectarian religious schools during the last session.
Gianforte’s wife, meanwhile, is another piece of work. She appeared at a public hearing in Bozeman last week, to declare that she is ready to literally give her life and liberty to defend the rights of local Bozeman businesses to refuse service to gay people. Bozeman is considering an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. Mrs. Gianforte is apparently helping lead the charge against it. She stated in the hearing that she would gladly go to prison for breaking such an ordinance if enacted and that she would “regretfully watch others shut down the organizations and businesses that people in other state[sic] are currently doing,” whatever that is supposed to mean.
And, please be aware that Gianforte is one of the chief financial forces behind the Montana Family Foundation, a group which (as the School Administrators of Montana point out) claims that higher standards for reading and math are connected to the workings of “the United Nations, UNESCO, the ‘New World Order,’ Marxism, Globalism, Islam, etc.” and that the new, better standards are the culmination “of an envisioned future of ‘dominant elites’ who have been working behind the scenes for over 100 years to ensure its adoption.” The Family Foundation and its anti-illuminati cohorts also believe that celebrating bigotry by importing stale, greasy fast food from hundreds of miles away is a good idea.
So that will give you an idea of who Gianforte is, and what he would bring to the table as a politician. He is a Tea Partier’s dreamboat.
And he plays hardball. The last time Gianforte made political news was when he sued the Democratic party for stating in a campaign mailer that RightNow Technologies had been responsible for outsourcing jobs. The Party (unnecessarily, I believe) settled the case by offering him an apology. But subsequent research shows that RightNow applied for a number of outsourcing visas, which would have allowed it to bring in foreign workers who would likely have been paid less than domestic ones. And after the company was sold, Oracle, the buyer, quickly applied for 600 additional such visas.
The more immediate concern is that Steve Bullock could potentially be Gianforte’s target. After all, there’s not much for Gianforte to run for other than Governor. Tester’s seat isn’t up until 2018. But I am not worried at all. Bullock’s numbers are strong (he has one of the top net approval ratings in America), he is an effective governor, and he will likely be bulletproof in the next election. An incumbent is usually unseated only when there is a specific, strong reason to vote against him. No such reason exists now, nor do I expect such a reason to exist in 2016.
And, Montanans are getting smart about staying away from right-wing nuts, whether rich or poor.