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To Tanner Smith’s supporters: Let’s get your Montana back

by Raph Graybill
| June 9, 2024 12:00 AM

Greg Gianforte blew a massive budget surplus and passed the largest property tax increase in Montana history. Then he falsely blamed his tax hike on fellow Republicans.

As a result, nearly 50,000 Montana Republicans voted against him in last week’s primary — the worst showing for a Montana governor in his own party’s primary in at least 44 years.

Those votes went to Rep. Tanner Smith, who was as rightly frustrated with Gianforte as so many Montanans across the political spectrum are. In fact, more people on Tuesday voted against Gianforte than for him.

This message is to Tanner’s supporters.

My name is Raph Graybill and I am running with governor candidate Ryan Busse to get your Montana back. Ryan is a former firearms executive who built a gun company here in Montana. He loves this state. I know we share more in common with you than national political pundits will admit. And I hope you’ll honestly consider voting for us.

Ryan and I are exhausted by national politics. But traveling this state, we know Montanans who may disagree on which presidential candidate to vote for can still work together — the old fashioned, Montana way — and vote to save this state we love.

Like you, Ryan and I are appalled at Big Government Gianforte’s reckless spending and tax increases.

Everywhere we go in Montana, we meet people suffering because of his reckless taxing and spending: retirees who have to go back to work just to afford their property taxes, young families struggling to find or afford a home, teachers, cops and nurses facing rising rents.

There was no reason it had to happen that way. Montana had a $2.5 billion budget surplus. As a former Montana Republican governor used to remind us, “no one said you could keep the change.” But Gianforte spent all that money faster than green grass through a goose. Did it make your life any easier or more affordable?

Gianforte only had to change one number in the tax rate to keep our property taxes from going up. That last four governors — two Democrats and two Republicans — did the exact same thing when faced with property tax increases.  Gianforte’s own staff warned him about the looming increase and told him exactly what to do to keep our taxes down.

But Gianforte ignored them because he needed that money to pay for his spending spree. He put the historic property tax increase in his budget, and we’re now all paying his price.

It’s not just property taxes that have Montanans ready for a new governor, either. Like you, Ryan and I are disgusted at the commercialization of wildlife in our state. Billionaires shouldn’t get special rights to our elk and cutthroat that people like you and me don’t. Gianforte thinks the places we hunt and fish should be locked up and leased to his rich friends. And he’s the only governor in the history of the United States to sue to block a public river access.

Like you, we care about vibrant public schools, which are the backbone of our communities. None of that spending spree went to finding more teachers for rural schools or fixing school funding. We got higher taxes, and little to show our kids for it. Gianforte thinks everyone can afford to pay for fancy private schools, so he’s ripping apart the public schools that our kids depend on and sending taxpayer money to prop up private “academies” like the one he founded in Bozeman.

And like you, we care about personal integrity and personal responsibility. Twice now, Gianforte and his friends have pressured cops to lie for him. Thank goodness law enforcement stood up to him. Even worse, like you, we are still waiting for an explanation on how Gianforte’s private mansion in Helena got a tax cut last year, while every single one of his neighbors all got stuck with thousands of dollars in tax increases.

In short, we agree with you: it’s time for a new governor in this state.

We may part ways on national politics. That’s fine. It’s how Montana has always been. But our state government isn’t an HOA for Gianforte and his billionaire, out-of-state friends. It’s ours, and we need to fight like it. Join us.

I hope this fall you’ll consider voting for Ryan Busse and me to get your Montana back.

Raph Graybill is Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ryan Busse’s lieutenant governor running mate.