By Justin Robbins
Time is fleeting as we fast approach a May 25 special election to fill Montana’s lone congressional seat, vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke; already famous for forgetting his Metro pass on the first day at his new job. Following the Montana Republican Party’s nominating convention, the choice will now be between Montana native Rob Quist (a former rancher, small business owner, and successful musician), and Greg Gianforte; a software developer making his second bid for political office, after a personal expenditure of $5.1 million failed to buy the governor’s chair.
While both men are new to politics, neither can be called an unknown. Quist’s name will be familiar in any corner of the state due in large part to his long career in music; during which he enjoyed some measure of national fame with the Mission Mountain Wood Band, and through which he was appointed twice to the Montana Arts Council. He also serves as spokesman for the Montana Food Bank Network. His family still works the farm where he was raised, north of Cut Bank; and he maintains an issues section on his website. He is a solid Montana family man, with a strong commitment to service, and to his home state.
For his part, Greg Gianforte earned his name recognition the old-fashioned way; he bought it. Having enjoyed legitimate success at his Bozeman business, he sold it in 2011, making a billionaire of himself, and a millionaire of business partner, Senator Steve Daines. When he decided to head into politics, he took a page from his hero’s guidebook, and put his name on a building. Donating an $8 million building to a university is arguably some laudable generosity. However, making your donation contingent on naming the building the Gianforte School of
Computer Science Computing (apparently, he’s not comfortable with “science”; in concept or word), seems to taint the gift.
Not to seem ungrateful, or look a gift horse in the mouth, but at 0.8% of his apparent worth, this was never about money; it was about press coverage and ego. For a billionaire, $8 million the equivalent of a $364 donation from an average Montana salary of $45,500. I do not begrudge his earned wealth; this is offered only for perspective. With an $8 million building, and $5.1 million direct to his effort, Gianforte spent the average Montanan equivalent of $596.05 on his race for governor.
During and since that run, Gianforte’s antics have made several appearances on this site. This is fortunate for interested parties, because his campaign website offers no policy details unless you sign up…and donate. Unable to bring ourselves to send $25 to a billionaire, I was pleased to note Gianforte spelled out his agenda in a 5 minute speech at Monday’s nominating convention: “we need to back Donald Trump.”
There it is in a nutshell; Greg Gianforte’s entire platform. This is a billionaire who believes Montanan’s interests are best served by blind adherence to another (barely literate) billionaire whose priorities shift with the daily musings of Fox & Friends. A man whose approach to governance is to destroy the government from the inside; with bills currently in the hopper to abolish the Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and with Rick Perry in charge of…what was that third one?…oops.
Don’t mistake this observation for further breathless disbelief, nor hand wringing on the part of an imagined liberal elite. It is instead total acceptance of a grim reality; and, for Gianforte, a sound strategy. Trump carried Montana at 56% of the vote, and Zinke’s early support of Trump clearly paid personal dividends. This election is, as Gianforte is correctly playing it, a referendum on our new president.
Consequently, Rob Quist can expect high-dollar, double-barreled negativity in ads from some obscenely wealthy interest groups. People who profit when Canadians build an American pipeline with Russian steel. People who benefit when federal land is maneuvered to a private auction block (how much can you afford?). Companies who benefit when they need no longer need worry about things like worker safety, or a Stream Protection Rule. There’s a lot at stake.
So, the question is really this: are Montana voters happy with their purchase? In a state that tends to balance itself well across the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government, will our choice be to further stack a Trumpian deck? Do we send a genuine Montana voice to bring balance; or add one more member to a billionaire’s club who feel no compelling need to speak to constituents?
On that note, how many of you truly believe you are in the constituency, the actual represented interest group, of a billionaire?