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Gianforte Announces Running Mate

By 
Brad Molnar Columnist
Thursday, March 5, 2020
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Last Sunday evening I went through the doors of The Pub on 1st Ave. N. in Billings, joining other political observers to learn of Congressman Greg Gianforte’s running mate for Governor. With an astounding $1.8M in donations and a stated willingness to throw in another $1M of his own money if polls deem necessary, name recognition up the keister from running statewide every year for four years, plus a double-digit lead in the polls, Greg is the odds on favorite to face the Democratic challenger. The general aura is Greg will win the general, move back to his mansion in Bozeman, and commute to Helena instead of D.C. All he has to do is not make a mistake.

Drum Roll Please

The other four candidates for Governor, Dr. Olszewski and Attorney General Fox (both of the R variety) and Lt. Gov. Cooney and Kathleen Williams (both of the D variety) announced their Lt. Governor picks via press releases. After all, no one votes because of the bottom of the ticket. This was an RSVP’d whoop-de-do complete with a lineup of adoring, scripted speakers, hor d’oeuvres, reserved seating, and a press section.

Funny You Should Mention …

When Gianforte promised he would fire all department heads he specifically targeted the Director of Fish Wildlife and Parks to “end the war between landowners and sportsmen.” Then he introduced his running mate, Kirstin Juras.

Red Meat

Kirstin is a pleasant, bright, well-spoken attorney/law professor that ran for the Montana Supreme Court in 2016. In the three way primary election she got 44% of the vote. In the general election she got 44% of the vote. I like Kirstin but she will not add to Gianforte’s vote total in the primary or the general.

During her acceptance speech she many times mentioned she was a member of the Galt family. Aye, there is the rub. She was flogged daily during her run for the Montana Supreme Court for prior statements critical of the Montana stream access law. Her Uncle, Senator Jack Galt, Martinsdale, tried to repeal the law. For decades the Galt’s have been the example given for the friction between those blocking access to public land and wildlife populations reserved for wealthy out-of-staters and Montana resident hunters.

The wound is deep and festering. I am personally amazed such a mistake could be made. When Stan Stevens was elected governor he asked Jack Galt what he wanted for help given. The answer was to place his son, Errol Galt, on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission. The uproar was immediate and sustained. Lt. Governor Allan Kolstad told a meeting with sportsmen to sit down and shut up or “it will be a long, hard, four years.” True that. Sportsmen so tattered Gov. Stephen’s term for putting a Galt on the Commission he declined to stand for re-election. The animosity continues to this day. State Rep. Wylie Galt’s sportsman legislation to ‘end the war’, fills the halls of the legislature.

Political Ineptitude

During the Democratic Governors, debate candidates Cooney and Williams did their best to work in the phrase “public access to public lands” even if that was not the question. Plainly they intend to resurrect the issue of Gianforte’s failed attempt to close a fishing access site to the Gallatin River. During his campaign for governor, Steve Bullock pummeled Greg daily over the issue. Gianforte lost the argument before a steely-eyed crowd. Two things were proven 1) do not mess with the Montana lifestyle 2) even Gianforte can’t buy enough commercials to get a sportsman’s vote if he takes a stand against them. Montana was home to 253,000 paid hunting-license holders in 2018. Of these 114,000 were elk hunters, all carry deer tags; many buy youth deer tags and put .243’s under the Christmas tree. Go ahead, pick a fight, Techy.

Huff and Puff

As way of disclosure I am a member of Public Land/Water Access Association. When Monday papers reported that a Galt was on the ticket my inbox filled. Sportsmen have braced for battle. It is already possible Greg Gianforte has elected Kathleen Williams to the US Congress. Now it is probable he has given Mike Cooney or Whitney Williams an escorted trip to the Governor’s office with his pick.

Epilogue

The Galts once again push too far as a smug/unwary candidate listens to their sirens’ song. Thanks guys.

Brad Molnar served in the Montana legislature for eight years and on the Public Service Commission for eight years.

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