Montana’s Republican Governor Candidate
Congressman Greg Gianforte’s sights are set on the Governor’s Office. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in Montana’s 2017 special election, after a failed bid for governor in 2016. He did not seek reelection for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House in 2020. Gianforte wants to be Montana’s next governor.
An American flag waved above the Montana State flag on a pole outside of the Gianforte’s Bozeman home. Susan Gianforte’s garden beds of tall flowers were spouting their final summer colors. The Bridger Mountains in the background climbed behind neighboring fields in a haze of smoke from a distant wildfire.
This is where the Gianforte’s launched their technology firm, Right Now Technologies, about 20 years ago. In 2011, they sold the company for $1.5 billion. Gianforte tried retirement for the second time at age 50, but it did not take. He won the Republican nomination for governor in 2016, which he lost by 4% to incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock.
Gianforte won the special election for Montana’s U.S. House Representative, after Ryan Zinke resigned the seat to take his position as the U.S. Secretary of Interior in 2017. It gave Gianforte a credential that was not present in his last run for governor – some political experience.
A key component on Gianforte’s campaign for governor is developing better job opportunities in Montana. Montana has the 44th lowest wages in the country. Gianforte said his family reflects the dilemma of Montanans moving elsewhere for career opportunities, three of his four children moved out of Montana. Gianforte would like to use alumni lists from Montana’s colleges to invite graduates with out of state addresses to come back.
“Our greatest exports are beef, grain and our kids,” Gianforte said. “I am running to create more good-paying jobs just like we did here in Bozeman. I demonstrated by growing one of the state’s largest employers with an average wage here in Bozeman of almost $90,000 a year plus stock options. That when you combine the Montana work ethic with good leadership, people can prosper.”
Gianforte voted against a 2019 House Bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The Congressional Budget Office reported that the minimum wage increase could cause 1.3 million people losing their jobs, while increasing about 27 million people’s income. Many of the 199 representatives who voted against the bill were concerned that the increase in labor costs would negatively impact businesses.
Gianforte’s ideas for Montana’s workforce have overlapped certain realities of conducting business during the COVID pandemic. COVID-19 has forced many businesses to operate differently. Parts of America’s workforce will continue to rely more on the internet than before the pandemic. According to Broadband Now, Montana has the worst broadband internet access in the country.
The Federal Communications Commission benchmarks broadband internet with downloading speeds of 25 megabits per seconds and uploading speeds of at least 3 mbps. But the bandwidth needed to work remotely varies with the number of devices being used and people using the internet. It is recommended that each person working from home has at least 10 mbps for downloading speeds and 1 mbps for uploading, but jobs that entail larger files, video and photo will require more.
“We’re close to Bozeman,” Gianforte said. “I’m still on a microwave length and I work effectively at home and my speeds are not what you just mentioned (25 mbps uploading speeds and 3 mbps downloading speeds), much less. And it’s still sufficient. Do I want faster? Yes.”
Madison County’s primary internet provider is 3Rivers Communications. They began laying fiber optic cable, the fastest and most reliable internet access available, in its service areas in about 2007, according to its Marketing Director Don Sorido. Madison County does not have a wide variety of internet providers and 3Rivers Communications prices are slightly above average, which affects the FCC’s definition of accessible internet.
3Rivers Communications’ basic internet service provides 25 mbps downloading speeds for about $75 a month. The rural communication company has invested over $70 million in its mission to connect every customer to fiber optic internet, which according to Sorido will be accomplished within five years. 3Rivers Communication saw a demand for broadband internet access and invested in supplying it.
“One of the things I’ve found is that demand creates supply,” Gianforte said. “So, as we have more telecommuters come home, is it perfect? No. Is it sufficient? Yes, so let’s get started. We can get the gears running and as more and more people ask for higher speed, there’s more revenues from the ISPs [Internet Service Providers], they can invest, and we’ll get there.”
Gianforte hopes to use the governor’s residence as a house of hospitality. He and his wife have cooked Democrats and Republicans moose, elk and venison in their apartment on Capitol Hill.
The St. Mary’s Reinvestment Act needed fast movement through the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee in 2020. Both of Montana’s U.S. Senators also pushed for immediate attention to the act, but Gianforte credits the quickly scheduled hearing on digging the subcommittee’s Democratic Chairman Jared Huffman out of the snow one Montana day in February.
“Montanans have more in common than what separates us,” Gianforte said. “I go into every conversation expecting to learn something even if someone disagrees with me on something. I think as you build relationships, you get to understand people better. I think sharing meals together is a way to do that.”