Commentary

Believe Gianforte: He is a man of his actions

Wolf-trapping governor continues to demonstrate what kind of leader he will be

April 1, 2021 4:41 am

A grey wolf (Photo by By Gunner Ries Amphibol CC BY-SA 3.0).

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
-Maya Angelou

When Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte — then candidate Gianforte — assaulted a reporter, the entire country was shocked: A politician attacking a reporter? That seems crazy.

A little more than 24 hours later, the puzzlement shifted from the multimillionaire former tech executive to the state’s voters who overwhelmingly swept Gianforte into office and Congress. How could voters support such a person?

Since that moment, and the subsequent plea deal, we have seen the real Greg Gianforte. How we decide to use that information — to support his public service and political career or not — was and is still up to us. But make no mistake, we have been shown who Gianforte really is, and it’s our fault if we don’t believe it.

Good lord, money does strange things to people. Assault a reporter and there’s a hundred excuses why it wasn’t that big of a deal. You know, the stress of the campaign trail; or the reporter may have been pushy; or maybe Gianforte was finally standing up to the press, which needed to be taken down a few notches. Yet it’s hard to deny that had Gianforte been some other lesser Montanan, beating up another person at a social event would have likely landed him in jail.

So as soon as it was reported that Gianforte had trapped and killed a wolf without the proper permit, the money-‘splaining started: He was demonstrating how much he enjoys the outdoors; it was just a permit that was lacking; he’s a hero for offing that nasty predator. He got excuses where most of us would have gotten a ticket.

We should have believed Gianforte the first time he ran afoul of the law.

In this most recent incident, Gianforte again demonstrated who he really is, not just who his political allies and paid staff say he is.

Let’s take a few of the wolf specifics. We’re still not certain how long Wolf 1155, its Yellowstone National Park radio-collar name, had been caught in a trap.

Even though I am not a hunter, I have the highest respect for ethical hunting. I believe in the principle of fair chase — that a hunter should have to work at finding the animal and then engage in dispatching it humanely. The animal should be able to use its natural instinct and savvy to escape.

Trapping is legal in Montana, so it’s not necessarily what Gianforte did, but how he did it. Yet, the specifics of the case suggest something much more than not having a permit.

Regardless of legality, letting an animal suffer in a trap is cruel. Animals routinely struggle, break bones, bleed or have been known to gnaw themselves loose. There’s nothing fair about it. The animal has merely wandered into the trap. No real sport there. It just proved one predator, a wolf, can be killed by another, a man. Nothing more.

It’s unclear how long the animal was in a trap, suffering, before it died. And when Gianforte finally arrived to kill it, he called it an honor. To me, though, the integrity of the moment was hardly different than shooting a chained dog. If you boil it down, that’s really what happened. That it may be legal doesn’t lessen the animal’s suffering or make it right. No Montanan would tolerate the same treatment of their pets, and while wolves are not pets, they are a natural resource owned by all residents of the state. Why is it acceptable in this case?

Wolves are predators, and they cause damage, like any other predator. But, they’re also a huge tourist draw, and tourism is the state’s second-leading industry. Shooting a radio-collared, national park wolf is just one more opportunity visitors may have missed to become lifelong fans of this amazing state.

This wasn’t hunting like many other Montanans know: Gianforte is not feeding his family. There is no market for wolf burgers. At best, this was about adding a trophy; at worst, it was being cruel for the sake of being cruel.

If it’s an honorable thing for Gianforte to kill an animal trapped, possibly injured, which cannot get away, that seems to suggest an arrogance and disrespect that may not be confined to just hunting. In other words, if he acts this way around his buddies, how must he be treating those with whom he disagrees?

The challenge is that the fate of thousands of Montanans teeters on Gianforte’s decision-making abilities and his character. His policies will affect weaker, vulnerable residents — those who are transgender, those who need insurance, those who need help in the devastating aftermath of COVID-19. And how he acts when he has the upper-hand or advantage may have been unintentionally demonstrated during Wolf 1155’s final days.

Montanans know that their surroundings are sacred. For some, that takes a divine flavor, for others it’s more of an understanding that Montana is a special place with resources that must be appreciated, and yet are fragile. There’s no guarantee we will have these forests, these breathtaking prairies and all the critters and creatures without some care. Gianforte has shown us that he not only disrespects it, he delights in it. Killing an animal inhumanely is not honoring the life of the animal or the citizens whose resources these are.

Though Gianforte often remains aloof or seen at carefully scripted and planned political events, he is not a mystery. He continues to show us who he really is.

The only questions that remain for Montanans is: Do we believe him? Maybe more importantly, do we care?

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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