The greatest photograph ever, by Tom Bauer of the Missoulian
You may remember Greg Gianforte from May, when he assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs the night before the special election that made him Montana’s sole representative in the US House. That was awesome. Jacobs had asked him a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the Republican health care plan, which left Gianforte no choice but to throw Jacobs to the ground and punch him. Then the candidate issued a press release saying Jacobs had assaulted him. Then he went into hiding for about 24 hours, until the election was over and he had been declared the winner. Then he apologized.
As part of his apology, Gianforte agreed to sit down with Jacobs for an interview at some future date. In the weeks that followed, he insisted that he took full responsibility for his actions. Through his attorneys, he also fought the booking process tooth and nail. Although he pled guilty to misdemeanor assault, his legal team argued that he should not be fingerprinted or photographed, since he was never arrested. After a judge ordered him to submit to booking anyway, Republican County Attorney Marty Lambert said he would not make Gianforte’s mug shots public until Montana Attorney General Tim Fox—also a Republican—ruled on whether they were confidential. Montana courts have repeatedly ruled that they are not, and Fox has consistently deferred to those opinions. He has yet to answer Lambert’s question, though, and Gianforte’s mug shots remain unavailable to the public, despite requests from multiple news outlets for their release.
Last week, Jacobs issued a statement claiming that Gianforte has refused to sit down with him for the interview he promised. I think all of us in Montana who heard this news thought the same thing: Hasn’t Greg Gianforte suffered enough? He already went through the indignity of having hundreds of millions of dollars, getting elected to Congress, and punching a reporter in the face. Must we now hold him to the words of an apology he clearly did not mean?
People say all sorts of things when they’re framed for a crime that they later turn out to have committed. If we wanted to be dicks about it, we could pretend Rep. Gianforte meant it when he said he was sorry. But in order to believe that, we would have to believe that he lied about what happened, expended untold billable hours fighting the booking process, and reneged on his offer to sit down with Jacobs, all because he’s genuinely sorry. That’s just too farfetched. I call on the people of Montana to end their hypocrisy and stop pretending that Gianforte’s promise was anything but empty words. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!
Sec. of the Interior and former MT Rep. Ryan Zinke simply cannot take a bad picture.
A big part of living in Montana is being the most Montana person you can be. This principle is especially important in politics, where conventional wisdom holds that voters will select the most authentic Montanan on the ballot—as measured in hunting, fishing, shooting, fencing mending, suspiciously mint condition Carhartt-wearing, et cetera. At one point during the special election this spring, both candidates for US House were running ads where they shot TVs. One was a musician and the other a tech entrepreneur, but no matter—once the election came around, they were rooting, tooting ranch hands.
But nobody does Montana Values better than the man they were vying to replace, Ryan Zinke. The secretary of the interior and erstwhile representative from Montana is a former Navy SEAL. He played college football. He grew up in Whitefish, the Santa Barbara of Montana, and was rumored to live in the Santa Barbara of California, but he made up for it by wearing a giant cowboy hat. In the statewide costume pageant that is Montana politics—at least as various local consultants perceive it—Zinke is a past master. Since he joined the executive branch, however, his game has fallen off.
Besides appearing next to a fencing with perfectly clean and unlined rawhide gloves, the one issue Montanans agree on more than any other is public lands. Polls put voters’ support for stream access, federal stewardship, and other land-use issues as high as 90 percent. Commander Zinke was a staunch defender of public lands when he was beholden to those voters, going so far as to resign his position as a delegate to the Republican National Convention over the plank in his party’s platform that called for transfer of federal lands to the states.
Now, though, Zinke is in an appointed position, and nothing short of a new president can push him out. Coincidentally, his position on public lands has evolved. Last week, he submitted a plan to President Trump to reduce the size of several national monuments, including Bears Ears in Utah. The details of this plan are secret; Zinke neither made his plan public nor answered questions about it put to him by the Associated Press. He prefers to do the public’s business the Montana way: in private. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Montana Independent, in which I praise Secretary Commander Zinke for upholding his Montana values. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!
Ground-and-pound specialist Greg Gianforte
Montana votes today in the special election to fill our only seat in the House of Representatives, and Greg Gianforte has given us a lot to think about. Last night, the Republican candidate attacked a reporter for the Guardian, throwing him to the ground and punching him in response to a question about the Republican health care plan. The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department has charged Gianforte with assault. Lee newspapers have rescinded their endorsement. Chris Cillizza has pronounced today’s vote a lose-lose situation for Republicans, whereas Chuck Todd calls it a lose-lose for Democrats. The takes are flying fast, and the first salvo has necessarily consisted of first ideas.
