Last time we checked in on Greg Gianforte, he had just cited the example of Noah, who was still working at age 600, to argue that “the concept of retirement is not biblical.” It was a pretty exciting quote, implying as it did that a man who had sold his own business for $1.5 billion A) regarded the Genesis story of Noah and the great flood as literally true, and B) wanted us to keep working until we died. The press had fun with it. It was kind of a shame, since this admittedly batty comment overshadowed Gianforte’s main policy idea, which was to encourage professionals who had left the state to “come home and bring their jobs with them” as telecommuters.
Montana has the second-lowest average wages of any state in the union. Unemployment is low, but pay is terrible. I was shocked, when I first arrived here for grad school, to find jobs for skilled carpenters advertising $8.50 an hour. Our per capita income is 38th, but that’s because of resource extraction, rental income, selling pieces of the ranch to Californians, et cetera. If you work for a living, Montana is a bad place to do it.
Gianforte’s focus on attracting high-paying jobs to the state therefore seems well-placed. Before he sold it to Oracle, the company he founded paid hundreds of employees around Bozeman an average wage of $92,000 a year. He is a tech guy, an engineer. He believes the problems in Montana’s employment system have solutions, and we can find them if we think carefully enough.
One cannot help but notice he has tweaked the system of his candidacy, as well. I sat down with Gianforte for about an hour last week, and he did not mention his religion until I asked about it. Even then, all he would say was that no one has the right to force their beliefs on anybody else. I found him likable and smart, and clearly excited by ideas—this time, classical economics instead of biblical creation. You can read all about our interview in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.