Cowboy Versus Alien

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?


15 Comments on "Cowboy Versus Alien"

  1. While in Bozeman last week people associated with the University said that Gianforte has to this point only given a small amount of the $8 million promised, supposedly the rest will be paid out over 10 years. Does anyone out there have any information on whether this is true, if so it should be made public knowledge.

  2. What happened to Rob’s website? There is virtually nothing left and it is now a dot org. Did it get hijacked? h/t Flathead

  3. where is information on his position on issues? the dot org site is only a place to sign up to help elect him and to contribute. We need a site that informs voters who are questioning who should get their vote in May

    • At Intelligent Discontent, Nathan Kosted has a post that quotes from Quist’s old issues page. At Flathead Memo, I provide links to the cached version of his old issues page. I’m told that a new issues page is under development.

  4. Rob’s website not hacked, it’s undergoing a security upgrade, will return complete with issues page in a few days. Not to worry.

    • Yes, that’s the official story. But I don’t believe it. The old issues and biography text could have been inserted into the page templates for the new site in a few minutes. That the campaign chose not to transfer the text, and then invented the “security” cover story, is high-handed, smacks of mendacity, and reveals a profound contempt for voters who believe issues are important. As one of Quist’s early endorsers, this lowdown behavior by his campaign is especially depressing and insulting. I expected better.

      • Does this surprise you given how the 2016 campaigns were run? It is time for new management for the Democrat Party.

  5. Can you do a piece that includes Green Party candidate Thomas Breck and Mark Wicks of the Libertarians? I think getting to see all of the candidates would be a great service to Montanans. Thank you.

  6. And if you, unlike Gianforte, don’t think that we should support Trump, then send a postcard on Wednesday (March 15th):

  7. Daines was already a millionaire. He grew up privileged. Gianforte just made him richer.

  8. In addition to the Green and Libertarian candidates, it would be good to cover all eligible candidates, including Write-in Independent candidate Doug Campbell –

  9. Now Belgrade Community Library ( last night posted a big beautiful ‘thank you’ to the Gianforte Family Foundation for giving money for a science education program. Greg Gianforte won last time by paying off MSU to change the name of the computer science department. Now he’s paying Belgrade Community Library for a shiny promotional message. Greg Gianforte only believes in Christian education and institutions, not secular education and secular institutions. He’s a cultural warrior. The library should have made a policy that they will not publicly promote or endorse in any way any person or party running for political office, and said, we will take your money but it must be an anonymous donation. The library should also make a policy that says they cannot promote or endorse any person or party who actively seeks to destroy public institutions and education.

  10. [woops, can’t edit posts after they’re posted]

    I should have written: “Gianforte won a lot of publicity last time by paying off MSU…” (The entire state of Montana is much better off without him as governor right now.)

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