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Lakeside's Tanner Smith challenges Gianforte for governor

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | June 15, 2023 12:00 AM

First-term Rep. Tanner Smith of Lakeside is challenging Gov. Greg Gianforte for the governor’s mansion in 2024, taking aim at what he describes as the decay of the state owing to the handling of recreational marijuana under his fellow Republican’s watch.

“All it took was one session for me in Helena to realize how badly Helena is broken,” Smith said Tuesday.

Smith criticized Gianforte’s administration most pointedly in regards to the governor’s stance on social issues, specifically his expansion of marijuana dispensaries in the state.

“His social policies are destroying this state,” Smith said. “We won’t last under Greg’s leadership for another four years.”

Casual drug use and the boom of dispensaries across the state have led to the presence of bad actors and crime, Smith said. While there were intriguing aspects of the marijuana tax at first, such as proposed investments into infrastructure, Smith said that his constituents are not seeing those come to fruition.

People are instead observing an increase in crime, homelessness and mental health issues, he said.

Smith registered his disappointment in the governor’s signing of House Bill 903, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, which extended the start date of the moratorium on cannabis businesses to allow for 16 more companies to begin selling adult-use cannabis.

“That’s the frustration I have with Gianforte,” Smith said. “He continues to pour fuel on this fire that the state doesn’t need.”

Smith said he would seek to tighten regulations on dispensaries — specifically with where they can operate. Smith highlighted House Bill 265, which he sponsored this past session, which would have increased the required distance between a new cannabis business and public spaces from 500 feet to 1,000 feet.

The bill was tabled in committee.

“[Marijuana] is decaying our state from within. Everywhere [dispensaries] have been tried, it always ends in misery… look at California, Oregon, Washington,” Smith said.

Smith also is unhappy with the Gianforte administration’s stance on affordable housing and forest management. Under his leadership, he said, affordable housing will be handled at the local level, not the state level.

When it comes to forest management and forest fires, Smith said the state needs to take more action than what has occurred during Gianforte’s tenure.

“He’s making small baby steps, but we need to do more,” Smith said.

Smith is the first to officially announce candidacy for governor in the upcoming election. Gianforte has not yet publicly announced his intent to run for reelection.

“Serving Montanans is the honor of the governor's life,” Kaitlin Price, a spokesperson for Gianforte, wrote in an email. “There is plenty of time to talk about 2024, and the governor remains focused on advancing his pro-family, pro-jobs agenda."

Smith said that this summer his main priorities are working and spending time with his family. As fall 2023 comes around, the real campaigning will begin. The owner of a local construction company and a Somers Lakeside School District trustee, Smith was born and raised in Stevensville. He is the father of five children, and several work with him as excavators in the family business.

In a press release from his campaign team, Smith emphasized that his campaign will have a strong focus on restoring Montana values and preserving the “cherished way of life that Montanans hold dear.”

Those values, Smith said, include kindness, civility, looking out for neighbors and following the golden rule.

Smith’s platform includes combating crime, lowering taxes, becoming energy independent, providing quality education and defending the Montana Constitution.

“A Republican from Northwest Montana that’s an excavator with a logging background is far different than a Republican farmer. While we may agree on 80% of the issues, a Northwest Montana Republican brings more conservative stances to issues,” Smith said. “We need to double down on conservatism.”

Montana would benefit from a conservative, hard-working Montanan who understands the inner workings of what is at stake, rather than a wealthy businessman, Smith said, taking aim at Gianforte’s resume.

“Gianforte is called giant fortune for a reason,” he said. “I’m gonna win this thing just by shaking hands and being a normal Montanan.”

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.