We have hit a new low. We now have both a local elected official and a state elected official convicted of criminal acts while in office. While due to arrogance or hubris neither have seen fit to resign from their elected positions, no pressure to resign has been levied upon them by the Republican Party. The new low is not that convicted criminals now sit in leadership positions, the new low is the Republican Party has largely sat silent and chooses not to condemn nor call for Commissioner Phil Mitchell’s and Congressman Greg Gianforte’s resignations. This from the party that proclaims Christian values as the base from which it seeks to govern and promotes adherence to the rule of law. And yet, the party looks the other way, not only defending and excusing criminal behavior, but supporting the re-election bid of Gianforte with no Republican alternative offered.
The criminal acts of Mitchell and Gianforte are strikingly similar in how they occurred and were addressed by the accused. Mitchell chose to vandalize taxpayer property due to his own self-interest in creating better lake views from his property. After his crime took place, he did not immediately recognize the egregious nature of the offense and seek forgiveness; he waited until an investigation began and he was busted red-handed. Then he apologized, but rather than take full responsibility, he fought the charges and undermined the investigation. Gianforte committed an assault and immediately thereafter blamed the victim; it wasn’t until the investigation revealed audio evidence that he admitted his crime. He allowed the denigration of his victim to occur for days after the crime occurred, knowing he was at fault. Based upon their respective approaches to criminal conduct, these men are no different than the “common criminals” who fill our jails and choose to victim blame and deny their criminal behavior, only admitting fault when the facts are laid bare in black and white.
Mitchell committed a felony, as any damage in excess of $1,500 meets the definition of felony criminal mischief. Yet, Mitchell – who admitted to his crime and admits the damage was at least $16,000 – is given a misdemeanor plea deal. If convicted of a felony Mitchell would lose his position as commissioner. But a misdemeanor conviction allows Mitchell to retain his position. It is hard for any person, whether Democrat or Republican, to view this result as other than politically motivated. So, when Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry calls the plea deal reached with Mitchell a “disgrace,” he’s right. We cannot be a party of righteousness, and yet ask voters to support convicted criminals. It’s about time Republicans start calling a spade a spade, lest the party be condemned to collapse.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.