Greg Gianforte—who wants Montanans to believe that he is prepared and compassionate enough to lead the state as its governor—has refused for the second time in less than a week to answer whether he supports Governor Bullock’s order restricting evictions and foreclosures in the state of Montana.
Asked by constituent Jackson Wetherill whether he supports the order, Gianforte managed to muddle through an answer saying that he wouldn’t “second-guess” Bullock but refused to answer the question, one of huge importance for Montanans facing the potential loss of their homes during the crisis, and a question that is, unfortunately, likely to come up again next fall and winter under a new administration.
With Gianforte, one is tempted to dismiss his refusal to answer as part of the fundamental cowardice of this campaign. Perhaps realizing how deeply unpopular and unlikeable he is, Gianforte seems to have accepted campaign coaching that tells him never to answer a question directly. Instead, he talks about his close relationship with President Trump, his support for business, and the small businesses he’s created.
And it’s that last note that makes me wonder whether there isn’t a financial motivation driving Gianforte’s refusal to support renters in this challenging time. Gianforte, according to his 2018 Financial Disclosure form, was, along with his partner Steve Daines, the owner of 10 acres of “residential rental realty” in Bozeman, MT. And he certainly still could be one.
You might be thinking such a small rental interest wouldn’t be enough to cause Gianforte to refuse to support struggling Montanans, but to echo a point I made earlier today, he’s the same person who, with a net worth over $100 million, underpaid his property taxes while running for Governor last time.
This is no academic question. The Montana Landlords Association issued a threat to sue Governor Bullock today over the order. Voters—and constituents—deserve to know whether Gianforte stands with those facing financial ruin and homelessness or whether he stands with the landlords.
When you’re governor, you don’t get to pretend not to have an opinion. You have to lead, not equivocate.
Whether it’s cowardice, political calculation, or even pecuniary interest that makes it so difficult for Greg Gianforte to answer a question, it’s time for the press to demand he does so. The next governor of Montana is going to face hard questions about evictions, public health, and limitations on our personal freedoms to help control the spread of COVID-19 when it reappears.
An informed electorate depends on an active press demanding we know what our response will look like under Greg Gianforte.