Plagued by a mounting number of very serious problems in Montana, what did Gov. Greg Gianforte opt to do? No, he did not “put his shoulder to the wheel” and get to work addressing those issues — which would be doing the job he was elected and paid by taxpayers to do.
Nope, he jumped on a plane and flew down to Texas to tour the southern border with a handful of other GOP “red state” governors — and take a float trip down the Rio Grande. As the old saying goes, “you can run, but you can’t hide,” and boy oh boy does that apply to Gianforte right now.
When it comes to the long list of problems Gianforte just ran away from, might as well start with the most lethal — the one that’s actually killing the Montanans our government is supposed to be protecting. Once again, for the second week in a row, Montana is #2 in the nation for per capita COVID infections.
With more than 2,000 of our fellow Montanans dead from COVID, our Trump-addled governor decided to release a new “emergency rule” in an attempt to dissuade the use of masks in schools. Why anyone would want to needlessly endanger our children is a good question, but when twisted political ideology takes precedence over hard science, defenseless children wind up as victims and pay the price.
But then 18 of the state’s top epidemiologists stuck with science and harshly rebuked Gianforte’s rule in a letter obtained by the Montana Free Press saying it contained “misleading and false” information that “ignores numerous peer-reviewed studies.” It also contradicts the Gallatin Valley Public Health Department, which found local schools that started the year with masks have seen fewer cases of COVID-19 among students.
So, with hospitals overloaded and overworked thanks to his own leadership failures, what did our governor do? He called out the National Guard and split for Texas.
Some might wonder why he would run down to Texas — which is a long ways from Montana. Perhaps, facing more lawsuits against the last legislative session’s unconstitutional abortion bills and a Montana judge’s decision to temporarily suspend the law, he was seeking some advice from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is trying to defend the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. It’s worth noting, however, that Abbott’s quickly falling approval is now “underwater” — with those who think Abbott does not deserve re-election significantly outnumbering those who approve of him.
Or maybe Gianforte is looking for answers, since the vast majority of Montana is now in severe, extreme, and exceptional drought. The drought-level effects are already past the “impacts to recreational fishing” and now include “crops are destroyed or not harvestable,” “water quality is toxic,” and “agriculture and local business face economic loss.” And the governor’s plan is what — ask for more of the federal money he refused to vote for while in Congress?
In truth, governorship doesn’t seem to be a great fit for Gianforte. While he was a successful businessman, governance is not running a business — it’s taking care of the people and the state regardless of political affiliation. Unfortunately for Montanans, Gianforte is doing neither.
Montana’s governor would not be the first successful businessman to fail at governance, however. There’s the “former guy” for instance who left us sick, broke, and divided. Following in his footsteps, however, might just wind up with the same result — a one-term administration reviled for its failures. And from failure, well, you can run, but you can’t hide.
George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page.