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Gov. Steve Bullock has earned another term.

While his challenger, Republican Greg Gianforte, is personable, intelligent and successful, we do not believe he has made a compelling case to unseat the Democratic incumbent.

Bullock’s priorities, including early childhood education, infrastructure, protecting public lands and economic development, are hard to argue with. So is a solid first-term record.

The governor’s business plan for the state, the Main Street Montana project, has been widely hailed. While there has been much talk about national ratings, Bullock has indeed operated prudently. His insistence on a $300 million “rainy day fund” looks prescient now as much of that fund has gone to make up revenue shortfalls caused by economic trends out of his control. And he has also placed emphasis on working toward equal pay for equal work in the state; frozen college tuition; and increased dual-enrollment opportunity for high-school students.

It is not at all clear to us that Gianforte’s proven business acumen would translate to more efficiency in government or more growth for the state. We are particularly concerned with his desire to put someone with “industry experience” at the helm of the Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ faces huge challenges statewide and certainly in Butte, and now is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator.

Here in Butte, everything from economic development to better lives for our children depend on a good cleanup. The DEQ has played a vital role in holding EPA and ARCO accountable when cleanup decisions have been wildly inadequate. Bullock deserves Butte’s support for committing the state to clean up the Parrot tailings when years of talks and backroom dealing had failed to protect the headwaters of the Columbia River. And putting the fox in charge of the henhouse at this point would spell disaster.

We are worried by Gianforte’s opposition to a non-discrimination ordinance in his hometown of Bozeman. In the wake of that, he has not directly answered questions about whether he would sign a so-called “religious freedom” bill of the type that has allowed discrimination against gays in other states – with disastrous financial consequences.

We are also deeply uncomfortable with the demagoguery around his position on “unvetted Syrian refugees” – a phrase that is in itself an inaccurate scare tactic, as refugees are very thoroughly vetted. The fact is that a governor can do precisely nothing to affect U.S. refugee policy – including whether or not refugees are resettled within the state – so what we have seen is not a policy discussion but rather irresponsible fearmongering.

In his rush to demonize Bullock, Gianforte has criticized him for vetoing a gun measure – allowing anybody to carry concealed without a permit – that the Montana Sheriffs’ and Peace Officers’ Association strongly opposes. Whose side is Gianforte on? That of the police, or gun extremists?

In fact, Gov. Bullock is a hunter; his outdoor credentials are every bit as strong as Gianforte’s.

Mind you, we have concerns about several things Bullock has done and not done in his first term.

For someone who is as vocal about protecting and nurturing the state’s children as Bullock is, the problems within Child & Family Services division of the Department of Public Health and Human Services are an embarrassment. The workers in the field protecting children are doing the very best they can but the department is seriously understaffed. Admittedly, the budget is inadequate. But if resources can’t be found for this priority, we feel it is a case of power not used being power wasted.

Then there is the issue of the three-lieutenant-governor term. We do not blame Gov. Bullock for John Walsh’s plagiarism. Who could have known? But we feel the administration handled the Angela McLean debacle poorly from the start. The McLean case is just one example of the times in which the governor’s office has struggled with transparency. We trust that point has been driven home in his first term.

Still, we do not delude ourselves that a Gianforte administration would value transparency any more than Bullock has. The challenger has shown little patience with the press – which may play to certain voters, but does not augur well for openness.

Despite a worrisome but unavoidable downturn in revenues due to the Bakken bust cycle, unemployment is lower than the national average, real estate is climbing, tourism and agriculture are both strong, and overall Montana is in pretty good shape.

Greg Gianforte has spent millions of his own money trying to convince Montana voters otherwise. But this state has never taken kindly to attempts to purchase elections.

The Montana Standard believes that Steve Bullock deserves your vote — once more — for governor.


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