Montana Governor Greg Gianforte made a two-day stop in Sidney visiting Eastern Montana Meats and Sidney Health Center while hosting a town hall meeting sandwiched between the two.
The visit did not go as the governor, the Sidney Area Chamber or the Sidney Young Professionals had planned, however. The Sidney Herald received an itinerary stating there would be a “town hall” meeting. With the majority of people, including the Sidney Herald, holding an understanding that a town hall meeting is open to the public, the newspaper published the schedule on their Facebook page the afternoon prior to the governor’s arrival on Tuesday.
The governor’s office contacted the Sidney Herald on Wednesday morning and asked the newspaper to remove the post for security purposes and stated the “town hall” was not open to the public and specific business owners and stakeholders had been invited to the meeting to discuss specific topics. The post was removed as requested and replaced with one debating the governor’s use of the term “town hall” for a closed meeting.
The town hall was attended by not only those who had been invited but a number of others who had not. Everyone who showed up was allowed to attend and rather than discuss the scheduled topics, Gov. Gianforte gave a brief opening statement and then allowed every person in attendance to ask a question, including those who had not been invited.
The Sidney Herald will cover most of the questions in a two-part story starting with the governor’s opening statement.
Gianforte began by saying he had kept his promise that eastern Montana would not be forgotten once he was elected governor.
“Since I’ve been serving the state I’ve been in eastern Montana over 50 times and I promised when I ran that Eastern Montana would not get forgotten and I hope I’ve proven that I get out here on a regular basis,” said Gianforte.
Gov. Gianforte then listed several eastern Montana locations he has already visited on his statewide tour in 2021.
“It’s important to get out and listen to folks on the ground. There are unique issues here in eastern Montana and I’m here to listen to you,” said Gianforte. “I’m pleased that we were able to open this up to the public and whoever is here, let them say their piece.”
With that the mic was passed to each person who wanted to speak.
The first question was about Montana’s relationship to North Dakota. He was asked about a biodiesel plant proposed for Trenton, stating the plant would be an economic boost for Sidney.
Gianforte said he and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum had known one another for 20 years and spoke on a regular basis. Gianforte also said he had just attended a ribbon cutting for a biodiesel plant in Great Falls. He also said he had learned that East Montana Meats is in talks to send renderings to the plant in Great Falls.
He was then asked about how the ARPA funds would be distributed.
“Let me first say the state of Montana got $2.7 billion. It is excessive spending but if we’re going to spend our grandchildren’s money, we’re going to invest it in a way our grandchildren are going to benefit,” said Gianforte.
According to the governor, ARPA funds have been split into four “buckets.” The first bucket is water and sewer and about half of those grants have been awarded by the state. A second round of grants will be awarded starting Oct. 4 and municipalities are limited to $2 millions for those projects.
The second bucket is for health and human services. The governor said these funds would help build up childcare capacity through the addition of in-home childcare as well as allowing faith-based organizations to access the funds.
The third bucket is for broadband. Gianforte said his administration wanted to close the divide that now exists. He said the state has allotted $275 million for broadband.
The fourth bucket is for economic development. According to Gianforte the committee overseeing that bucket is still formulating the rules but that one focus would be to increase capacity in existing industries.
“We want to get the money on the ground and we’re committed to transparency so if you go to arpa.mt.gov there is a listing of all of the programs by agency and how much money was promised by the feds and how much we’ve received,” said Gianforte. The site also lists how much has been obligated and how much has been distributed.
Gianforte said the state has adopted a pro-business approach in Montana, which is different than what has been done in the past. He said the state would be streamlining government and permitting to make Montana more business friendly.
“We’re trying to turn Montana into a sanctuary for freedom and the free market now,” said Gov. Gianforte.
Gianforte was then asked about the proposed new IRS regulations that would burden small banks with additional auditing. “I share your concern about the things that are coming out of Washington,” said Gianforte, who then talked about the harm shutting down the Keystone XL Pipeline had caused in the state. Gianforte said the state would continue to push back on harmful changes coming out of Washington. “Having been in Washington a while, I don’t have a lot of confidence in anything. We’ll see.”
Gianforte also talked about voting integrity and praised the state legislature for adopting a voter ID bill as well as eliminating same-day voter registration. “When we lose confidence in our federal elections we lose confidence in our governmental system,” said Gianforte.
The Sidney Herald will continue this story on Wednesday, Oct. 6. which will include topics such as healthcare and public safety.