Although Gianforte has taken to social media to provide frequent updates since the flooding in southwest Montana first began, questions began swirling after some noticed he had not been seen in person at official briefings — or anywhere else. His office has kept mum about his exact location.
Gianforte has described coordinated response efforts, such as mobilizing the Montana National Guard and securing a major disaster declaration from President Biden, over Twitter. However, he has yet to address his physical location during the crisis.
Speculation ramped up after Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras signed a statewide disaster declaration on Tuesday due to the catastrophic flooding. That executive order identified Juras as the acting governor, the Montana State News Bureau first reported, which means under state law she has full gubernatorial powers.
She also signed the letter on Wednesday to Biden, asking for federal assistance due to the “extensive and destructive nature of this event.” Juras additionally has met with local and state officials and toured flood-impacted areas with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
In response to repeated questions about Gianforte’s whereabouts from local media outlets, spokesperson Brooke Stroyke responded that he left the country late last week for a “long-scheduled personal trip” with his wife, the Montana Free Press reported.
Yet his office declined to reveal what country Gianforte was visiting, with Stroyke only offering on Wednesday afternoon that he was “returning early and as quickly as possible.” The Daily Mail reported Gianforte has been in Tuscany on vacation.
His last known public appearance in Montana was last Friday, when he attended a groundbreaking at Montana State University’s Innovation Campus, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. Gianforte’s private plane flew out from the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport the following day, and the first flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service later that night.
Stroyke followed up with outlets on Thursday morning that Gianforte was expected to be back in Montana in the evening, but again refused to provided his specific location, citing “security reasons.”
By early Friday morning, Gianforte had not yet issued a statement on the matter. His office did not immediately respond to a request from the Globe for comment.
“The fact that [the flooding] is so extreme and his office has just been pretty recalcitrant about where he is and what’s going on is not great,” Eric Austin, a professor who teaches a class on government leadership and ethics at Montana State University, told the Montana Free Press. “He is not the biggest advocate for transparency, engagement, and accountability that we’ve ever seen.”
Those online seemed to echo that criticism.
Fellow Montana politicians pointed to the ongoing disaster, with the state Democratic Party questioning his “mysterious international vacation” and calling for his immediate return.
Another person referenced Gianforte’s “Come Home Montana” campaign, asking if someone could send him one of his own fliers.
Montana’s largest city had to shut down our water treatment plant last night at 11pm. It’s now operating at very low capacity. Entire houses are floating down rivers as we play the incredibly un-fun game, “But seriously, where in the world is Gov. Gianforte?” https://t.co/3LHj6SgCTa
— Councilwoman Kendra Shaw (@kendrainmontana) June 16, 2022
Gov. Gianforte is away on a mysterious international vacation during an emergency flooding, and he refuses to say where is he is or when he’ll be back. Montana needs a leader right now. #mtpol #mtnews pic.twitter.com/zBXGMPh3CH
— Montana Democratic Party (@MTDems) June 15, 2022
This tweet was a lie from a rich New Jersey guy who cares so little for Montana he left for a international vacation during flood season — and got caught.
Montana has been thoroughly bungling the response, while #GregGianforte remains on vacation.#MTnewshttps://t.co/wnaprLgDL6
— Bob Brigham (@BobBrigham) June 15, 2022
HOW INSANE IS IT THAT GOVERNOR GIANFORTE WILL NOT TELL MONTANA WHERE HE IS WHILE YELLOWSTONE PARK FALLS INTO A RIVER.#mtpol #mtnews
— The Montana Times (@TheMontanaTimes) June 15, 2022
It’s got to be just a little strange that during the time of historic flooding and damage, our governor Greg Gianforte, is out of the country… somewhere. He apparently can’t tell us where though. Sure people take trips. But why the secrecy? Is he coming back soon? #mtpol
— 🐻 Brint Wahlberg (@Bwahlberg) June 15, 2022
he’ll just be back in a few days it’s fine what do you expect him, the governor, to do?? govern????
— Molly Priddy (@mollypriddy) June 15, 2022
Many also saw parallels to Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who packed up his bags and jetted off to a family vacation across the border in Cancún as hundreds of thousands of his constituents went without heat or running water last year.
It wasn’t long before his planned getaway amid the coronavirus pandemic was outed to the public, with a photo of Cruz at the airport circulated widely across social media and group chat text messages about the trip from the junior senator’s wife, Heidi, leaked soon after.
“It’s wild that Gianforte is pulling a Ted Cruz when his state is in trouble. Like, how did he get the wrong lesson from that?” one person tweeted.
Remember when Ted Cruz abandoned the people of Texas during a statewide disaster? Greg Gianforte is doing that now to the people of Montana pic.twitter.com/kATUE3FNwc
— lyss (@stoner_lyss) June 15, 2022
It’s wild that Gianforte is pulling a Ted Cruz when his state is in trouble. Like, how did he get the wrong lesson from that?
— Payaso (@JDLehman3) June 15, 2022
greg gianforte is combining the fecklessness of greg abbott and the absenteeism of cancun ted cruz.
montana, don’t be like texas. y’all already don’t have any water, do you want to lose power, too?
— Florida Chris (@chrislongview) June 15, 2022
It’s not the first time Gianforte has found himself in the spotlight for less than favorable reasons. He was charged with misdemeanor assault of a reporter as the Montana Republican congressional nominee in 2017, and he violated state hunting regulations by trapping and shooting a collared wolf near Yellowstone last year.
Shannon Larson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism