Get an insider’s look into what’s happening in and around the halls of power with expert reporting, analysis and insight from the editors and reporters of Montana Free Press. Sign up to get the free Capitolized newsletter delivered to your inbox every Thursday.
June 22, 2023
Dem flirting with Gianforte challenge
Ryan Busse, a former firearms industry executive who left that field in 2020 to advocate against gun violence and the role of gun companies and lobby groups in that violence, is pondering a Democratic challenge to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte in 2024, he told Capitolized Wednesday.
He’s strongly considering a bid but needs to weigh the implications for his family, he said. No Democrat has yet to enter the field.
“Unlike Gianforte, I don’t have big stacks of cash laying around, and I don’t have a private jet,” Busse said of the difficulties of campaigning — and of the financial resources of the state’s incumbent Republican governor.
Busse, who lives in Kalispell, rose to prominence in 2021 with the publication of his memoir, “Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America,” which details how a Kansas boy who grew up around guns came to work in the industry he thought he loved, only to become disillusioned with successive mass shootings and the dovetailing of the gun industry with right-wing politics. He’s now a senior adviser to the gun violence prevention organization Giffords.
“I don’t like guns any less than I did, or any more than I did,” he told the New York Times in 2021. “I shoot with my boys. I hunt every chance I get. I still own a lot of guns. Many of the best parts of my life have been centered around guns or using guns, so in that way, I don’t think I’ve changed at all. What has changed, though, is a radical shift in what the industry believes to be decent and responsible.”
More recently, the Busse name has appeared in headlines in relation to his two sons, Badge and Lander, co-plaintiffs in Montana’s high-profile, youth-led constitutional climate lawsuit. The trial wrapped up earlier this week.
Ryan Busse said he doesn’t believe the case will have any bearing on a potential run for the governor’s office.
“I think those kids standing up for their constitutional rights is a pretty awesome thing,” he told Capitolized. “And they were standing up for all Montanans, not Democrats or Republicans or anyone.”
Busse said he’s focused on breaking the narrative that Montana’s rightward political shift is a done deal.
He said he hears from Republican women who are concerned about abortion access, hunters concerned about public land and elk management, and other maybe-conservatives who feel disillusioned with the Montana GOP.
“This weird conflagration of things that happened in our last election cycle made it seem worse than it is,” he said.
Gianforte already has a challenger from within the GOP ranks. Freshman state Rep. Tanner Smith, R-Lakeside, announced a run for governor earlier this month, positioning himself as an even more staunchly conservative alternative to the incumbent, especially on social issues.
One of his main issues, Smith told Capitolized last week, is the state’s rollout of legal recreational marijuana, which Smith contends has led to increased crime and mental illness in Montana.
“That’s where Gianforte fails,” he said. “He’s a numbers guy, but I see the social impacts.”
The Partisan Optics of a Climate Change Lawsuit
During the seven-day Held v. State of Montana trial, the nation’s first youth-led constitutional climate lawsuit to go before a judge, Montana’s Republican government defended itself against allegations that promoting and permitting the fossil-fuel industry violates the state Constitution’s right to a “clean and healthful environment.”
Gov. Greg Gianforte is a named defendant in the lawsuit, along with four state agencies. Attorney General Austin Knudsen and several of his deputy attorneys general represented the state in the civil case.
Former Democratic governor Steve Bullock, on the other hand, hosted an event at his Helena taproom on Monday evening, moderating a discussion with several of the youth plaintiffs and their attorneys.
While the lawsuit could easily be viewed through a partisan lens — many bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature this season came under fire during court testimony — it was quickly pointed out at Bullock’s event that the lawsuit was originally filed in 2020, while Bullock was still governor. What’s more, during Bullock’s stint as attorney general in 2011, he asked the Montana Supreme Court to reject a similar climate lawsuit. The Supreme Court declined to take up that petition, but set attorneys with Our Children’s Trust, one of the law firms representing the young Montanans in Held v. Montana, on the path toward crafting their arguments in the current case.
Bullock on Monday sidestepped a question about why he hadn’t taken more action to combat climate change, considering that his administration, and the previous Democratic administration, published several reports about how the warming climate affects Montana’s environment. In an expert report submitted during the trial, Montana Environmental Information Center co-director Anne Hedges cited numerous instances over the decades when Montana government officials made statements recognizing causal links between Montana’s fossil fuel industry and the degradation of a stable climate system and the state’s clean and healthful environment.
As one attorney for the plaintiffs said, “This isn’t about politics. We sued a Democratic governor, and now we’re suing a Republican governor. This is about fundamental rights and what’s happening on the ground.”
Lewis and Clark District Court Judge Kathy Seeley, who presided over Held v. Montana, is expected to rule on the lawsuit in the coming weeks.
—Micah Drew, Flathead Beacon
Small makes MT AFL-CIO Bid
Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, a boilermaker by trade and member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, is running for executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO at its convention this weekend. No other candidate has publicly declared their interest in the position. The election is on Saturday.
If he wins, Small believes, he’ll be the first Republican and the first Indigenous person to run the union federation in Montana, he told Capitolized. His intention to run for the position was first reported by Missoula reporter Max Savage Levenson.
“I’ll come in with a much better understanding of how everything works than most would,” Small said of his legislative experience. “I already come in with those kinds of relationships.”
The Montana AFL-CIO’s current executive secretary, James Holbrook, is not seeking re-election.
With ‘Gunfight,’ an Insider Takes On a Community That Was Once His Own: For more background on Ryan Busse, see his interview with the New York Times following the publication of his book.
Landmark climate trial over. Youth plaintiffs describe it as ‘just the beginning.’ The high-profile Held v. Montana trial wrapped up this week. The Flathead Beacon’s Micah Drew has this final dispatch from the courtroom.