Gubernatorial Candidates Wrangle Over Coal and Discrimination Laws

Apr 4, 2016

Montana state Capitol in Helena
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke, say they need a partner in Montana’s statehouse.

That is why the two Republican members of the state’s Congressional delegation endorsed Greg Gianforte’s campaign for governor.

But the campaign manger for Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock scoffed at the “news.” Eric Hyers charges this event was called to distract attention away Gianforte’s support of discriminatory laws passed in states like North Carolina.

Gianforte says his focus is on jobs, especially on keeping coal jobs in Montana.

Daines says the decision to endorse Gianforte was easy because the Bozeman businessman’s drive to create jobs. Daines is a former executive at the company Gianforte co-founded, Right Now Technologies in Bozeman.

Daines says Gianforte will use that drive to push back against the over reach he says is coming from Washington, D.C.

“And we’ve got to push back on the extreme agenda coming out of the EPA, President Obama and Hillary Clinton,” Daines says.

“What I see in Washington is someone wants to control our lands, our health care, our wildlife, our water,” adds Zinke. “And a lot of times what we need a partner in the state that’s concerned about MT jobs and not raising money for other governors that are killing Montana jobs.”

The later is a reference to incumbent Governor Steve Bullock, who formerly headed the Democratic Governor’s Association and fellow Democratic Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State.

Last Friday, Inslee signed a bill to let Puget Sound Energy create a fund that would pay for future decommissioning and cleanup of the coal-fired Colstrip Units 1 and 2.

Gianforte has attacked Bullock for not doing more to stop Senate Bill 6248. He has said that bill cost Montanans high-paying jobs.

Eric Hyers is Bullock’s campaign manager. He says Gianforte’s announcement Monday afternoon is a red herring.

“ I think it’s pretty clear that Mr. Gianforte wanted to roll this out today to kinda distract from what I’d call is the growing controversy around his support for job killing, pro-discrimination laws in states we’re seeing passed in states like North Carolina and Indiana,” says Hyers.

In North Carolina, a new law prevents local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender people. Several businesses, including the NBA, have expressed concerns about the measure. The NBA wrote a letter saying it’s considering pulling the 2017 All Star Game from Charlotte. 

Hyers says Gianforte’s donations to organizations that support such laws is bad for Montana’s business climate.

Gianforte denies he supports discrimination.

“And I’ve been very clear. Discrimination is wrong,” Gianforte says. “There’s no place for it in business, that’s not the way we ran our business it’s not the way I would run our state.“

He says religious freedom is already protected by the First Amendment. Although when asked, Gianforte did not say, if elected, whether he would sign a so-called religious freedom bill.  He says religious freedom is already protected by the First Amendment.

As for Bullock, this past MLK, Jr day he signed an executive order expanding prohibitions on discrimination in state employment and state contracts. This includes for gender identity or gender expression.

So what does this have to do with coal and Colstrip? Not much. It’s the gubernatorial candidates trying to wrest control of the message for the November general election.