Gov. Greg Gianforte will seek re-election, he announced on MTN News Tuesday. He will again be joined by Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras on the ballot, he said.
Gianforte, a Republican, was elected by a wide margin in 2020, breaking a 16-year streak of Democrats in the Montana governor’s office. In the last four years, he’s presided over two legislative sessions featuring substantial GOP legislative majorities, helping to shepherd through income tax cuts, charter school expansions, restrictions on abortion and LGBTQ health care and other priorities of the Republican Party.
In a statement released by his campaign Tuesday afternoon, Gianforte said voters will feel he delivered on the promises he made when running for office more than four years ago.
“When you elected me as your Governor, it was to bring accountability to Helena and get real results for Montanans. Each and every day, I’ve worked hard to do just that. Over the last three years, we’ve accomplished a lot together to create good-paying Montana jobs, expand opportunities for Montanans, and protect our Montana way of life,” Gianforte said. “There’s still work to do, as we build on what we’ve done. Serving as your Governor has been the honor of my life, and today I humbly ask for your support to serve another term.”
Political observers widely expected Gianforte to run for re-election, though the governor was mum on the matter until Tuesday. His entrance into the race sets up a primary contest with freshman House Rep. Tanner Smith, R-Lakeside, a Republican hardliner.
Smith told Montana Free Press Tuesday that he still intends to challenge Gianforte, saying the governor has failed to control crime and the rollout of recreational marijuana.
If Gianforte fends off Smith, he’ll likely face Democrat Ryan Busse in the general election. Busse is a former gun manufacturing executive living in Kalispell who found a national profile after writing a memoir about his time in the gun industry and the politicization of American gun culture. Busse’s teenage sons, Badge and Lander, were plaintiffs in Montana’s landmark youth climate change lawsuit. Busse does not have a primary challenger.
Gianforte, originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, relocated to the Bozeman area in 1995. It was there he launched RightNow Technologies, a tech company that Oracle acquired in 2011 for $1.5 billion.
In 2016, after having established his civic presence through the Gianforte Family Foundation and other philanthropic — though not apolitical — activities, Gianforte ran for governor for the first time, ultimately losing to incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock. A year later, he won a special election to replace Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke, who accepted a position in the Donald Trump White House. Gianforte won that race despite reports that he “bodyslammed” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the night before the election, an altercation that ultimately led to Gianforte pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault, apologizing to Jacobs and making a donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In 2018, Gianforte won re-election to a full term in Congress. He was among the body’s wealthiest members while in office.
In 2020, he vanquished former Attorney General Tim Fox and lawmaker Al Olszewski in the Republican gubernatorial primary before facing off against outgoing Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney in the general election, winning by almost 13 points in a year Trump carried Montana by almost 17 points.
His term began in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. He soon rolled back the state’s mask mandate and in the ensuing legislative session shepherded laws restricting vaccine mandates. And he made Montana the first state to opt out of expanded federal pandemic unemployment benefits. That said, he publicly took the COVID-19 vaccine, presided over the state’s vaccine rollout and helped allocate federal relief funds. Other priorities of his first term included signing a law that gave him direct power to fill vacant judicial seats, a move that helped spark an inter-branch political fight that resonates today.
Since the worst days of the pandemic, Montana has seen substantial job growth, low unemployment, subsequent cuts to income taxes and a massive budget surplus that lawmakers used to pass income tax and property tax rebates in the 2023 session. But Montana remains beset by a historic housing crunch and a rising cost of living. Critics of the governor on both sides of the aisle have faulted the governor for not managing state tax policy to shield homeowners, especially those on fixed incomes, from rising property taxes.
Busse was critical of the governor in an emailed statement Tuesday, labeling him out-of-touch and dangerous to Montana.
“Gianforte wants to make medical decisions for women. He thinks he can buy elections and go on vacations when disasters strike. And unless you have millions, he doesn’t give a hoot about you or your rural community, or your public school, or the public land we all own,” he said.
None of the candidates for governor has officially filed paperwork to run for office with the Montana secretary of state. The window for filing opened on Jan. 11 and will close on March 11.
In preliminary campaign finance filings, Busse’s campaign reported raising more than $430,000 by the end of 2023. It ended the most recent period with about $172,000. Gianforte has yet to report fundraising for this campaign cycle. Smith has raised about $88,000 since announcing his intent to run for governor but had only about $2,700 on hand by the end of 2023.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.