Mont. race pits tech magnate vs. economist

HAVRE, Mont.--Montana's lone congressman, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, is working to hold his seat against challengers Kathleen Williams, a Democrat, and Elinor Swanson, a Libertarian.

Kathleen Williams, 57, a Democrat from Bozeman, Mont., is running for the state’s lone congressional seat. Photo courtesy Kathleen For Montana campaign, date unknown. (Forum News Service/Agweek/KathleenforMontana)

HAVRE, Mont.-Montana's lone congressman, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, is working to hold his seat against challengers Kathleen Williams, a Democrat, and Elinor Swanson, a Libertarian.

Gianforte was elected in a special election on May 25, 2017, to fill the seat that was opened when Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., was picked by the Donald Trump administration to become the secretary of interior. The day before the election, Gianforte famously assaulted a reporter from The Guardian newspaper. Nevertheless, Gianforte won the election by 6 percentage points and assumed the office on June 21, 2017.

Tech magnate

Gianforte, 57, of Bozeman, did not immediately respond to Agweek requests for an interview, or a summary of agricultural policy positions. According to his own website, he grew up in Pennsylvania and obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology at Hoboken, N.J.

He moved to Montana in the 1990s and founded several companies, including RightNow Technologies, of Bozeman, a customer relations management software company. RightNow Technologies went public in 2004 and was sold to Oracle Corp. for $1.5 billion in 2011. He ranked second on a 2018 list wealthiest members of the U.S. House and Senate, with a net worth of $135.7 million, using data from the Center for Responsive Politics.


Gianforte won the 2018 primary unopposed. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in Montana in 2016, losing to Steve Bullock.

Gianforte says "overregulation is strangling our economy" and has focused mostly on coal and timber jobs. He is endorsed by President Donald Trump. He has promoted more conservative immigration and national security policies.

Like Trump, he has talked about ending "terrible trade deals" that have hurt the U.S. economy and have sent jobs to "places like China." He is a Second Amendment supporter and life member of the National Rifle Association. He is an outdoorsman and would "fight back against the liberal elites' 'War on the West.'
He would support term limits and a "ban" to end members of Congress from becoming lobbyists." He wants a balanced budget bill and "stick to it-just like we do in Montana."

According to the Washington Post, Gianforte is a "young earth creationist," believing the Earth is thousands, instead of billions of years old. He is a founder of the the Glendive (Mont.) Dinosaur and Fossil Museum, that depicts dinosaurs on the ark in the Bible,

Resource economist

Williams, also 57 and also from Bozeman, is a former state legislator. She won in a primary election among six Democratic contestants on July 16, with 33.5 percent of the vote.

She holds a bachelor of science degree in resource economics from the University of California at Berkeley and a master's in recreation resources from Colorado State University. She moved to Montana to work for the state's Legislative Services Division, as a non-partisan staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Williams served in the Montana House of Representatives from 2011 to 2016 and did not seek re-election to focus on responsibilities as associate director the Western Landowners Alliance, where she had worked since 2013. WLA works with conservation-minded farmers and ranchers to solve issues. She focused on water issues, sometimes involving tribes and farm irrigation.


In the Legislature, she has worked on health care issues. She was a member of the agriculture committee in three sessions and served as its vice chair in the 2013 session. In the early 2000s, was statewide water project managers for the state, balancing needs of irrigators, municipalities, and maintaining fisheries finding "win, win, win" issues, she says, and hopes to do the same in Congress. She was prime sponsor of a bill that allows people to make certain foods in home kitchens and sell them direct to farmers markets and other venues.

Williams says the Trump administration is "doing foreign policy with a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel," she said. "It's hard to see an exit strategy." She opposes Trump's tariffs, and says beef, pork and wheat producers could lose "critical market share in China."

She criticized Gianforte for his refusal to sign a letter with 107 Republicans expressing concerns about broad tariffs. In debates, Gianforte has said wants to be able to "bend the president's ear" and bring the tariff issues to a close. She wants a farm bill that protects "key safety nets, conservation and rural development" and is looking for "consistent federal funding for rural health care."

According to statements in broadcast debates, Gianforte supported the House farm bill now being worked out with a Senate version in a conference committee. He opposes "broad-based tariffs" but realizes, the impact on farmers who need "free and open access." He says it's wrong that U.S. grain goes into Canada at feed grade prices.

In debates, Libertarian Swanson has said free trade is important because there is a "natural human right to sell and buy things at the free, fair economic value" and doesn't and agree with government tampering with that right.

Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., is trying to defend the seat he won in a special election on May 25, 2017. U.S. Congress photo, date unknown. (Forum News Service/Agweek/U.S. Congress)

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