Picture this: Gianforte’s check passing event showed more than he thought

January 13, 2022 5:12 am

Gov. Greg Gianforte presenting a $1.9 million check to Dillon Mayor John McGinley (right) and former mayor Michael Klakken (left). (Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office of Montana).

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the one of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte handing over a made-for-TV check to the City of Dillon is worth at least that much. Or, more accurately, it’s worth $1,903,421.

There’s nothing new about politicians presenting oversized novelty checks to groups, organizations and other governments. They are, in the media vernacular, “grip and grin” events made to show the good folks at home and voters that something is being done by your local elected leaders.

The truth is: Most of the media and residents would rather see a picture of one of those officials running to the bank, standing in a teller line, trying to endorse something the size of a small bed.

Many on social media and Democrats rightfully pounced on Gianforte for going to the production of getting a check made, going through a ceremony and then broadcasting it with the governor literally at the center of doling out the taxpayer largesse.

Hypocritical doesn’t even begin to describe the doublespeak in this event, as Gianforte has been a constant and vocal critic of the Biden administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress’ spending, and the money he was spending was courtesy of the federal government.  

Gianforte has repeatedly told the media and constituents that Biden and Democrats are “fiscally irresponsible.” In a Dec. 10 press release, Gianforte took aim at Democrats and inflation, telling them to “turn off the spigot.”

“President Biden and Democrats in Washington, D.C., insist on spending trillions of dollars in new government spending,” Gianforte said.

And yet there is Gianforte in Dillon, Montana, insisting on giving millions of dollars in new government spending.

Even Gianforte himself seems to realize the hypocrisy of the moment as he tweeted the picture and said, “since the federal government is spending trillions of dollars of our kids and grandkids’ money, Montana will invest in our kids and grandkids’ future.”

The money for Dillon, by the way, is going to water lines. I am sure all the youth in Dillon were thrilled. “Hey, kids! You know what we got you? Water lines.”

The novelty-sized check said the bank account was the “State of Montana” and “State of Montana” appeared in the signature line, which was a clever bunch of marketing and messaging, aimed ostensibly at making the state – not the federal government — responsible for the cash from heaven. Yet, that’s not exactly the truth.

Montana, like other states, has been charged with deciding how best to spend funds for relief from COVID-19 with the idea that state and local officials – not someone in Washington, D.C. – would know best how to spend the money to alleviate the crises in places like Dillon. But Gianforte and the state have had about as much to do with the money coming from the east as the sun, which rises in that direction, also. Why not show a federal treasury check? And there was a signature that caused that money to be written into law, and it was Joe Biden’s, not Gianforte.

It’s probably just an oversight the federal government and Biden’s name were nowhere to be found.

Gianforte isn’t the only politician who wants it both ways. That’s a unifying principle of the politics for both parties. But in the process, he has taken most Montanans for fools.

It’s fine to raise concerns about the rising prices and inflation. It’s also good to look critically at the federal spending that has come in the form of ARPA, CARES, infrastructure and Build Back Better. As much as that spending has made it so that the pandemic and all its interruptions, disruptions and eruptions have been eased, it’s also mortgaging a financial future that is uncertain, and Gianforte and others are right to question it.

But Gianforte participating in this sort of publicity stunt is exactly the type of behavior that makes many so disillusioned with politics – that regardless of party, both sides are complicit in contributing to the same dysfunctional system, and above all, that the sharp words that seem to flow like flooded rivers from their social media and press releases are hollow and impotent.

If Gianforte was even the slightest bit worried about his kids’ or your grandkids’ future, at a minimum, he wouldn’t want to be photographed passing out their futures in a series of $2 million novelty checks.

Ironically, that oversized check and Gianforte’s words bear remarkable similarities: They both look official and impressive, but they’re really fake and nothing more than props in a ridiculous attempt to fool voters into believing something meaningful has happened.

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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.