HELENA — Gov. Greg Gianforte was sworn in Monday as Montana’s 25th governor, bringing the state Capitol under unified GOP control and putting a Republican at the helm of state government for the first time since 2005.
Gianforte, a former tech entrepreneur who built a billion-dollar business in Bozeman before entering politics, pledged in his inaugural address to focus on bolstering economic opportunity while helping the state recover from the COVID-19 crisis. He stressed longtime Republican priorities of streamlining business regulations and reducing taxes by reining in what he called “out of control” state spending.
He also expressed a desire to rise above partisan politics, striking conciliatory notes and stressing the value of the state education system and Montana’s public lands — institutions Democrats have worried could be harmed by a Republican-dominated state government.
“I passionately believe that more unites us than separates us as Montanans,” Gianforte said. “I’m ready to work with anyone, Democrat, Republican, or independent, who has a good idea.”
Gianforte also said he wants to make state agencies more responsive to the public, providing citizens with “better customer service.” He additionally said he will prioritize public safety and drug addiction recovery programs.
“We must protect the way of life enshrined in our Constitution,” Gianforte said. “Ultimately, we must do these things to protect our way of life for the next generation of Montanans.”
Those themes largely echo the pitch Gianforte made to voters during the 2020 election, when he framed his campaign rhetoric around a “Montana Comeback Plan” he said would help the state economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and what he’s called economic mismanagement under a decade and a half of Democratic governors.
Gianforte’s address didn’t explicitly mention Second Amendment issues, identified as a priority on his campaign website, or abortion restrictions, a major Republican policy priority, that have historically run into vetos from Democratic governors.
The last Republican to serve as Montana governor was Judy Martz, who held the executive office for a single four-year term from 2001 to 2005. Democratic governors Brian Schweitzer and Steve Bullock served two terms each, from 2005 to 2013 and from 2013 to this year, respectively.
As the state’s chief executive, governors appoint state agency heads and are ultimately responsible for state government’s day-to-day administration. The governor also has veto power over laws passed by the Montana Legislature and produces draft budgets that serve as templates for the legislative appropriation process.
Four other Republicans who won election to statewide offices in 2020 were also sworn in Monday: Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, Attorney General Austin Knudsen, second-term Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and State Auditor Troy Downing.
Gianforte, who promised on the campaign trail to appoint a clean slate of directors to head state agencies, has named eight cabinet-level appointments as of Jan. 4.
He also announced names, titles and salaries for 20 positions within the governor’s office Dec. 31:
- Kurt Alme, budget director: $130,000
- Anita Milanovich, general counsel: $120,000
- Christine Heggem, chief of staff: $128,000
- Mike Milburn, senior advisor: $113,000
- Travis Hall, senior advisor and director of strategic communications: $110,000
- Glenn Oppel, policy director: $105,000
- Mike Freeman, natural resources policy advisor: $95,000
- Rachel Meredith, counsel: $95,000
- Karli Hill, director of engagement: $87,000
- Liane Taylor, boards & nominations: $80,000
- Charlie Brereton, health care policy advisor: $78,000
- Brooke Stroyke, press secretary: $66,000
- Garrett Turner, director of media and content: $60,000
- Tory Scribner, scheduler: $45,000
- Brett Simons, economic development specialist: $44,000
- Sonny Capece, economic development specialist: $42,000
- Hannah Slusser, executive assistant to the lieutenant governor and chief of staff: $40,000
- Will Emery, research/press assistant: $40,000
- Elizabeth Klinker, constituent services: $33,000
- Celia Rigler, staff assistant: $27,000
The salaries paid to Gianforte and Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras are $118,397 and $90,140, respectively.
NorthWestern Energy, the South Dakota-based utility company that supplies power to approximately two-thirds of Montana’s residents, has decided to withdraw its application for PSC preapproval of a new natural gas plant in Laurel. The company will now build the plant on an accelerated timeline and seek to recoup its costs through the normal ratemaking process.
A fourth lawsuit challenging House Bill 176 was filed today by Montana unions, disability rights advocates and individual voters. The plaintiffs allege that the Legislature’s elimination of Election Day registration is unconstitutional and disenfranchises disabled Montanans and workers.
On Sept. 1, seven Montana businesses sued Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen over an alleged software flaw that resulted in duplicate filing fees. But concern about the state’s online-only business filing system dates back to a debate in the 2019 Legislature.