Credit: Courtest og Gianforte campaign

“Don’t hold the fact that I’m doing a great job in Congress against me. I mean, for me, this is about, ‘Where can I have the most positive impact, with the skills I’ve been given, for the most folks?’” says Greg Gianforte, the presumptive frontrunner in the Republican primary for governor. 

Gianforte’s pursuit of the highest office in Montana rather than a second term in the U.S. House of Representatives has rankled some fellow Montana Republicans, including primary opponents Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski. Fox, in particular, has indicated he doesn’t think Gianforte can win against the Democratic nominee in November’s general election.

As Montanans confront fears of a recession, Gianforte, an entrepreneur who sold his Bozeman-based tech company RightNow Technologies to Oracle for $1.8 billion in 2011, seeks to convince voters that his business acumen will translate to a strong economic recovery.

“Even before this crisis occurred, we didn’t have the strongest economy, we weren’t providing opportunities that allowed Montanans to stay here,” Gianforte tells Montana Free Press editor-in-chief John S. Adams. “And that’s got to be the focus of the next governor.”

Gianforte says that, if elected, his immediate recovery plans would include a broad lowering of taxes, a housecleaning of leadership at many state agencies, and a “top-to-bottom regulatory review across all state agencies.” 

Both Fox and Olszewski, in separate prior interviews, have chided Gianforte for what they call his lack of conservative credentials. Both criticized his voting record in Congress, with Olszewski pointing to Gianforte’s lifetime score of 70% from the American Conservative Union

Answering the criticism, Gianforte points to several House bills he’s carried that he says advance the interests of Montanans, and notes that his campaign funding comes from all corners of the state. Gianforte has outraised Fox, his closest fundraising competitor, by more than 4 to 1. 

While Gianforte has high name recognition statewide, he’s often associated with an assault he committed on a Guardian reporter on election night in 2017. The incident became a national flashpoint at a time when Americans were watching President Donald Trump launch verbal attacks on the media on a near-daily basis. For some, the wound was reopened when Gianforte stood next to Trump at a 2018 campaign rally.

Asked how he envisions a gubernatorial relationship with the Montana press corps, Gianforte tells Adams, “My administration will certainly make ourselves available to the media, and we’re not going to shy away from hard questions, because I think the people have a right to know.” He adds, “The ultimate goal is to shine a light on government to make sure people have enough knowledge to pick the leaders they want.”

Questioned about his initial statement after the assault, when he indicated that the reporter, not Gianforte, had instigated the assault — an allegation he later walked back — Gianforte says, “Just like everybody else, I’m not perfect … The people of Montana have moved on, and I think you should judge me by my actions since then.”

Gianforte is featured on the latest episode of the Montana Lowdown podcast, a weekly publication of Montana Free Press.

Alex McKenzie has worked with a diverse array of start-ups and nonprofit organizations. He is a former record producer and music journalist, has additional experience working in agriculture and food security, and previously operated his own dairy business. He lives in southwest Montana. Follow him on Twitter.