Commentary

The real election fraud in Montana

Gianforte, Knudsen have not ceased politics and gotten down to the business of governing

October 21, 2021 4:55 am

Mark Berryman and Gov. Greg Gianforte pose for a photo together in Richland County this week. (Courtesy Mark Berryman/The Sidney Herald)

Montana, we’ve been duped.

There has been election fraud, just not the sort that has made headlines in Georgia or Arizona. And, the kind of fraud we’ve experienced has nothing to do with the ballot box or ballots needing microscopic attention or even the Cyber Ninjas.

Montanans were promised a governor and attorney general capable of leadership, governing and fulfilling the positions outlined by the state’s constitution.

What we have received from the governor instead is vacuous, absentee leadership that makes strong statements on national cable news networks, but remains too chicken to answer questions from the reporters or even face a public that’s not hand-picked and carefully selected for adoration and well-placed applause.

Montanans need leadership from an attorney general who is dedicated to protecting residents and consumers, not engaged in conspiracy theories, fighting causes that help politicians more than they benefit Montanans, and using the position as a cudgel to intimidate, bully and punish.

We elected Greg Gianforte and Austin Knudsen to fulfill roles and duties that have been well defined by the state’s constitution and have been established by more than a century of history. Instead, we have received frauds – two men who have not done their duty or job, while Montanans suffer and die.

There just is no other nicer, more diplomatic way to say it.

While the governor and the Legislature neutered the power of public health boards, they also schemed to pass a law that outlawed vaccination mandates while speaking out of the other side of their mouths about the efficacy of those same vaccines. Is it in any wonder Montana has struggled to vaccinate its population when its own leaders have so severely undermined the message?

Gianforte has tried to make himself the last line of defense in personal freedom, insisting Montana will not accept even something as basic as masks, let alone vaccine mandates. But personal freedom isn’t personal if you can spread a deadly disease to the next person. That’s not freedom, it’s a viral bomb that Gianforte has been happy to watch explode as Montana on Tuesday became the hotspot for COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, and the number of COVID cases reported after vaccines rolled out exceeds the number of cases before vaccines were available. All of this has happened on Gianforte’s watch, as he continues to duck questions from the press while touring Montana counties, speaking to carefully selected audience members so as to not upset the obviously delicate feelings of a man who is probably best known for slugging a reporter.

Meanwhile, Knudsen is busy signing onto politically motivated lawsuits about abortion half a country away, or sending snotty messages to the Montana Supreme Court, neither of which help Montanans.

There are legitimate public justice issues that need addressing: The continuing problem of drugs in our communities, both opioids and methamphetamine. Our foster child care system is overwhelmed by sheer numbers of needy kids. Our prisons have a higher percentage of people of color, but that hardly seems to register with the department of (ahem) justice. And, the public defenders office is in crisis in Yellowstone County as Judge Donald Harris has held it in contempt for not providing adequate services to represent those who cannot afford an attorney.

The Attorney General has done little to address these issues and continues to thwart any questions from the prying pens and keyboards of reporters.

On Tuesday, Holly Michels and Seaborn Larson produced a bombshell report that showed Austin Knudsen used his power as the attorney general and leveraged the Montana Highway Patrol against medical providers at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena to bully, coerce and attempt to cajole the healthcare center into using ivermectin on a COVID-19 patient, despite medical staff’s refusal because the drug is not just ineffective against the virus, but also can be toxic.

And as much as Knudsen and Gianforte must be responsible for their own actions and inaction, Montana voters and residents also have a corollary responsibility.

We – not all of us, of course –  elected these men. And, we misplaced our trust in them.

We must hold them accountable. That means calling. That means writing. And that means asking tough questions and demanding real answers that aren’t generated by a form letter or some poor intern.

Journalists like me can report. We can detail, describe and even opine. We can object and sharpen our editorial pens, but we’re just another group for Gianforte and Knudsen to denounce, ignore or undermine. It’s now up to you, too.

The silence or lack of pressure is tacit approval of their actions. Until they are pushed back by the power of public perception, they will continue to insult the judiciary, bully doctors and speak about the sanctity of life while standing by watching people die of a mostly preventable pandemic.

During the past year, I have been adamant: This isn’t the kind of Montana I grew up in, nor is it one I think my grandparents would recognize. These seem inconsistent with our values, which include taking care of each other, respecting doctors and judges, and setting aside politics after an election and getting down to the task of governing.

They may be failing us, but we will be failing ourselves if we don’t expect, demand and hold them to be better.

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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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