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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Greg Gianforte Sworn In As Montana's US House Rep.

Greg Gianforte during his swearing in to the U.S. House, Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
Greg Gianforte was officially sworn in as Montana's sole representative in the U.S. House Wednesday, June 21, 2017.

Greg Gianforte was officially sworn in as Montana's sole representative in the U.S. House Wednesday.
The Republican entrepreneur from Bozeman takes office less than two weeks after pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault for attacking Guardian Reporter Ben Jacobs the evening before in-person voting began in Montana’s special election May 25.

In an interview with MTPR after being sworn in, Gianforte said again that he wants to put the assault behind him.

Greg Gianforte: On the eve of the election, I stood in front of my friends and family, and the media and the entire state, and took responsibility clearly for my actions. I think my actions speak for themselves.

Speaker Ryan swore me in and that was a tremendous honor, and honestly a humbling experience.

I made a promise to Montana that I'd come back here and drain the swamp. I actually had the chance to vote twice on the floor right after being sworn in. I came back to my office and I had just signed my first piece of legislation that called the Balanced Budget Accountability Act and it calls for a balanced budget, or no pay for congressional members.

I've also signed on on three other related bills that had previously been introduced. I've added my name as a co-sponsor on one proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Another one that would authorize term limits for both House members and senators. And the third one, keeping a commitment made during a campaign, legislation that would ban congressional members and staff from becoming lobbyists when they leave office.

So that's my first initial action I am going to go back to the House floor later today and vote on a bill which is kind of interesting, it was originally introduced by Representative Ryan Zinke in the 114th session but it's just now coming to a vote. This is a bill that makes it easier to streamline forest maintenance projects associated with utility lines, and it'll it'll give us healthier forest, and it will get more timber on trucks going to mills.

Eric Whitney: Secretary Zinke's Interior Department budget proposes some pretty substantial cuts that could have some impact on Montana. Do you see yourself pushing back against that, or do you think that his budget is appropriate and will be good for Montana?

GG: Well, I've got to study the specific details, but one of the things I said on the floor today in the couple of moments I had to make remarks is that MT comes before R or D after my name, and I'll always be on Montana’s side.

We do need to bring fiscal discipline to Washington but we have to make sure Montana’s interests are looked after. The reason why my first act was a Balanced Budget Accountability Act is we've been spending like drunken sailors back here and we need to bring fiscal discipline. I've spent my life balancing budgets and I look forward - I was pleased that Secretary Zinke was at my swearing in, and we have a good working relationship and I'm sure I can make Montana’s voice heard to him given that that's his home as well.

EW: Have you heard anything about what committee assignments you'll be getting?

GG: We're still having dialogue with the Speaker's office. I should know something soon about that. But it's not been fixed. I do know that I've said to the Speaker explicitly, I have expressed my interest in a couple of the committees that are related to the interests of Montana, but I also told him I'll serve where he needs me and bring my business skills and negotiation skills to help them.

The other thing we're really working on is, again, I see my job as being a voice for all of Montana. That's why we're working on setting up our advisory committees.

Earlier in the week I announced a number of hires. Charles Robison as my chief of staff, formerly with Senator Daines, is the state director, and then of course Leslie Robinson, who the state has come to know well from the race we ran into the last year, has agreed to be my state director. And I've charged her with helping me put together these advisory committees in ag, health care, natural resources, small business, Indian tribes and veterans, a separate advisory committee for each one. Again, to make sure that Montana’s voice is heard and I have a sounding board to go to when legislation comes up to make sure I'm doing the right thing for Montana.

EW: How do you think the Senate needs to change the health care bill that the House sent over them to meet the criteria that you've set for it?

GG: Well that's a really good question Eric, because we know Obamacare is not working. And one aspect of it is this is in discussion in the Senate right now. The bill the way it first got introduced actually favored larger urban states with Medicaid and Medicare funding, and there's been an amendment introduced which would actually help more states like Montana, and that's one of my commitments.

We've got to get a health care bill that not only brings rates down and protects people with preexisting conditions, but also protects rural access. And the initial bill in the Senate did not do that. But there's discussion now about doing a prorating of the Medicaid and Medicare expenditures to make sure states like Montana are not disadvantaged. I think that would be an important step to make that bill better.

EW: Members of our audience say that they haven't heard you take responsibility for making a false statement about the assault of reporter Ben Jacobs. Why did you make that statement on May 24th?

GG: Well, on the on the eve of the election I stood in front of my friends and family, and the media and the entire state and took responsibility clearly for my actions …

EW: Including the false statement?

GG: I also wrote an apology letter which Ben Jacobs has accepted and said he wants to move on. I also spoke with him personally and expressed it. So I think that my actions speak for themselves. I think I did learn through this, Eric, probably a lesson; I learned, but I'm human and humans make mistakes, and I did and I've taken responsibility for it.

EW: Do you think that what happened on the 24th will in any way impair your ability to be an effective advocate for Montana in the House, in terms of committee representation or how you may or may not be accepted by other members of the House?

GG: I've had many people reach out to me since the election and express their broad and enthusiastic support. I had a similar reception on the floor today from both Republicans and Democrats, and I was clear to them that I look forward to serving and getting to know them better rolling up my sleeves and get to work.

EW: After the shooting of Representative Scalise last week, do you feel any differently about your own personal safety in Washington than you did before that happened?

GG: Cearly this was a tragedy, just that a gunman would show up on a premeditated basis and start taking shots at people. I had got to know Steve Scalise somewhat, he had welcomed me into his whip meeting here on Capitol Hill. We had been texting back and forth leading up to the event just to get to know each other. He was calling out to say, Greg, I know you've been elected, when can you give me your vote? Susan I continue to pray for him. And certainly when we have this sort of thing we have to be vigilant.

Eric, I really appreciate the fact that today we could take some time to visit. You're the first interview I've done since getting sworn in, on the radio, and I look forward to future discussion.

EW: I think my only other question is, what kind of access can we as the media in Montana expect to have to you? Will we be able to speak with you on a regular, timely basis?

GG: Yes, that's my commitment. I will make myself available on a regular basis that we can communicate just like we're doing right now.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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