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Big Sky receives a visit from Montana Governor and presidential candidate

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Gov. Doug Burgumand presidential candidate rides during the color guard ceremony during the second night of Big Sky PBR. PHOTO BY TAYLOR ALLEN

By Mira Brody

BIG SKY—Big Sky isn’t a common stop on a presidential campaign trail. In fact, as of July 21, 2023, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum may have just been the first presidential candidate to visit the unincorporated community when he arrived alongside Montana Gov. Greg Giantforte for PBR festivities. Nonetheless, the resort town was an important stop on his tour, right between Oklahoma and California, and it was especially fitting to visit the Big Sky PBR; the governor and his wife Kathryn have been fans since the first one in Big Sky 13 years ago.

“You really get hooked,” Gov. Burgum told EBS in a conversation shortly after his arrival at the Big Sky Events Arena. “When you see a rider climb in the chute and get on top of a 1-ton bull, it’s something you don’t forget.”

“And it’s hard to beat the view,” he added. Behind him, the sounds of chute doors open and close as the stock handlers move bulls in the back of the arena to prepare for the second night of action. 

North Dakota Governor, and presidential candidate Doug Burgum (second from right) stands with members of Big Sky PBR as well as Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (third from left) at the night’s opening ceremonies. PHOTO BY TAYLOR ALLEN

Gov. Burgum had been on the campaign trail for six weeks, a whirlwind journey he took on after officially announcing his intent to run for president on June 7. He’s served as North Dakota’s 33rd Governor since 2016 and plans to run under the Republican ticket.

Born and raised in the small farming town of Arthur, N.D., Gov. Burgum mortgaged his inherited farmland after graduating college to invest in Great Plains Software, eventually serving as the company’s president until it was sold to Microsoft for $1.1 billion in 2001.

Gov. Burgum is also a staunch conservationist, leading the charge to establish  the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, located near the entrance of the national park also named for the 26th president of the U.S. and one of the North Dakota’s busiest tourist attractions.

While he spoke passionately about the pillars of his presidential run, which puts a sharp focus on the economy, U.S. energy policy and national security, Burgum, like any farm-raised man, couldn’t help but comment on the livestock at PBR.

“Part of what makes these things work and part of what makes them exciting is having great stock,” Burgum said, gesturing behind him where thousand-pound bulls wait behind the chutes of the arena. He spoke highly of fellow North Dakotan and legacy stock contractor Chad Burger, who briefly joined him on stage.

“Having great North Dakota stock like Chad’s providing, whether it’s in Bismarck for PBR—it’s hard to beat. It’s hard to get any better in the country than right here,” Burgum beamed.

He, First Lady Kathryn Burgum, Montana Gov. Gianforte and First Lady Susan Gianforte, who joined for the event’s opening ceremonies, shared a respect for the Western tradition during the event’s opening ceremony. Gov. Gianforte gave a brief speech on the dirt, and Gov. Burgum rode the arena on horseback during the presentation of the flags.

“Hello Big Sky, who’s ready to rodeo? Aren’t we blessed to be here tonight,” Gianforte riled a cheering crowd.

Burgum also expressed an appreciation for the resort town’s modern amenities—while he was raised in the Great Plains, his grandparents lived in Montana since the 1930s and he often paid visits, developing a love for mountains and skiing.

A passionate skier, Burgum claims he hasn’t missed a winter coming to Montana to ski the cold smoke—he recalls the 11-hour drives he’d take with friends from North Dakota State University to Bridger Bowl for just two days, all in time to return for class the following Monday. He even remembers the early days of Big Sky Resort.

“There was a single gondola, a slow one,” he joked, expressing his excitement for the new Lone Peak Tram this coming winter.

Burgum calls being a Governor a “7-by-24 job,” referring to its long hours, but has so far been gratified on the presidential trail. Just three and a half days after he announced his run for presidency, his campaign received donations from all 50 states; by 40 days, they hit 40,000 individual donors, clearing the requirement to appear in the first Republican presidential primary debate.

“The groundswell has been really amazing from people that want to see us on a debate stage and see a small-town kid give it a shot,”  Burgum said.

When chatting about his long days on the tour, Gov. Burgum seems just as comfortable as he does in his cowboy boots.

“This is a game of hard work and getting out, but it’s an honor to do it,” he said. “We’re happy warriors and this is a country worth doing it for.”

Jack Reaney contributed reporting for this story.

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