Most of us believe in following the law. We understand some basic rules: cause no harm; respect those who apply the rules; if we break the law, we accept the outcome and work to improve ourselves. Yet the leader of our state acts as if the laws we all abide by do not apply to him.
Gov. Greg Gianforte is a repeat offender. When he body slammed a reporter, many were shocked. He was convicted of his crime. Besides public service, he was also sentenced to anger management classes.
Earlier Gianforte broke the law by illegally killing an elk too young to be killed. He paid a fine and lost no hunting privileges. Now the world has come to see our governor in a whole new light after his decision to trap and shoot Max, the beloved wolf born and raised in Yellowstone. Max was collared and left the park boundaries in search of a mate. It cost him his life.
This happened on the ranch owned by the head of Sinclair Broadcasting, a conservative television corporation. Despite not having the required certification to trap, Gianforte trapped and killed Max for a trophy mount of a Yellowstone wolf. Interestingly, the story did not break until a host of controversial bills to expand trapping and killing of wolves got closer to his desk.
We do not know if there are more incidents in his past, but we can see a disconcerting pattern in his moral character and judgement.
The bills roaring through our Legislature are some of the worst in the nation concerning wildlife. They are designed to empower trappers to control the public lands that most people in Montana use for recreation. They take aim at destroying our wolf population, a keystone species essential to containing chronic wasting disease, that supports all kinds of wildlife and keeps our wild lands healthy and in balance.
This governor ignores science and reason in favor of filling the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission with men and women whose focus is private property and profit, not wildlife.
These bills leave biologists and the rest of us flabbergasted. His polices protect 0.5% of our population: trappers. They ignore the 99.5% who love our public lands and wildlife, and who are not trappers or millionaires.
Our governor appears to flout law and common sense in his approach to managing himself and Montana. This is a dangerous combination for a person with four more years in charge of our state. The fact that he continues to break laws with little or no consequences only emboldens him to break more laws. Gianforte said it himself: "So the class — I made a mistake. I'm glad I was able to check the box last night. It was a good refresher for me. But in hindsight I wouldn't have done it any differently.”
The state should create an independent panel to review this latest breach of our trust. We cannot expect Fish, Wildlife and Parks to reveal the full story about what occurred to Max.
This governor requires more scrutiny in the days, months and years ahead. Respect for the laws of our state is a baseline requirement for any elected official.
Stephen Capra is executive director of Footloose Montana.