There was a major shindig this weekend in Bozeman, a Tech Summit at which big hitters from Silicon Valley showed up at the invitation of Steve Daines to tell the crowd how Montana can grow its technology sector and thus increase the number of high wage jobs in the state. Just so everyone understands what we’re talking about here, the way these events work is that these CEOS take time out of their schedule to do Steve Daines a favor and speak at his thing, so that Daines can be the toast of the town for a day. Then when the CEOs need a tax break, they call Daines and he obliges.
Greg Gianforte was a headline speaker, and the event was as much for his benefit as it was for the topics discussed. But Gianforte got stuffed badly by one speaker, a man named Doug Burgum. As Eric Whitney recounts in a story for Montana Public Radio, Burgum started a company in Fargo, and sold it to Microsoft for three billion dollars. But at the summit, Burgum chose to talk not just about taxes and gigabytes in his speech, but about marriage equality.
His point, which he delivered directly to Gianforte and Daines who were watching from the crowd, was that if you have a right-wing social climate, you will not attract the people you need for a robust tech economy, namely, the millennials. He said:
“If you look at people that are under age 35, the vast majority of them are in favor of marriage equality, and this is a situation where, again, Montana progressively moving forward on this, helps suggest that you’re open for business for all citizens. States that are on the wrong side of this thing, they’re excluding not just the people who are directly affected, but the relatives and the friends and the supporters of people that think that all people should have equality.”
In other words, attracting young wingnuts to the state who don’t know how to use a computer is not a good idea. You need regular young people, and these folks overwhelming support marriage equality and will have reservations about moving to a place that does not endorse it.
Gianforte, of course, says exactly the opposite. He has stated publicly that Bozeman would be more likely to grow its economy if it had fewer gay people. And he and his wife have taken this line of thinking a step further and funding groups actively trying to fight for a “right to discriminate” against LGBT people.
I like Burgum’s style. He clearly knew the terrain, had boned up on Montana politics, and on Daines and Gianforte, and decided to unload on them in a nice way. Daines will probably not invite him back next time.