In a recent post, Pete asked an entirely legitimate question about the whereabouts of Bozeman’s Greg Gianforte, who despite his absence from the state and dearth of public events, is allegedly running for the House of Representatives. As Pete points out, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of such a run, with Mr. Gianforte seeming to avoid, other than some ads that feature the candidate sporting a media consultant-approved, seven-day’s growth of facial hair, any of the traditional acts of a candidate: holding town halls, engaging with the press, and presenting an agenda for the nation he’d support as the Congressman with the least seniority in the body. In a Republican sweep of the state, Gianforte, despite spending millions of dollars, couldn’t win, and not just because of his record of blocking access to public waterways.
Avoiding the public and press makes sense for Gianforte, whose personal unpopularity and prickly temperament earned him no points and few votes in his 2016 gubernatorial bid. Many observers noted that his behavior on the trail, in meetings with the press, and in debates actually cost him the election. Throwing petulant fits and being dishonest at every opportunity may, for all I know, be useful characteristics for a tech CEO, but they’re certainly not characteristics that win elections.
So, finally perhaps listening to his big money donors and D.C. handlers, Mr. Gianforte has vanished, trusting that his name recognition from his last electoral bid and the millions of dollars that can come from his own coffers and dark money donors will suffice to get him elected, all so he can build name recognition for his inevitable 2020 run for governor.
It makes sense for Mr. Gianforte to vanish. What makes no sense at all is the almost total absence of coverage from the Montana press about his platform, past, and plans, if elected. I’ve railed against the Montana press for years, but I’ve honestly never seen such a complete abandonment of the role of the press as I have in this election. Perhaps the press collectively feels they did enough to vet Gianforte during the last campaign, perhaps they feel that there will be time to cover the race later, even though ballots will be coming out soon, or perhaps they feel like they’ll show those liberal scolds who complain about them endlessly, but one thing seems certain: they aren’t covering Mr. Gianforte.
And there is a lot to cover. A hardly exhaustive list of issues the press should press Mr. Gianforte on isn’t hard to develop. For instance:
- Why did he donate to white supremacists running for the Montana Legislature? Does he disavow that support now?
- Why does Mr. Gianforte run a school that explicitly discriminates against students with disabilities? Would he, in Congress, support the DeVos plan to reduce services for students with disabilities? To transfer money from public schools to private institutions?
- Does he support the recent vote by his former employee Steve Daines that allows Internet Service Providers to sell the personal browsing history of users? As a tech guru, he surely must have an opinion on the subject, doesn’t he?
- Where does he stand on TrumpCare and the future of Medicaid expansion in Montana? Not that it ever was, but “repeal and replace” is no longer a legitimate answer.
- Does he support the federal minimum wage? Is he still unwilling to tell voters what he thinks about “right to work” legislation?
- Given his history of profiting from outsourcing and the importation of foreign workers, how will he vote on these issues in Congress?
- How will his personal holdings of millions of dollars of stock in Big Pharma affect his votes in Congress? The answer to that question, which will affect the lives of every Montanan, is surely as interesting as his opponent’s history of paying medical bills, which has received extensive coverage in the Montana press.
See? It’s not hard. None of those questions is a partisan attack and demanding answers would not reflect some mythical liberal bias by the press. Asking—and reporting on them—would help voters decide if Mr. Gianforte truly is the best person to represent them. And these are just a start of the questions still left unasked and unanswered.
Republicans in Montana do better when they’re not covered by the press. There is no doubt that Montana is a Republican state, but the brand of Republicanism being sold by Mr. Gianforte is out of step with the moderate Republicans who helped elect Jon Tester, Steve Bullock, and Brian Schweitzer twice. To let Mr. Gianforte skate past his support for discriminatory policies, a theocentric worldview, and belief in unfettered business excess doesn’t just do a disservice to Montana Democrats, but to all the voters in the state who truly want to be informed before they make a choice based on the letter “R’ or “D” after a candidate’s name.
I wonder if the Montana press is aware of the dangerous precedent they’re setting, a precedent that will not only compromise the quality of our elections, but the relevance of their coverage. We’ve already seen some of the ramifications of a slate of candidates who were unvetted by the press here in Montana, with the almost weekly embarrassments of Elsie Arntzen at OPI, Corey Stapleton’s mendacious performance on mail-in ballot, and Matt Rosendale’s ongoing lack of awareness what the State Auditor does. All won election, at least in part, because there was almost absolutely no coverage of their races.
Can Montana afford that with its sole representative in Congress? Can the Montana press afford to become an irrelevancy in the process of deciding who will lead us? It seems we are about to find out the answer to both questions, much to our detriment.