Well, it’s official: Greg Gianforte did not schedule a two-day, eight-city tour to announce that he wasn’t running for Montana governor.
Instead, as expected, he opened his tour Wednesday morning in Lockwood by declaring himself a pragmatic, job-creating candidate for the Republican nomination in the race.
Most of his 20-minute speech focused on jobs, but Gianforte, a high-tech millionaire from Bozeman, touched on virtually every red-meat issue dear to Republicans.
He promised to roll back regulations, cut taxes, give parents a bigger say in the education of their children, stand up to Washington, support the natural-resources industry and defend gun rights.
And at the very end of his speech he promised to “campaign with compassion as big as the Big Sky.” He also said he had not yet selected a lieutenant governor candidate.
The kick-off event was held at a location calculated to echo his emphasis on job creation: at Montana Peterbilt on North Frontage Road in Lockwood. Attendees walked through a parts store, into a parts warehouse and up to a concrete deck overlooking Peterbilt’s big diesel shop. Gianforte’s words were occasionally almost drowned out by the whir of pneumatic wrenches and the clang of metal on metal.
Gianforte, the founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman—bought for $1.8 billion by the Oracle Corp. in 2012—was enthusiastically introduced by Todd Buchanan, a Billings businessman and a former member of the Montana Board of Regents.
Buchanan said he was neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but someone “lost in the middle of this extreme visceral partisanship” of American politics. Buchanan said he has been an admirer of Gianforte for almost 20 years, dating back to when his roommate at Montana State University became the first employee of RightNow Technologies.
He described Gianforte as a “very skilled leader” who would appoint people to state government jobs by drawing on the business world and the private sector.
Gianforte, flanked by his wife, Susan, said the business they started in Bozeman is proof that “when you combine Montana work ethic with good leadership, anything is possible.”
He also said that the jobs at RightNow were “created by innovation and faith, not government handouts.” One of his top priorities will be making sure all Montanans have to the opportunity to obtain a high-paying job, he said.
Repeating a Republican mantra of recent years, Gianforte said “Washington, D.C., is relentlessly attacking our natural resources and our sovereignty.” He said Washington thinks a prairie chicken is more important than jobs, and he accused sitting Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of being “too chicken” to stand up to Washington. Bullock is seeking a second term this year.
Gianforte also pledged, if elected, to donate his entire salary as governor to an education scholarship fund.
Gianforte’s four children attended Petra Academy in Bozeman, a conservative Christian school of which Gianforte has been a major financial backer and former board chairman.
Gianforte was at the center of some controversy in 2014 when faculty members and students at Montana Tech in Butte circulated petitions asking the administration to rescind invitations to Greg and Susan Gianforte, that year’s commencement speakers.
The petitions called the Gianfortes a poor choice because of their support for creationism and the use of public funding for private schools and their opposition to civil rights protections for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people.
More recently, Billings Gazette editor Darrell Ehrlick touched off a continuing debate by suggesting in a column that Gianforte needs to speak more plainly about how his “extreme religious views” would influence his policies as an elected official.
One more thing: Gianforte is occasionally described as a billionaire, but when Last Best News did so a couple of years ago, Gianforte corrected us, saying that although RightNow Technologies sold for $1.8 billion, he owned less than a majority share of the company.