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Gianforte unveils economic plan at Kalispell campaign stop

Daily Inter Lake | July 15, 2020 1:00 AM

Congressman Greg Gianforte was on the campaign trail Tuesday touting his economic plan for the state during a number of small events across Western Montana.

Gianforte kicked off the tour at Sykes Diner in downtown Kalispell where a crowd of about two dozen gathered to hear the Republican and his running mate Kristen Juras talk about their plan for the state if elected to the Governor’s Office. Gianforte, a two-term member of the U.S. House, faces Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney in the November general election.

In announcing his “Montana Comeback Plan,” the congressman said the state’s economy “hasn’t lived up to its potential,” and that too many young people are seeking better paying jobs in other states.

He said his plan focuses on recruiting those people back to Montana, while stimulating wage growth and job opportunity.

Gianforte reminded the audience of his business experience as the founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman. Oracle purchased the company in 2012 for about $1.5 billion, a deal that made Gianforte one of the most wealthy members of Congress. He said the state would benefit from having someone in the Governor’s Office who has “written a paycheck” — a jab at Cooney who Republicans are painting as a lifetime bureaucrat.

Gianforte said his economic plan is “the product of input from every corner of the state.” In Northwest Montana he said he heard a lot about the need for “forest management” and cited conversations he had with managers at F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls.

“When I talked to Chuck Roady [Stoltze general manager], he has trouble getting logs,” Gianforte said.

“When we do effective forest management, we have healthier forests, more wildlife, more recreation, jobs and less wildfires.”

He also talked about the importance of manufacturing in Northwest Montana and his plan’s emphasis on trades education. “To make sure we have welders, machinists, plumbers, carpenters … We need to make sure people can get those skills,” he said.

He also noted agriculture, technology and the outdoor recreation industry as important components of his economic plan.

“It’s not one industry, it’s really all of the above,” he said.

When asked about the coronavirus’ effect on the state’s economy, Gianforte called it an “unprecedented time.”

“I don’t want to second-guess the decisions that were made up to this point,” he said. “But I will tell you, based on what I’ve seen and the discussions I’ve had with national medical experts and health care professionals in the state, that going forward we need to focus on keeping the most vulnerable safe, personal responsibility — not government mandates.”

He said testing for the virus is an “important component” of keeping the economy open and that the state could “do better” on that front, but reiterated his point about personal responsibility.

“We’ve created an economic pandemic,” he said. “We need to cure that, too.”

One audience member asked the congressman about his stance on mail-in ballots for the upcoming election. Gianforte said it is vital to “ensure the integrity of the election,” adding that it’s “hard to do with a mail-in election.”

After his stop in Kalispell on Tuesday, Gianforte planned to attend similar events in Libby and Thompson Falls. Gianforte said he is following state guidelines and limiting campaign crowds to fewer than 50 people during his statewide tour.

“We do a whole bunch of [events] every day,” he said. “We’re getting a chance to visit with folks. That’s how I prefer to campaign.”

While face coverings are not mandated in Kalispell, Gianforte’s staff members were wearing masks while in Sykes. The congressman did not wear a face covering, but had one with him. The audience was able to socially distance in the large conference room space.

Gianforte, his wife Susan Gianforte and Juras tested negative for COVID-19 last week, according to campaign officials, after Susan Gianforte and Juras attended a Republican fundraiser in Big Sky with Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., who tested positive for the virus following the event.

A University of Montana Big Sky Poll conducted in mid-June showed Gianforte leading Cooney, with 46% saying they favored the congressman as the next governor. About 36% favored Cooney, while 18% were undecided.

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