By Zachary Stieber
Montana voters chose the Republican gubernatorial nominee for the first time in 16 years after popular Gov. Steve Bullock had to leave office because of term limits.
Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), 59, beat Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney by nearly 80,000 votes.
“The people of Montana sent a loud and clear message to Helena—a message reaching the State Capitol from every corner of our great state. After 16 long years of single-party rule in the governor’s office, it’s time for Helena to change how it does business,” Gianforte said in a statement thanking people for their votes.
Both candidates ran on platforms that emphasized the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have to do everything we can to support local businesses and good-paying jobs during this pandemic,” Cooney wrote earlier this month on Facebook.
Gianforte said he will work to get state residents back to jobs with good pay, and back to work in general, indicating a loosening of Gov. Steve Bullock’s tight pandemic-fueled orders.
“Priority number one for all of Montanans is, we’ve got to get our economy opened back up, we’ve got to get people back to work,” he said during a virtual appearance on KULR-TV after the race was called.
“It’s been a tough year both from a health perspective and from an economic perspective,” he added. “We need to keep people safe and we need to get our economy opened back up.”
Montana House Speaker Greg Hertz, a Republican who is headed to the state Senate, endorsed Gianforte.
“He wants to apply commonsense business principles of cutting red tape, eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy, and returning those savings to hardworking Montana taxpayers,” Hertz wrote in a February op-ed.
Hertz said Bullock blocked a number of bills that would help with job creation and small businesses and accused Democrats of, over the past 16 years, effectively holding “our state’s enormous potential hostage.”
Republicans have held majorities in the legislature during Bullock’s four terms in office. Those majorities were expanded on Nov. 3.
Hertz told a radio station this week that Gianforte’s entering office “is going to be breath of fresh air.”
Bullock’s harsh executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, stoked opposition. Gianforte formed a COVID-19 task force this week but hasn’t specified what recommendations and orders he plans on issuing.
Legislative leaders told the Missoula Current last week that they’ll likely try to place limits on the governor’s emergency powers.
A draft Republican House policy agenda says other priorities include lowering taxes, strengthening law and order, and protecting freedom of religion.
Gianforte is in his second term as a U.S. representative. He gained attention in 2017 when he body slammed a journalist. Gianforte apologized and said he made a mistake.
Bullock ran for a U.S. Senate seat but lost to Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). He previously dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary race.
The Montana Democratic Party said in a statement after the election that “Democrats will always champion working families” and vowed to “never stop working to get the right things done for all Montanans.”
Cooney said in a statement on Nov. 4: “I expect Mr. Gianforte to serve with the best interests of all Montanans in mind. Public service answers to public accountability, but accountability doesn’t end here.”
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