It’s basic political strategy in Montana: one of the ways candidates establish their Western bona fides is to stage a photo opportunity somewhere out in nature, usually carrying a gun or two, and almost certainly wearing hunter orange. On opening day of hunting season, Matt Rosendale, no doubt stung by news reports and ads highlighting his weak support for public lands, posted photos himself hunting with Senator Steve Daines captioned “Beautiful day enjoying our public lands and hunting with @SteveDaines.”
One problem: the photo almost certainly was not taken on public lands, but instead was staged on private land owned by an out-of-state millionaire from Maryland.
A closer look at the photo shows that it was taken at a location that appears to be owned by Point of Rocks Ranch LLC in Park County. Entering the Latitude and Longitude found in Google Earth (45°14’08.6″N 110°58’48.2″W) into Google Maps and cross-referencing it with the Montana Cadastral yielded three potential parcels of land (09, 16,15) in Park County owned by Point of Rocks Ranch LLC from which the photo could have been taken. [Point of Rocks Ranch LLC, Park County, Montana Cadastral, accessed 10/23/18; 45°14’8.58″N 110°58’48.21”W.
And even the Point of Rocks Ranch, far from being a public parcel, is owned by a Maryland-based entity owned by Robert E. Smith, the Co-Director of the rabidly right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting, the same Robert Smith who maxed out on a campaign contribution to Greg Gianforte after he assaulted Ben Jacobs last year:
“One of the brothers who control Sinclair Broadcasting has donated more than $10,000 to Greg Gianforte, the Republican congressman who assaulted a journalist and then lied to police about it. Robert E Smith, whose company is the biggest owner of television stations in the US, last month gave a maximum $5,400 campaign contribution to Greg Gianforte, the congressman for Montana, according to a federal filing. He did the same last year.
It’s telling that Rosendale would try to represent his jaunt across a private parcel of land as a celebration of public lands because it confirms his fundamental dishonesty on the issue of protecting Montana’s public lands heritage. As we exclusively reported here, Rosendale was telling Montanans as recently as 2014 that we would be the “point man” in Congress working to transfer public lands from the federal government to the states, working with groups like the American Lands Council to shift our open spaces for hunting, hiking, and fishing into oil and gas developments. At the time, he was saying that federal control of our parks, wilderness areas, and forests was even unconstitutional.
It’s perhaps even more telling that Rosendale was misrepresenting a private parcel owned by a rich Marylander as public land because that’s the ultimate aim of East Coast elites who want to transform our state into what many in the anti-public lands movement want to see: fenced off parcels only open to those well-heeled or connected enough to gain access and closed off to the rest of us.
That Matt Rosendale would present a private piece of land as a public parcel isn’t something that should surprise anyone at this point. His radical view that public lands should be turned into developments for oil and gas companies, not saved for future generations of Montanans to explore, demonstrates that he can’t be trusted to protect the heritage that matters so much to all of us.
Mr. Rosendale has so little respect for us that he’ll lie to our faces about where he hunts. If he has that little respect for us and the truth, how could we afford to believe that he’ll protect the public lands he can’t even seem to find for a photo op?
Let’s give Mr. Rosendale another six years to wander around the state to figure out where our public lands are and why they matter so much to us, and let’s send Jon Tester, a champion for public lands, back to the Senate to protect the public lands that matter so much to us.
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Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.