Friday, June 9

Montana governor faces backlash for taking ‘personal trip’ without explanation amid devastating Yellowstone floods – The Boston Globe

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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