HELENA – Congressman Greg Gianforte, Montana’s lone U.S. House member, has officially launched his 2020 campaign for governor.
Gianforte, a Republican, made the announcement during a speech at the Montana Republican Party’s state convention in Helena.
He told the group that he had heard from people around the state, asking him to consider running for governor.
“They’ve said we need an executive in the governor’s office, someone with business experience and a customer-service mindset, someone to fix the important problems facing our state that have been neglected for far too long,” he said.
He said he was willing to forgo another term in Congress because he feels the most important goal for Republicans next year is to win the governor’s office.
Democrats have had control of the office since the 2004 gubernatorial election.
“For 16 years, Republican policies and conservative solutions have been met with a veto pen,” said Gianforte. “I think everyone in this room would agree that it’s time for a change.”
Gianforte is a businessman from Bozeman who co-founded RightNow Technologies, a software development firm that eventually employed about 500 people in the Bozeman area.
Oracle purchased the company for $1.8 million in 2012.
Gianforte said his top priority will be creating more high-wage jobs in Montana. He said the Trump administration’s policies on cutting taxes and reducing regulations have been good news for the national economy, and he wants to use them as a model for the state.
“I want to work with all Montanans to use that experience to build a better Montana that brings the American Dream within greater reach for all, where all of our families and our children and grandchildren can thrive – right here in the state that we love,” he said.
This is the second time Gianforte has run for governor. In 2016, he was the Republican nominee and lost to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, 50 percent to 46 percent.
A few months after the 2016 election, Gianforte won Montana’s U.S. House seat, in a special election to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who became the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Gianforte was reelected to that seat last November, defeating Democrat Kathleen Williams 51 percent to 46 percent.
Gianforte joins a crowded field of Republicans vying to replace Bullock, who is term-limited as governor and is now running for president. Attorney General Tim Fox, state Sen. Al Olszewski of Kalispell and Secretary of State Corey Stapleton have previously announced plans to run for the office.
Gianforte said his time in the business world sets him apart from the other candidates.
“Just like President Trump brought business experience to the White House, we need business experience in the governor’s office,” he said. “Of all the candidates, I’m the one that has the track record to actually create higher-wage jobs, so more Montanans can prosper.”
After Gianforte’s announcement, Fox’s campaign released a statement, criticizing his decision to enter the race and to leave open his House seat.
“Montanans deserve a governor who will actually serve the people of Montana, not just use their trust as a means to campaign for higher office,” said spokesman Jack Cutter. “Greg has made his priorities clear; his ambition is more important than his commitments to Montanans.”
Olszewski said in a statement that he would have preferred Gianforte to run for the House again, but that he respected his decision.
“Gianforte’s entry into the governor’s race works to my advantage,” Olszewski said. “The contrast and comparison of our respective service and success will clearly show that I am the best candidate to lead Montana as our next governor.”
Stapleton declined to comment on Gianforte’s announcement Friday evening, but he said he would make an announcement about the race Saturday morning at the GOP convention.
Two Democratic candidates have filed to run for governor: House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner of Great Falls and former state Rep. Reilly Neill of Livingston.
– Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News