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Don’t you just hate it when the state you govern experiences historic flooding and you’re in Tuscany taking a little break with your wife? Such is the firestorm Montana’s Governor Greg Gianforte finds himself in. The Republican governor left the country for Tuscany on a previously scheduled vacation with his wife, before torrential rain and rapid snowmelt triggered devastating floods in southern Montana. Gianforte’s critics are having a field day with his bad timing.
The flooding, triggered by torrential rain and rapid snowmelt, devastated communities across southwest Montana. Swollen rivers washed away bridges, buildings and entire roads in and around Yellowstone National Park, stranded tourists and polluted drinking water in many communities. The National Park Service shuttered all of Yellowstone, and northern areas of the park are expected to remain closed for months — dealing what is likely to be a devastating blow to the economies of gateway communities like Gardiner, which were hard-hit during the early part of the pandemic when tourism ground to a halt.
But for days, Gianforte’s office refused to disclose the governor’s whereabouts, citing “security reasons.” It acknowledged in statements to local reporters that he’d left the country last week, before the floods, on a “long-scheduled personal trip with the first lady,” and said he was returning home “early and as quickly as possible.”
It’s not like Gianforte predicted historic flooding and damage to the state and then jumped on a plane for Europe. He didn’t act as, say, Ted Cruz did during the Big Freeze in Texas. Yet, to read some headlines, you’d think that Gianforte continued his vacation without a thought to what was happening at home. That simply isn’t true. Montana Lt. Governor Kristen Juras, also a Republican, signed a statewide declaration of disaster as the acting governor of the state on Tuesday. Governor Gianforte kept Montanans informed via Twitter on the state’s response. That included praising Montana’s senators and representative for their bipartisan work with the president to get the emergency declaration and the resources it brings.
On behalf of all Montanans, I thank @POTUS for his swift approval of our request and @SteveDaines, @SenatorTester, and @RepRosendale for their work to move our request forward with the president as well as for their unified support of our efforts.
— Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) June 16, 2022
Gianforte’s office refused to say where the governor was as the press asked. They sited security reasons for the secrecy. That’s a pretty standard response these days. There doesn’t seem to have been anything nefarious going on, just some bad timing.
The Montana Free Press reported Wednesday that Gianforte’s office was refusing to divulge his location despite repeated requests as southern Montana, including Yellowstone National Park, faced a deluge.
His office also told The Washington Post that he left for a personal trip outside of the country with his wife before the floods began and that he would be “returning early and as quickly as possible.”
What else was the man to do? Today it’s reported that he is back in Montana and the mystery is solved. He returned Thursday night. Montana Democrats accused Gianforte of “lying” about his absence. They are treating him as though he’s Carmen Sandiego.
Montana’s Democratic Party blasted Gianforte in a statement on Wednesday, accusing his office of lying about his absence and “purposefully obscuring the fact that the executive order was signed by his lieutenant governor.”
“In a moment of unprecedented disaster and economic uncertainty, Gianforte purposefully kept Montanans in the dark about where he was, and who was actually in charge,” Sheila Hogan, the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party, said. “Again, we ask, where in the world is Governor Gianforte?”
Politics is politics. Democrats jumped on him because he was vulnerable, whether it was justified or not. Fortunately he was able to get back to Montana relatively quickly from Europe. The Lt. Governor looks to have performed well and monitored the situation with the appropriate officials involved. All went as well as could be expected.
It turns out this isn’t the political scandal the Democrats hoped for. Nonetheless, they persisted.
Around the state capitol in Helena, rumors swirled that the governor was in Africa, likely on safari, according to a Twitter post from Max Croes, a longtime Democratic campaign manager and staffer based in Helena.
Maritsa Georgiou, a correspondent for Newsy based in Missoula, ultimately discovered that the governor and his wife were vacationing in Tuscany, the ritzy region of central Italy. Newsy obtained a photo from an anonymous source that showed the couple dining at a restaurant in the village Casole d’Elsa. The picture was reportedly taken 12 minutes after Gianforte’s office sent out its statement about the governor returning to Montana “as quickly as possible.”
— Newsy (@Newsy) June 16, 2022
The ‘exclusive’ is wrong. He didn’t travel “to the Tuscany region of Italy as his home state suffers catastrophic flood damage.” He was already in Tuscany when the flooding began. Words matter, even for journalists.
Gov. Gianforte was in Italy, his office confirms Friday morning. The governor left Saturday for a personal trip to Italy and returned last night. He will be in Gardiner today for a tour and briefing. #mtnews #mtpol #MTFloods #YellowstoneFloods pic.twitter.com/4PUXF0atfx
— Jackie Coffin (@Jackie_Coffin) June 17, 2022
Better luck next time, Democrats.