Montanans want to breathe freely, live freely, and conduct business freely in a post-COVID world. Gianforte, who won by approximately ten percent of the vote, won by such a margin because Montanans genuinely believed he would bring an end to the muzzling of our faces and the stifling of our businesses. Unfortunately, Gianforte began with a rough start, immediately punting the mask issue to the state legislature in a demand that they first pass a largely unnecessary business liability bill promoted out of Washington D.C. by Mitch McConnell.
Other problems with Gianforte’s early leadership include his push to give a pay raise to state employees in the midst of an economic recession (in disregard of the Montana Republican Party’s platform that states government growth should not exceed that of the private sector) and his appointment of Adam Meier to head up the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (MT DPHHS), who many conservatives believe will not “drain the swamp” of the DPHHS, arguably the most corrupt department of state government, given Meier’s track record in Kentucky. The latter is probably exacerbated due to the widely held assumption that Gianforte would appoint solid conservative leader, Al Olszewski, to the post.
However, Gianforte’s February 12 executive order, 2021-2, makes some serious missteps from a conservative perspective. According to the Big Sky Public Policy Institute, who evaluated the executive order earlier today, there are at least four provisions the think tank has labeled as “ugly” and five listed as “bad.” They have, for the record, also labeled 8 provisions as “good” in the white paper entitled, The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Gianforte’s 15 page Executive Order.
The four provisions labeled as “ugly” include Gianforte’s order that (1) businesses engage in masking and invasive temperature checks (2) that property owners cannot evict derelict tenants who are not paying their rent, saddling property owners with their debt with no hope for a bail-out, (3) lets health officials to break HIPPA laws and notify law enforcement of positive cases, and (4) that local governments can make restrictions greater than the state, but not less restrictive than the state.
The five provisions labeled as “bad” include Gianforte’s order that (1) public gatherings should follow CDC guidelines which currently prohibit ordinary church services, school extracurriculars, and other harmless gatherings, (2) that restaurants and bars should continue to inconvenience their customers, (3) that schools should follow CDC guidelines which require masking and far-extreme measures, (4) expanding unemployment benefits despite a labor shortage, and (5) letting the immune-compromised out of jail.
The aspects of the executive order labeled as “good” include various repeals of “red tape” requirements and regulations of industries that are unhelpful at the present time.
Although the details are still held privately to protect sources, some Republicans in the Montana House of Representatives, along with at least three senators, met yesterday in the capitol hallways to discuss the possibility of overturning Gianforte’s executive order, or at least parts of it. This would, of course, be devastating for the governor and signal weakness to the Democratic Party. While Gianforte’s executive order has incredibly bad provisions, this “nuclear option” is best averted by Gianforte repealing these more troublesome provisions himself.
Nonetheless, the legislature serves the purpose of providing a check-and-balance to executive power. Although some legislators doubted the resolve of House Speaker Wylie Galt to buck the governor, others spoke positively of Galt and believed House leadership might be talked into providing an obstacle to the enactment of Executive Order 2021-2. Several party leaders of various levels were present for this informal discussion (in case the press corps wants to sue someone for not being invited into private conversations).
Meanwhile, several county central committees discussed on a conference call yesterday – with the Montana Daily Gazette present – censuring Governor Gianforte for not abiding by the Republican Party’s platform. At least half-a-dozen state committeemen and committeewomen, several county party chairs, and a number of party appointees discussed the possibility of scolding Gianforte with a censure, which holds no formal power over the governor but, like the legislature overriding him, would certainly sting.
On the latter option to rebuke the governor, national news stories abound of local central committees censuring officials (like Liz Cheney) for voting to impeach the president. Without exception, those Republican leaders being censured by their own party are in the “RINO” category of legislators who are being put into their place by conservative and grassroots activists. Certainly Governor Gianforte doesn’t want to be added the list of Republicans who are receiving the ignoble recognition as ideologically compromised.
According to several state committee people present in the call, various county committees will vote to censure the governor for these actions.
There is still time, of course, for Governor Gianforte to reveal the more liberal and overreaching aspects of Executive Order 2021-2. Doing so would help unite the party. In the meantime, Gianforte needs to do a better job listening to the grassroots leaders of his own party.