Montana officials weigh in on the “body slam” heard round the world
As he noted during his victory speech late last month, newly elected U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte “made a mistake” on Election Day eve that he “can’t take back.” That mistake—the alleged May 24 assault of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, for which Gianforte now faces misdemeanor assault charges—focused the nation’s attention squarely on Montana. The election has now passed, as has the bulk of the attention, though several press groups, including PEN America and the Society of Professional Journalists, have requested an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The incident, exacerbated by Gianforte’s win some 24 hours later, outraged many inside and outside Montana. While Gianforte’s actions were widely condemned by Democrats and some Republicans, not everyone felt so strongly. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that while he condemns Gianforte’s conduct, he would not call for Gianforte’s removal from office.
Because we think that violence perpetrated by candidates for and holders of public office on any citizen, regardless of profession, is an affront to all citizens, we’ve compiled and sought responses to the event from Montana’s elected officials, political leaders and a handful of others not yet on the record to see where they stand.
Sen. Jon Tester, official statement
“This is in the hands of law enforcement. But part of the job representing the people of Montana is answering basic questions on important topics, topics such as how a dangerous healthcare plan could impact the very people you are trying to represent. It’s part of the job.”
Sen. Steve Daines, via Twitter
“I have confidence in local law enforcement. I do know Greg Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault and will leave the questions and answers to local law enforcement. I do not condone violence in any way.”
In a follow-up tweet, Daines stated, “Greg Gianforte needs to apologize.”
Gov. Steve Bullock, official statement
“It is unsettling on many levels that Greg Gianforte physically assaulted a journalist and then lied, refusing to take responsibility for his actions. Yesterday’s events serve as another wake up call to all Montanans and Americans that we must restore civility in politics and governing, and demand more from people who hold the public’s trust. One thing is clear: no matter what happens today, the actions of Gianforte do not reflect the values of Montana or its people.”
Montana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Essmann, to the Indy on Election Night
“Well, you know, it’s difficult to have somebody get into your face. Anybody who’s spent an hour in a Montana bar on a Friday night knows the quickest way to provoke a reaction is to get into somebody’s face. Gianforte is an adult. I expect him to be a great leader and do the right thing.”
Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Nancy Keenan, official statement
“The people of Montana deserve to finally have representation in the U.S. House. However, they should not have to be represented by a man who is currently facing an assault charge for body slamming another person. Greg Gianforte should not be sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives while his assault case is still pending in court.”
Department of Justice spokesperson on behalf of Attorney General Tim Fox
“It would be inappropriate for the Attorney General to comment on a case with pending charges.”
Secretary of State Corey Stapleton
Did not respond by stated deadline.
Superintendent Elsie Arntzen, via email
“I am committed to having a productive relationship with Montana’s entire congressional delegation for the benefit of Montana students. I remind all Montana leaders that we must always remember to serve as positive role models for students.”
State Auditor Matt Rosendale, via email
“Violence has no place in our nation’s political discourse, period. The only time violence of any type is justified is in self-defense. Freedom of the press is personal to me—my parents owned a newspaper and I was involved with their news business when I was younger. The First Amendment rights of the press are absolutely critical to keeping our government in check and helping citizens be informed.”