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Busse slams conservative Flathead lawmakers at Kalispell engagement

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | October 24, 2023 12:00 AM

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ryan Busse condemned Monday the Gianforte administration for enacting “frightening, evil and antidemocratic” policies, many of which came from Flathead Valley legislators, he said.

“We’re at a precipice in our state. If we wait another term, another four years, we will not recognize this place,” Busse, a Kalispell resident and former firearms industry executive, said at the Flathead County Democratic Women’s Oct. 23 general meeting.

He accused state lawmakers from the Flathead, which remains a conservative stronghold, of sowing division and hatred via legislation. Highlighting Senate Bill 154, which was sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, Busse warned that Republicans were poised to gut the state constitution.

Signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte on May 3, Regier’s bill seeks to define the constitutional right to privacy to clarify that it does not protect abortions. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in 1999 in Armstrong v. State that the right to privacy covered women seeking abortions.

“They have every intent of banning important women’s health care procedures, they have every intent on rewriting the Montana Constitution to strip the right to privacy from our constitution,” Busse said.

By bringing forward legislation such as SB 154, Republicans have only increased strife, said Busse, calling the most recent legislative session, presided over by a GOP supermajority, “an embarrassment.”

While Northwest Montana is reliably conservative, Busse previously told the Inter Lake that he sees an advantage to running as a Democrat from Kalispell. Campaigning from a Democratic hotspot like Missoula, he said, wouldn’t be the same.

“Being in the middle of the people who need to hear this message, not living in a Missoula blue bubble, I think is really important,” he said after his September campaign launch.

WHILE BUSSE criticized the Legislature, much of his criticism was directed at Gianforte for prioritizing the state’s wealthy residents and making it harder for working class Montanans to get by.

Under Gianforte, Montana is becoming unrecognizable, Busse said.

“I thought this was a live and let live state. I thought this was a small government state. I thought Republicans were a small government party,” he said. “And yet, they seem to be funding big government as fast as they possibly can to tell us who we can love, who we must hate, what health care decisions we must make. They’re telling parents what they must do with their kids. Evil, evil. I wish I had a stronger word but I don’t.”

Busse said the Democratic Governors Association had signaled support of his campaign to unseat Gianforte. The national organization viewed the Montana gubernatorial race the second most important in the nation, behind just North Carolina, he said.

“Let me tell you what happens if we beat a Republican, incumbent, self-funding, jet-flying, $7.5-million-dollar-check-writing governor in Montana,” Busse said. “It will remake Western politics.”

Gianforte has not yet announced his bid for reelection.

The deadline to file for next year’s election is March 11. Gianforte also is facing a challenge from within his own party. Rep. Tanner Smith, R-Lakeside, announced his gubernatorial campaign in June, citing his disappointment with Gianforte’s policies as the reason for his primary challenge.

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

photo

Ryan Busse, a Democrat from Kalispell, speaks to the Flathead County Democratic Women during a general meeting on Oct. 23. Busse launched his campaign as a Democratic candidate for the 2024 election for governor in September, challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. (Kate Heston/Daily Inter Lake)

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