Montana Democrats Blaming COVID-19 on Austin Knudsen

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Austin Knudsen was a two-time speaker of the Montana House of Representatives and the youngest in state history in that position of leadership while in office. Since being termed out of office as a state representative, Knudsen has labored tirelessly in Roosevelt County, putting a massive dent into crime as the County Attorney. In his race for Montana Attorney General, Knudsen is the only candidate who has ever prosecuted a crime. Furthermore, he’s the only candidate who fulfills the state’s constitutional requirement to have had a license to practice law in the Big Sky State for at least five years before running for office.

With his opponent, Raph Graybill, being woefully unqualified to run for office and his only governmental experience being oversight of Steve Bullock’s public money laundering scheme to his family members’ companies as the governor’s chief legal counsel, it’s no wonder that Graybill’s proponents are stretching the bounds of reality to find something…anything…to throw at his infinitely more qualified opponent.

And now, the leading Montana Democrat junk-blog, the Montana Post, is claiming that Austin Knudsen is to blame for a coronavirus outbreak in Roosevelt County. The article, Austin Knudsen’s Dangerous Failures in Roosevelt County Spread Covid-19, Failed to Address Violent Crime, was written by Helena Pubilc School Comintern, Don Pogreba, and he alleges that somehow, in some way, the Republican candidate is responsible for the spread of the Wuhan Flu in Eastern Montana.

Pogreba writes, “A report in the Montana Free Press from July illustrates that Knudsen has not taken the threat of transmission seriously. Expressing a viewpoint that ignored longstanding Supreme Court jurisprudence, Knudsen asserted that the First Amendment prevented restricting public gatherings and authorized a large county rodeo.”

Perhaps needing a lesson in Montana government, Pogreba overlooked that the July event held in the town of Wolf Point was not approved by Knudsen as the county attorney, by the local health board, which includes the county commissioners and those appointed by the county commissioners (as written into state law in Montana Code 50-2.104). The July event, the Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede, does not correspond with an outbreak of COVID-19 now being experienced in Roosevelt County (primarily among Poplar residents), which was nearly two months ago. That event was sponsored by the Wolf Point Chamber of Commerce.

Rather, if any event is to blame (and that is highly questionable) it is likely a much more recent event not in Wolf Point, the county seat of Roosevelt County, but the community of Poplar. The September 5-6 event was the Fort Peck Indian Rodeo, which occurred just previous to the most recent outbreak of COVID-19. But like the Wild Horse Stampede that Don Pogreba wrongly references as the likely cause of the outbreak, this was not the purview or decision-making of the Roosevelt County Attorney.

The event was organized by the Fort Peck tribal government and attended mostly by tribal members (see below).

However, the Fort Peck tribes adhered to the COVID-19 policies set by the tribal government, which are even more stringent than those implemented by Governor Steve Bullock (see below).

Notice that the event planners stated, “We will be adhering to the Fort Peck Tribes Covid-19 policies.” Some conflicting reports indicate that there were a good many present who did not follow those guidelines, but the guidelines were nonetheless explicitly stated ahead of time and posted on the event grounds.

One can only imagine the political fall-out nightmare that might have occurred had Knudsen strong-armed the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes and unilaterally tried to shut down the event, particularly when they pledged to follow social distancing and masking guidelines. Had Knudsen tried to do such a thing, Don Pogreba probably would have dedicated an article to the ‘innate and implicit racism’ of the affair.

The Montana Daily Gazette spoke to a medical professional employed with the tribal clinic, off-the-record, to help explain the increase of COVID-19 cases in Roosevelt County. The county’s positive cases are centered in Poplar, not Wolf Point, where the later event that shortly preceded the spike in COVID-19 took place.

According to that source, it is likely that Roosevelt County does not, in fact, have significantly higher COVID-19 rates than neighboring counties as alleged by the Montana Post. It is more likely that the emphasis on testing by the Indian Health Services in Roosevelt County, which has provided testing to virtually anyone who requests one at the expense of federal resources rather than state resources, explains the higher positive count compared to neighboring counties. The death figures in Roosevelt County, which remains at 3, is commensurate with neighboring counties, like Richland County. This means that the higher figures in Knudsen’s home county reflects higher testing rates and not higher COVID-19 figures in reality.

Numerous reports have been published in statewide media demonstrating that the eight Indigenous tribes in Montana have been flooded with testing capacity compared to non-tribal jurisdictions. In May, for example, even while tests were relatively rare in Montana, the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation received ten thousand tests from the Federal Government. In July, the reservation began “mass testing” according to Indian County Today, which claimedd that COVID-19 is “disproportionately affecting Native Americans, who make up roughly 7% of the state’s population.”

It is far more likely that Native populations are not being more greatly affected by COVID-19, but having federal testing resources in addition to state testing resources merely makes the infection rates among tribal people seem higher than their neighbors who are tested at far lesser rates.

The Montana Post, which included a photograph of Austin Knudsen operating a firearm with a Roosevelt County Sheriff vehicle in the background (most of the Montana Post’s articles about Knudsen include a photo of the rural Montanan holding a firearm, ostensibly because their progressive readers find the Second Amendment to be frightful or distasteful), painted Knudsen as the sole reason for the Roosevelt County outbreak, complaining that the candidate was traveling the state and is often seen speaking without a mask.

Governor Bullock’s order, however, explicitly exempts those making speeches from wearing a COVID-19 facial diaper.

One reader to the Montana Daily Gazette wrote on a Facebook post, “What will they blame Knudsen for next? Perhaps shark attacks off the coast of Florida? A Yellowstone bear eats a tourist? Climate Change? They’re a bunch of idiots.”

Montana Daily Gazette readers are well known for their astute observations and savvy political insight. A betting pool for what Montana liberals may blame Republicans for next could exist in the near future.




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