By all accounts, Governor Greg Gianforte is a conservative. Or, at least, he seems to have been conservative thus far. But as Montana settles in to a four-year term for the Republican governor – for the first time in 15 years – Gianforte has unsettled many conservative Republicans who are wondering if he will govern as conservatively as he campaigned.
Before we examine the three reasons conservatives are now apprehensive about Gianforte’s commitment to conservative ideals, it should be noted that leaders in executive positions generally have to govern differently than leaders in legislative positions. While legislators only have the responsibility over their own voting record and are balanced by 49 or a 99 others (or on the federal level, 434 others), chief executives have the weighty burden of unilateral leadership. This additional burden makes it necessary for chief executives, like governors, to do their best to make sure contingents and caucuses work together to punt them the ball and to turn bills into laws.
With that caveat expressed, maintaining a charitable disposition to our new governor and presuming the best, here are three things Gianforte has done in his short tenure as Montana’s governor that has conservatives sweating bullets.
#1 His insistence that the legislature provide a pay increase to government employees
Gianforte has put his support behind a 55 cent pay raise for state employees. Conventional wisdom on the right side of the aisle presumes that the governor is trying to “get the unions out of the hallways,” speaking of the Marxist-led social justice organizations that have disguised themselves in the Big Sky State as “unions.” After all, who wants to conduct the state’s business with wailing, complaining, noise-making, hysterical catastrophizers caterwauling about their baby needing new shoes? The thought process from some asserts that a pay-raise at the beginning of the legislative session and Gianforte’s term of office will allow the legislature to get on to the rest of their far more conservative agenda.
However, the Montana Republican Party platform says that the size or expendiatures of government should not grow more quickly than the private sector. And in case Gianforte hasn’t been paying attention, Montana is still in a recession caused by Governor Bullock’s overreaction to COVID-19.
Put simply, this move from Gianforte might be pragmatic. It might be necessary. It might be a foregone conclusion. But all of that aside, the move is not conservative. Raising the wage of state employees while the private sector is suffering is a fundamentally liberal idea.
#2 His punting of the mask mandate to a RINO-controlled legislature
It was perfectly within Gianforte’s purview to remove the unnecessary (and largely unhealthy) mask mandate installed by Governor Bullock. Gianforte campaigned on the issue and voters expected him to remove the mandate on day one (or certainly within the first week or so). It was with grave disapointment that conservatives watched the governor punt the issue to the legislature, which is currently controlled by a partnership coalition between the Democrats and the Democrat Crossover Caucus, led by Llew Jones (“R”-Conrad).
While Gianforte told the public he would remove the mandates after the legislature passed a business liability law, SB65 – the bill that would do so – started out as pure, hot garbage. The original wording of the bill actually increases the liability of businesses that aren’t following their local health department guidelines (which is more than 90 percent of businesses in the state).
Furthermore, a business liability law seems altogether unnecessary. Only four (or so) counties in the state are penalizing businesses for violating Bullock’s orders, meaning that businesses are already acting as though the mandate was lifted. However, it’s apparent that liability over COVID-19 exposure is little more than a bugbear. There have been no such lawsuits against businesses or non-profits in Montana over the issue. And nationally, the 230 or so lawsuits against businesses for COVID-19 exposure (most of which are nursing homes) have had zero significant financial payouts.
Gianforte had the power – and mandate by the people – to revoke this unnecessary strongarm decree. He chose not to, and that makes conservatives nervous.
#3 His selection of Adam Meier, former secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to run MT DPHHS
There was wide hope among the state’s conservatives that Dr. Al Olzsewski to the position, a decision that would have made conservatives rejoice. Instead, Governor Gianforte brought in an out-of-state director who ran the Kentucky Department of Family Services.
One of the reasons for conservatives hoping Olzsweski would have been made head of MT DPHHS is because of the widespread abuse, bullying, and child confiscation at the hands of Child Protective Services. MT DPHHS requires significant reform and even possible prosecution of CPS officials acting outside the law to punitively treat their critics. This was, after all, a department weaponized by Governor Bullock to go after opponents of his mask mandate (as reported ad nauseam by this publication).
Meanwhile, the state of Kentucky is renown for their own CPS abuses, some of which were overseen during the tenure of Adam Meier. Within hours of Gianforte’s announcement of Meier’s hire, the Montana Daily Gazette was reached out to by concerned Kentucky parents, warning us of the heavy-handedness with which Meier allegedly ran the department.
Even more concerning, it has been credibly reported to Montana Daily Gazette that Gianforte did not accept recommendations from the “short list” provided him by his own “suggestion committee,” which was to head-hunt a new DPHHS director. Apparently ignoring their counsel, Gianforte made an outside hire and concerns over child-stealing throughout Montana seem to have been ignored as well.
We pray that these decisions in Gianforte’s early tenure are not illustrative of how he will lead in the future. We also pray that he has some very good, pragmatic reason why these decisions are necessary. But if there are those reasons that excuse his seemingly liberal trajectory, it’s time for the governor to start telling us what those reasons are.
Meanwhile, we will have an open mind toward Governor Gianforte and hope that he will consider these concerns from the people who (happily) elected him to office.