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!
Greg Gianforte and a lectern no one knew better than to paint with gloss
I interviewed Greg Gianforte in 2015, and he did not attempt any takedowns. He seemed friendly, if a little nervous. I saw no flash of the belligerence that would characterize his interactions with reporters over the next year and a half. While I disagreed with pretty much all of his political positions, he struck me as a decent person who genuinely wanted to help. Wednesday night, he made it impossible for me to keep thinking of him that way. In response to a question about the Congressional Budget Office score of the Republican health care plan, Gianforte attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, throwing him to the ground and punching him in the face. The next day, voters selected him to represent Montana in the US House. He spent election day completely incommunicado, refusing to address reporters directly or through his campaign spokesman. He didn’t come out of hiding until the results were in. I congratulate the soon-to-be Representative Gianforte on his victory. I welcome him to the office he won by outing himself as a self-pitying bully with neither adult judgment nor fixed principles, and I look forward to writing about him for the next two years. Today is Friday, and the people committed to winning at all costs have notched another victory. Won’t you survey the field with me?
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.
Cowboy folk singer and Montana congressional candidate Rob Quist
Now that Commander Ryan Zinke is busy applying his knowledge of tactical combat to our nation’s parks, Montana needs a new congressman. The parties met last month to select their nominees for the special election in May; Republicans chose Greg Gianforte—whom Montanans awarded second place in the race for governor last November—and Democrats chose Rob Quist. Quist has served on various arts boards and initiatives, but he is best known as a member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band. Like Gianforte, he has never held elected office or served in the military. Unlike Gianforte, he does not have a lot of money. But he is famous, and the leaders of the Montana Democratic Party hope his name recognition will put him over on May 25.
It is interesting to note that these two political outsiders did not seize their nominations by harnessing popular disgust with the political class. The political class selected them. As products of internal votes among delegates rather than primaries, Quist and Gianforte reflect not what the public wants so much as what party leaders think we want. Given what happened in the general, it seems we want outsiders, ideally entertainers. But are those outsiders so likely to resist the party line, or are they more likely to toe it? This question is the subject of an essay feature in this week’s Missoula Independent, which I wrote. Lick it up, baby. Lick it up.
I also wrote the column as usual. It’s about the special election, too, which is all anyone can talk about around here. As of this writing, a bill to allow voting by mail has passed the state senate but appears dead in the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats are talking about blasting it to the floor, but nothing has happened yet. Probably, Judiciary shouldn’t have SB 305 in the first place. The Adminstration Committee is supposed to get bills pertaining to ballots and elections, but House Speaker Austin “The Boss Man” Knudsen assigned it to the one where it was more likely to get killed.
The state GOP doesn’t like voting by mail, for reasons party chairman Jeff Essman laid out in an unusually frank email. Democratic candidates consistently outperform Republicans in early voting and mail ballots, because what Essman calls “low-propensity voters” lean left. That’s true. But it’s hardly a reason to overrule a senate majority and county commissioners across the state, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process of making it harder to vote. Essman is in a tough spot, here, because his only argument is manifestly anti-democratic. You can read of my sympathies for him in the usual place. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!