• Reilly Neill

Defeating Big Money and Bad Ideas

Greg Gianforte and I have history. In 2014, he sent Family Foundation lobbyist Debra Lamm to defeat me in my last House race because he knew I was a threat to his agenda. Dark money goons intimidated me through mailers and in person during that campaign. As a single mom with a 3 year-old at the time, I would not let him bully or scare me, even when one individual from the American Tradition Partnership sent me an email telling me that he knew where my child went to school.

I didn’t quit and it was a hard fight to lose in a year when Republicans swept the house races across the country. I lost to Lamm by 139 votes.

Years later, when as an editor I assigned a reporter to get an interview with Gianforte for the U.S. House race, I ended up having to attempt the interview myself due to obstructionist back-and-forth communication with his office. Eventually (after we provided a list of questions for all candidates to Gianforte’s office), we only got canned responses to pre-approved questions.

It was no secret that I was a former House Representative who had donated in the past to Democratic candidates before holding my current job so the paranoia from the Gianforte office was astounding. I had no idea what a terrible public servant he had turned out to be. The ball was in his court to answer questions in his own words and we even offered to give him final approval of the interview before going to press but he was hostile to any attempts to help him share his perspective with our readership.

Maybe Gianforte’s campaigns use high-dollar propaganda and subterfuge to win but in the monthly arts and culture newspaper, we simply wanted side-by-side interviews with candidates to humanize them for our readers. After wrestling with his office for the interview and finally printing his tepid replies, we made a policy at the newspaper where I worked to avoid political interviews and leave all politics on the opinion page where anyone was free to submit perspectives. Unfortunately, many Montana newspapers must do the same. Hard news about candidates is only ever seen as partisanship in one way or another.

I knew firmly from that moment forward that Gianforte was not a good choice for Montana if he himself could not transcend perceived partisanship to appeal to all readers and voters equally.

Nearly a year later, the moment I heard Greg Gianforte was running for governor of Montana, I immediately considered filing to run against him. Even as a one-term State Representative, I wanted to make sure that he knew from the moment he filed there would be an avalanche of candidates eager to defeat him and his ideology of continuing disrespect for many Montanans. I wanted to go door-to-door to make sure he would never lead our state.

It was the weekend of the Montana Newspaper Association conference and as I looked around at the talented journalists, editors and photographers assembled in the banquet hall for the awards dinner, I worried that the resources in the room would be insufficient to reveal the corruption certain to overrun our state if Greg Gianforte took the Governor’s office.

Some experimental newsrooms are tackling tough issues and newspapers with and without decent newsroom budgets across the state excel in community reporting and journalism but reality is stark. We need a motivated and impartial press at the same time the industry is in turmoil and distress from attempting awkward transitions from the printed page - all while scrambling to find new funding sources.

Greg Gianforte, a candidate who has now raised over $1 million dollars to influence Montana voters, does not even trust the science of evolution. Where are the stories on this reality? He will not support initiatives to prepare our state for coming tragic and catastrophic effects of climate change, especially in our agricultural sector. Where will reporting on this important issue come from? Why is Gianforte pushing immigration reform and making building a wall in Arizona his top priority for his time serving Montana? Who will ask Gianforte tough questions if he will not give interviews?

When I filed to run for Governor of Montana, I filed in defiance of big money and bad ideas taking over our state. In the course of my work and as I've traveled the state in the last few months talking to voters, I've learned that many people across Montana share my concerns. We can make a better plan for Montana.

Montanans share their concerns about top issues with me, across neighborhoods and communities and beyond partisan events. By far, I hear that Montanan's biggest concern is climate change. Regardless of polls listing any number of issues, people on the ground are already seeing effects and they are worried, especially farmers and ranchers.

According to a recent radio interview, Gianforte does not seem to understand the gravity of the impacts of climate change or the discussion of mitigation plans.

“I have been surprised just by watching clips,” he said. “I just can’t sit through one of these long debates, but it is crazy the ideas they are putting forward. They want to get rid of all the cows and they want to get rid of all the airplanes. They’re trying to ‘out-left’ each other. They want to be taken seriously, so I’m taking them seriously. This is a scary vision of America’s future.”

When just years earlier he had admitted the climate was changing but he was unsure about what to do about it other than put things in more local and state control. As a pro-fossil fuel candidate, we need to be concerned about what Gianforte's plans are for keeping Montana’s carbon in the ground and exploring new energy sources rather than contributing further to global warming.

We need to make sure that data collected in the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment and other plans and recommendations are put to use in our State agencies and organizations and communicated to the private sector in all levels of our society. We need to trust the science of State agencies and universities to make plans for a future that will be severely impacted in Montana by climate change, from food security to strains on our tourism and recreation industries.

I’ve launched the Montana 2035 Initiative which will address recommendations from the Montana Climate Solutions Council and others in order to create a Montana Sustainability Plan.

I will not ignore science in the face of Montana’s challenges. We need to plan for the worst possible scenario in our state to have the best possible outcome.

I’m standing up to Gianforte and his $1 million dollars with work directly on important issues. Nearly every day, I'm on the doors in Montana talking to citizens about the governor’s race, climate change and their concerns for the future. I want to reach as many Montanans as I can.

I’m not afraid of Greg Gianforte becoming governor because I know, just like I did this past June, other Montanans will stand up to a bully who tries to buy his way into leadership in our state.

We are are a collection of diverse individuals who more often come together to work on tough issues facing the state rather than endure extended polarity. Together, we can defeat big money and bad ideas in Montana.

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