Speaking of first ideas, the logical way to put a national news peg on a story about Montana’s special election is to call it a referendum on Trump. I can think of more than one reason to resist that interpretation, though. When Gianforte ran for governor in November, he underperformed Trump by ten points, losing a state that the Republican at the top of his ticket won easily. Since then, he has restyled himself as a full-throated supporter of the Trump agenda. But even if Gianforte is now running on the president’s message, today’s election won’t necessarily tell us what Montanans think of it, because the Democratic candidate is deeply flawed.
Like Gianforte, Rob Quist has never held elected office. He is best known as the former singer in a country-rock group called the Mission Mountain Wood Band. His party selected him in the hope that his name recognition would give him an advantage in the short election, but they seem not to have run a credit check. Weeks into the campaign, it was revealed that the IRS had filed liens against the Quists for unpaid property taxes in 2011, and that they stiffed a Kalispell excavation contractor in 2001. His campaign, staffed by old hands in the state party, has done a poor job managing the news cycle and allowed opposition researches to pound a steady beat of such embarrassing revelations, including last week’s speculation that the Quists have avoided paying taxes on rental income.
Thus far, the Quist candidacy has been a referendum on Montana Democrats’ willingness to take what their party offers them. Given his dismal performance and Gianforte’s proven ability to contradict national trends, I don’t think you can call today’s vote a referendum on President Trump. Oh yeah—there’s also this thing where one of the candidates assaulted a reporter twelve hours before the polls opened.
I don’t know how much impact that will have. As Cillizza points out, around 70% of the expected total ballots have already been cast by mail. The remaining 30 percent is more than enough to swing the outcome—but who knows how many people who vote today, in person, are getting the news within 18 hours of publication? Given the exceeding strangeness of last night and the many uncontrolled variables in the campaign up to this point, I don’t think what happens today will tell us anything for certain about the national mood. It’s a nice peg, but let us be careful not to hang too much on it.
Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte
Early Wednesday night, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs reported on Twitter that he had been “body slammed” by Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, who broke his glasses. It was one of those stories that asked more questions than it answered. Since then, Jacobs posted an audio recording of the incident, which sounds as though Gianforte erupted after being asked about the Republican health care plan but might also sound like a microphone being dropped into a sack. It’s unclear what happened or how it might effect tomorrow’s special election in Montana, but at press time it appears that Gianforte did get angry at a reporter, again. Jacobs account, partially confirmed by Buzzfeed reporter Alexis Levinson, holds that there was a local news crew in the room at the time, so it should be easy to corroborate. One hopes that there is video of Gianforte executing a grappling takedown on a reporter or footage that exonerates him from same. But one must never expect too much.
Democratic candidate Rob Quist, shortly before his guitar was repossessed
Tomorrow is the last day to vote in Montana’s special election. That means opposition researchers have only 24 hours to reveal one more embarrassing detail about Rob Quist’s personal life on the internet. For a second it looked like the photo finish would go to Brent Scher, who published an item in the Washington Free Beacon today claiming that the National Archives had no record of Quist registering for the Selective Service. But it turns out Scher filed the records request wrong. I quote his correction:
After publication of this article, the Washington Free Beacon obtained a copy of Rob Quist’s Selective Service System registration card, which was filed on January 10, 1966, five days after Quist’s 18th birthday. The registration card was indeed held at the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, but could not be located for the below referenced records request because not enough information was initially supplied [emphasis added] to locate a record from Montana, where the registrations are organized by local board, according to an archive supervisor.
A-plus use of the passive voice in that second sentence, bro. It turns out no one could find Quist’s draft card because Sher asked for it wrong. This correction retracts the entire story. Instead of pulling the article, though, the Washington Free Beacon has left it up, but with the correction at the top saying none of it is true. It’s almost as though the Beacon were not a responsible news organization. It’s almost like it’s a propaganda site that was founded by a dark-money group and then spun off into a for-profit news venture.
Such outlets are everywhere, and they find no shortage of ethically flexible young people to write for them. You may remember Scher from this report that Quist had genital herpes, which cites his former urologist, whom the candidate sued for malpractice. Those are the kind of sweet moves you get when you use a PR flack instead of a reporter, but the downside is basic screwups like the one above. Kombat! Kids: Remember to tell the truth, or you won’t know if you’re becoming evil later.