Editor’s note: This is reprinted with permission from Montana Mint, a website whose stated mission is to “Bring the best of Montana to the internet.”
In our final U.S. House candidate interview, we spoke last week with Republican candidate Greg Gianforte. You can check out our interviews with Democrat Rob Quist here and Libertarian Mark Wicks here.
We chatted with Gianforte on a range of issues including his views on President Trump, if he plans to run against Senator Jon Tester in 2018, and the best pizza in the state. We also spoke to him before the House voted to pass the American Health Care Act (ACHA) and before a New York Times article was published that seems to include contradictory statements from Gianforte on his position on the bill. We asked Gianforte about the bill. You can read his responses to us below.
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The interview below has been slightly edited and reordered for clarity.
Montana Mint: You normally have a beard or goatee, but during the recent debate you were clean shaven. It kind of felt like when Alex Trebek shaved off his mustache. What went into your facial hair decision?
Gianforte: Ha, not a big deal. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t.
What has been the biggest difference between this campaign and your campaign for governor?
When I entered into the governor’s race, I realized that the last time a Republican had taken out a Democrat incumbent governor in Montana was 65 years ago. I knew that was going to be a very steep hill. We worked hard, traveled across the state and visited with folks. It really gave me a good handle on what the issues are … really put my finger on the pulse. It really solidified my conviction to go to work for Montana.
Clearly this race is shorter. I think the biggest difference is that one was long and this is short, and that race had an incumbent and this one does not have an incumbent. Those are the big differences.
Sen. Jon Tester is up for reelection in 2018 and there will be an open governor’s mansion in 2020. Are you planning to run for either of those positions?
I’ve said clearly that if I have the honor of serving Montanans as their congressman, I will stand again for the U.S. House seat in 2018. I think it’s important we have people in there so that we can have impact.
In 2020, that’s over three years away. I don’t know what happens then. I’ve always believed that the purpose of work is to serve others, and I will serve where I think I can have the best impact—if Montanans want me.
There has been a lot made throughout the race about your donations to a creationist dinosaur museum in Glendive and your ownership of shares in an index fund that has investments in Russian companies that are under sanctions by the U.S. government. From a political perspective, do you regret either the donation or those investments?
You know, Susan and I raised our four kids here, we’ve prospered in Montana, and I feel an obligation to give back. We do between 150-200 grants to nonprofits per year in the state. We got a request from Glendive to buy a T-Rex, it was an economic development project there, and we approved it. You look at the list of things we support—the YMCA, MSU, UM, manufacturing scholarships, getting coding into high schools. I feel an obligation that to whom much is given, much is expected. I’m proud of our record of philanthropy in the state. It is born out of our sense of obligation in serving and being good stewards of the resources that we’ve been blessed with.
In terms of the investments, you know, these are the same investments that MSU professors have and state employees have if they invest in a global emerging market fund. That’s much ado about nothing.
If you’re elected, what would the first bill you introduce be?
As I’ve spoken with Montanans and driven 78,000 miles in the last 18 months around the state, the one thing I’ve heard is that Washington is not working. We have career politicians that don’t understand our way of life.
I think we need term limits. I think we need to balance the budget. At least in the private sector, when somebody doesn’t do their job, they don’t get paid. I don’t think Congress should get paid if we don’t balance the budget.
It should also be illegal for [members of Congress] to become lobbyists when they get out of office because they just start drinking at the trough and propping up special interests. We’ve got to get Washington working for the people again.
You were a critic of the first version of the health care bill House Republicans put forward. That bill was pulled, but they will be voting on a modified version of the bill later today. [Editor’s note: We spoke to Gianforte on Thursday morning, before the House vote.] Why did you oppose the first bill and do you have a position on the bill that the House is voting on today?
I think we recognize that Obamacare is in a death spiral. Montanans have seen premiums go through the roof.
The reason I was in opposition to the first bill is that, I do believe we should repeal and replace Obamacare, but what we replace it with has got to do three things: It’s got to protect people with preexisting conditions; it must bring premiums down; and it must preserve rural access. That is the litmus test that I’ll use for any bill. Based on the CBO analysis of that first proposal from the House, it didn’t actually bring premiums down. That’s why I opposed it.
We have a new discussion and I don’t think we have a CBO numbers yet, so I’m holding in reserve a decision on this bill. I haven’t been party to all of the discussions. I would say the way we got into this problem, as Nancy Pelosi said, is we gotta pass it to find out what’s in it. I don’t think that’s a good way to go. I’d like to read it, understand the financial implications. That’s what an engineer does. I’m an engineer and again, that’s my litmus test.
You’re right, I don’t think the CBO score has been released but the House is voting on it anyways. If you were in office today without that CBO score, would you be uncomfortable moving forward with the vote?
Well again, my criteria are really clear. On any proposal to repeal and replace, I have to be convinced so I can guarantee to the people of Montana that it protects people with preexisting conditions, it brings premiums down, and preserves rural access.
I think the analysis is important to make that judgment call. Again, I have not been privy to all of the discussion in Washington, D.C. I look forward to going there and being part of it, and I’ll be in a much better position to make that decision.
What grade would you give President Trump so far?
I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen out of Donald Trump. Some of the things I’m really pleased about is the competency of the people he’s been appointing—Neal Gorsuch, Ryan Zinke, Rex Tillerson. The fact that he’s peeled back the clean power plan and approved the Keystone Pipeline.
I think there has been a lot of opposition to him back in D.C. from the other side of the aisle which is ill-placed. The American people and the people of Montana spoke. We elected him by 20 points. We need to let the captain of the ship steer it.
Can you put a letter grade on his performance?
I’d give him an A. He’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do.
The website fivethirtyeight.com has been tracking the votes of members of Congress since the beginning of the Trump administration. As of this morning [May 4] Sen. Steve Daines has voted with President Trump 100 percent of the time and Sen. Tester has voted with him 39.5 percent of the time. Do either of those numbers jump out to you? And where do you think you’d fall in the range?
I think you have to look at the individual bills. I’m an engineer by training so my approach is to not bring any particular ideology to a problem. I know that I would definitely lean towards supporting the President.
That’s really the decision Montanan’s have in this race because you look at the policies, my positions on the issues—I’m a business guy, I want to make it easier for small businesses in Montana to succeed and prosper. I believe in a strong military. I believe in secure borders. My opponent, honestly, falls closer to Nancy Pelosi. I would definitely fall closer to Trump in my voting record.
Looking back in history, which Montana politician do you most admire? You’re not allowed to say Steve Daines. We know you guys are friends.
We’ve had a number of good leaders. Marc Racicot did a good job of building consensus in a very civil way. I respect that sort of leadership. He was principled in the way he came about problems. I think we’ve lost civility and I think a return to it would allow us to not be screaming at each other anymore.
If you had your choice of a Montana pizza and a Montana beer for dinner, what would you choose?
I’m not sure I can get them in the same place but I would definitely go with Eugene’s Pizza in Glasgow and I’d have a Manley Stout at Map Brewing in Bozeman.
Last question … the most divisive question in the state. Rob Quist has said he is a Griz fan. Mark Wicks has told us he is a Cats fan. Come November, who are you rooting for?
If they are on the gridiron at the same time, I’m on the Bobcats side.