By Bella Butler and Mira Brody
HELENA – The 67th Montana Legislature convened in person on Jan. 4 to open the 2021 session following new state executive Gov. Greg Gianforte’s inauguration as the first Republican governor in 16 years. After the 2020 election, which resulted in sweeping wins for GOP candidates across the state, the Montana Senate, House of Representatives and governorship are all controlled by Republicans, a state government trifecta not seen in Montana since 2004.
Gianforte’s inauguration opened with a song from musician Wylie Gustafson, a prayer from Bozeman Pastor Bryan Hughes, a rendition of the National Anthem and the swearing in of Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras.
“With you at the front of my mind and with a servant’s heart, I will work towards creating better opportunities for all Montanans,” said Gianforte shortly after he was sworn in. “I take the oath of office today, prepared to assume the duties you have entrusted me with, with humility and a deep sense of duty. I take the oath of office today prepared to lead Montana’s comeback.”
The new governor enters office after a 12-point victory over Democratic opponent and former lieutenant governor, Mike Cooney. Gianforte made his first political debut with an unsuccessful run for governor in 2016, which he followed with a victory in Montana’s 2017 special election for Congress. Before his entrance into Montana government, Gianforte made a name for himself in business, first selling his cloud-based computing business, RightNow Technologies, to Oracle for $1.8 billion in 2011.
Gianforte said he plans to lead Montana with a core set of principles in mind: economic growth, fiscal responsibility and reform. He applauded Montanan’s strong work ethic, quality of life and love for the outdoors, but also noted the state’s shortcomings. Gianforte says he plans to support small businesses infrastructure by lowering taxes and eliminating unnecessary red tape and ensuring fiscal responsibility and a more responsive state government.
“Today, let me say loudly and clearly to job creators and entrepreneurs, and business owners in our state and beyond: Montana is open for business,” Gianforte said.
Although Gianforte did not yet outline his plans for a COVID-19 response, he assured the audience that his inauguration day would not be accompanied by a party or any large gatherings as an act of respect to the Montanans who also made sacrifices during the pandemic.
“It’s important to me to do what you have had to do—to do things different than we’ve done them before,” Gianforte said. “The grave challenges of the past year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic consequences that have resulted, have left no Montanan untouched. And let’s not forget the nearly 1,000 people that have fallen victim to this virus that are no longer with us.”
Gianforte will kick off his time in office with the 67th Montana Legislature. The Legislature has a diverse spread of bills on tap for hearings in its first week, covering topics from gambling law to the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force to sexual offender evaluation and treatment.
Joining several new legislators in the capital this session is Republican Rep. Jane Gillette from Big Sky’s House District 64—which is enclosed by boundaries that nearly frame U.S. Highway 191 from south of Belgrade to West Yellowstone. Gillette, a dentist and healthcare consultant from the Gallatin Valley, beat her Democratic opponent, Brian Gabriel Popiel, by 11 points in the 2020 general election.