Rep. Frank Garner, R. Kalispell, pictured here offering bill testimony in 2019. Credit: John S. Adams/MTFP

A Republican lawmaker from Kalispell returned home Saturday after receiving what he described as “threatening” text messages. 

Rep. Frank Garner, a former Kalispell police chief who currently works as a security consultant, told Montana Free Press the text messages he received around 7 p.m. on Friday appeared to reference his vote on a bill that would have barred public institutions and private businesses from discriminating based on vaccination status. 

Garner said he reported the threat to the Montana Highway Patrol, which oversees security for lawmakers at the state Capitol, shortly after he received the first messages.

“It’s my opinion, based on what the guy said, that it was on this vaccine bill that we just had,” Garner said. “He didn’t say that was the specific one, but based on what he said and what we’ve been through lately, that’s my opinion.”

Garner was among 17 Republicans who voted with all 33 House Democrats against House Bill 415, which died on the floor of the House Thursday on a 50-50 tie vote. 

“This one rose to the level of a threat in my mind. Things are different right now, and I take these things very seriously and I have no tolerance for it.” 

Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell

Garner declined to give specifics about the nature of the threat, but said it was serious enough for him to report it to law enforcement authorities. He said he was returning to his home in Kalispell to ensure that his family is safe. Garner said once security measures are in place he plans to return to Helena. 

Garner, who is serving his fourth term in the House, said he has received “lots of nasty emails” during his time in the Legislature, but nothing that crossed the line into what he perceived as a threat. 

“This one rose to the level of a threat in my mind,” Garner said. “Things are different right now, and I take these things very seriously and I have no tolerance for it.” 

In an emailed statement to MTFP, Republican House leadership spokesman Dylan Klapmeier said, “Leadership is aware of the threats and are supporting Rep. Garner and law enforcement with their needs. The House Sergeant at Arms, Capitol Security, and local law enforcement are also aware of the threats and are handling them.”

Klapmeier referred additional questions to Garner and security officials. 

Garner said he expects to return to Helena Monday.

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Montana Free Press was founded by veteran award-winning investigative and political reporter John S. Adams. John was formerly the Capital Bureau Chief of the Great Falls Tribune and a correspondent for USA TODAY. John is known as a dogged investigator and the host of the MT Lowdown podcast whose unbiased reporting has changed the shape of Montana politics. Contact John at jadams@montanafreepress.org, or follow him on Twitter.