It’s hard not to believe that someone challenged Greg Gianforte to find a running mate whose record on public access to Montana’s waterways and religious freedom was as bad as his own. Despite the long odds of finding such a person, Gianforte delivered, and his choice of Kristen Juras as his running mate for the 2020 election is one of the most puzzling selections of a running mate in recent memory.
Juras, a Great Falls lawyer and former law professor at the University of Montana, is perhaps best known to Montana voters for handily losing a race for the Montana Supreme Court in 2016 despite running a dirty and dishonest campaign backed by dark money groups.
Conventional wisdom suggests that candidates should choose running mates who balance perceived extremes in their record, but Gianforte seems to have gone the other direction. Instead, he’s chosen a running mate who is even more extreme on her belief that private property rights trump public access and that government should impose Christian values on its citizens.
Consider public access to Montana waterways. Mr. Gianforte is infamous for his decision to block public access to a stream near his Bozeman home, but Juras goes even farther, having argued that private landowners should have the “right to exclude” access:
Juras recently penned an article in which she seems supportive of stream access. However, in a law review article she previously wrote, Juras argued that Montana’s law goes too far to protect our right to access streams and rivers when she wrote that landowners should have more rights to block off access to Montana’s streams and rivers. In her law review article, she advocated for what she dubbed the “right to exclude.” Indeed, Juras is well known in the legal community for advocating an aggressive, anti-public access agenda.
It’s little wonder, then, that among those who funded Juras’s bid for the Supreme Court in 2016 was James Cox Kennedy, who has fought for years “to gut Montana’s stream access laws.”
In 2016, it was so clear that Gianforte and Juras posed a threat to stream access that the Montana Coalition for Stream Access called both out by name as unique threats to public access.
And it’s not just in public access where Juras matches Gianforte’s extremism. She also seems to believe that government and public institutions should be free to impose their particular Christian religious views on the rest of us. Juras, who ran for the Supreme Court arguing that same-sex marriage should not be legal, has a long history of trying to impose her religious views on others.
As Ed Kemmick noted after the 2016 election, the wealthy backers who supported Juras wanted a reactionary judge who would put her version of faith ahead of the Constitution:
What the people on that committee wanted was a reliably reactionary justice who would favor corporations over individuals, wealthy landowners over recreationists and the Bible over the Constitution.
That desire probably explains why Juras enjoyed the support of Jeff Laszloffy’s Montana Family Foundation. Juras expressed a desire to be elected to the Supreme Court so that she could weigh in on the “religious freedom” cases conservatives have used across the country to permit discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community:
At issue is the Dec. 8 email conversation between Juras and psychology professor Lucian Conway III. Juras is an adjunct law professor at the University of Montana, where Conway also teaches.
“After lots of prayer I decided to run for an open seat on the Montana Supreme Court,” Juras said in her email. “I think there are going to be a lot of cases affecting religious freedom that arise over the next several years, and I’d like to be part of the decision-making body that will be addressing those issues. What I covet is prayer. Please pray that during my campaign I would always act in a way that honors God, for His favor, for opportunities, for wisdom in my campaign strategies.”
Even as a professor, Juras tried to use her position to silence those she disagreed with. When she was criticized for her earlier call for censorship of a sex advice column in the Kaimin (the UM student newspaper), Juras blatantly lied about the columnist, claiming falsely that he column had been pulled because of the investigation into sexual assaults at UM, even though the columnist graduated three years before the investigation began:
Singing aside, there are several key problems with Juras’ post. First, she claims, “the column was discontinued after the United States launched a comprehensive review of the University’s handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints.” Even if we ignore the fact that this entire incident occurred three years before that investigation was even considered, this is still flagrantly false. The column was discontinued simply because Bess graduated.
Juras is an astonishing pick, one that suggests that either Greg Gianforte is so confident he can buy this election that he’ll nominate almost anyone to be his running mate or that the rumors that have been swirling around the state that no one wanted to run with him have some legs.
No matter the reason, Gianforte’s selection makes it clear Montana cannot afford to elect this man governor. Our way of life, whether that means our access to the public lands and waterways we love or the religious and privacy rights we hold dear, would be under attack from the first day of a Gianforte-Juras administration.