Montana Congressman Elected Governor, Incumbents Keep Seats


Greg Gianforte, Montana’s at-large congressman, will become the state’s 25th governor, winning the only close race out of 11 gubernatorial contests in the country.

The election of Gianforte, 59, a high-tech entrepreneur and one of the richest members of Congress, breaks a 16-year lockout from the Montana governor’s mansion for Republicans. He’ll succeed term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who he lost to in the 2016 governor’s race, after defeating Bullock’s lieutenant governor, Mike Cooney (D).

The remaining gubernatorial races ended as expected: the nine incumbents won re-election, and in the only other open seat, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) defeated Chris Peterson (D), a professor of business law.

The results signaled that voters in general were satisfied with the jobs sitting state leaders were doing, especially in confronting Covid-19 and its attending economic upheaval.

“Even with case numbers going up, the people are saying, ‘My governor’s doing all these things and showing positive energy to try and deal with an intractable problem,’” said David Parker, professor of political science at Montana State University.

Montana Congressman Elected Governor, Incumbents Keep Seats

Residents and taxpayers can now expect their states to stay the course—except in Montana, which likely will see a sharp move to the right.

Gianforte, who moved to Montana from New Jersey in 1995, founded RightNow Technologies in Bozeman and sold the company to Oracle for $1.8 billion. Putting his business acumen at the center of his campaign, he said his top priority is “more good-paying jobs for Montana,” which he decried as being 44th in the nation for wages.

He wrote checks in the millions to support his own campaign, and he wasn’t shy about standing by President Donald Trump.

On Covid-19, he told reporters he’ll rely on the advice of public health experts and community leaders, but will wait to release a detailed plan for managing the health crisis until he has a clearer picture of the situation—including prospects for a vaccine— closer to when he assumes office.

Gianforte has pledged to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review at each state agency, saying he wants to do away with burdensome regulations, eliminating two for every new regulation added at the state level.

Tax and Energy

He also promised to cut taxes, and he supports school choice and vouchers.

Gianforte supports an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, including continued reliance on coal and other non-renewable sources, and he has promised to replace the heads of the state’s environmental agencies.

Although both candidates in the race said they oppose a statewide sales tax—Montana is one of five states without one—Gianforte caught heat from the Cooney campaign for telling a governor’s tax-reform council 18 years ago that a sales tax would be an “ideal solution” to help lower state income and property taxes. Since then, in both of his campaigns for governor, Gianforte has clearly stated he opposes a sales tax.

Other Races

In every other race, incumbents had an easy night watching the returns.

“People are very concerned, and in times of being concerned, people look to their leaders,” said Rich Clark, professor of political science at Castleton University in Vermont. “It’s human nature to be tentative when a lot of change is happening.”

  • Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) beat back a challenge from Republican Julianne Murray. Murray had called for a loosening of Carney’s Covid-19 mandates.
  • Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) defeated Democrat Woody Myers, a doctor and former state health director, after being criticized for his Covid-19 penalty-free mask mandate.
  • In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson (R) emerged the winner over state auditor Nicole Galloway (D).
  • In New Hampshire, incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu (R) beat Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes (D).
  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) defeated Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R), who opposed mask mandates and sued his boss for going too far with Covid-19 shutdowns.
  • In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum (R) prevailed over his Democratic challenger Shelley Lenz, a political newcomer.
  • In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott (R) defeated Democrat David Zuckerman.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) prevailed over Republican challenger Lee Culp, the chief of a one-man police department in rural Republic, Wash., and an anti-masker. Inslee said it was the wrong time for the state to have a “mini-Trump.”
  • West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R), a coal magnate and the state’s only billionaire, turned back his opponent Ben Salango (D), a Kanawha County commissioner.

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