Up to now, Montana has remained a state where many voters still pay attention to candidates' stands on issues rather than the letter behind their name. So with the first Republican considering a run for the governor’s office, sportsmen, wildlife advocates and recreationalist should consider how he might respond to wildlife and public-land issues.
On Monday, Montanans learned that billionaire Greg Gianforte had filed papers with the Secretary of State’s office to begin raising money for a possible gubernatorial run on the GOP ticket.
While there are many other issues to consider, Gianforte may not be the best choice for sportsmen.
Some hunters have expressed frustration with the lack of action on the part of the current administration when it comes to big game management.
A state bison management plan has limped along for years, and a proposal to open up an area west of Yellowstone Park to bison still languishes on Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk.
Meanwhile, Fish, Wildlife & Parks administrators are trying to give landowners more tools to eliminate elk while fewer rules favor sportsmen.
But Gianforte’s background and his current priorities don’t indicate that he would side with the public-land hunter should he gain office.
In Montana, Gianforte is best known for selling his high-tech business, RightNow Technologies, to Oracle for $1.5 billion in 2012. Since then, he’s made headlines pushing for more high-tech jobs and education in Montana.
But his online resume shows he spent his formative years and completed his education and early work experience in New Jersey.
Starting in 1979, he earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and masters in computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology, an affluent private research university in Hoboken, N.J. The school emphasizes entrepreneurship, and the lesson wasn’t lost on Gianforte, who said he chose not to follow the advice of his uncle Pete, who spent his career in big business.
After completing his degrees in 1983, Gianforte worked for three years at AT&T Bell Laboratories based out of Murray Hill, N.J.
Gianforte’s resume then says he was the founder and president from 1986 to 1994 of Brightwork, a company that creates network templates for project and portfolio management. In an interview, Gianforte said he co-founded Brightwork and then sold it to McAfee in 1994 for $10 million
Brightwork’s current website says Éamonn McGuinness founded the company in 1995, the same year that Gianforte moved to Montana, buying land outside of Bozeman.
Giantforte said that a few years later, after he’d had his fill of fishing and camping, he came out of retirement to start RightNow Technologies.
Since then, according to the Great Fall Tribune, the Gianforte Family Charitable Trust has donated more than $335,000 to the Montana Family Foundation, which has, among other things, tried to push for legislation that would funnel public tax dollars to private and charter schools at the expense of public schools.
Opponents of private school tax incentives argue that privatizing schools furthers economic inequality because poorer students don’t get the same education as rich students.
A parallel could be drawn that privatizing public land leads to hunters that aren't landowners having less or no opportunity.
Gianforte's trust also donates to Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party organization funded by the Koch Brothers who have supported the push to sell federal land to the states. Montana ATP's leader, Henry Kriegel, grew up on the East Coast and started attending Columbia University in New York City in 1979, the same year GIanforte entered SIT.
With his East Coast background, Gianforte has little in common with most Montana hunters although he said in an interview that he spent some summers in Montana.
His family was well-off enough to sent him to a prestigious private institution. Now after selling two businesses, he’s one of Montana’s very rich, along with James Cox-Kennedy and the Wilks brothers.
Gianforte has said that greed is not a virtue.
“There is nothing wrong with making money, but I believe that when you build a business you need some form of higher purpose in the work you do,” Gianforte said in 2008.
So far, Gianforte purpose hasn’t included improving Montana’s land, water or wildlife. So they might not be priorities should he become governor.