To Tanner Smith's supporters: Let's take back your Montana

Greg Gianforte squandered a huge budget surplus and passed the largest property tax increase in Montana history, then falsely blamed his fellow Republicans for the tax increase.

As a result, nearly 50,000 Montana Republicans voted against him in last week's primary election – the worst showing by a Montana governor in his own party's primary election in at least 44 years.

Those votes went to Rep. Tanner Smith, who was rightly frustrated with Gianforte, like so many Montanans across the political spectrum. In fact, more people voted against Gianforte on Tuesday than for him.

This message is for Tanner's supporters.

My name is Raph Graybill, and I'm running with gubernatorial candidate Ryan Busse to take back your Montana. Ryan is a former gun executive who built a gun company here in Montana. He loves this state. I know we have more in common with you than national political pundits will admit. And I hope you'll seriously consider voting for us.

Ryan and I are exhausted by national politics. But as we travel around this state, we know that Montanans who may disagree on which presidential candidate to vote for can still work together – the old-fashioned, Montanan way – and vote to save this state we love.

Like you, Ryan and I are appalled by President Gianforte's reckless spending and tax increases.

Everywhere we go in Montana, we meet people suffering from its reckless tax policies and spending: retirees forced to go back to work just to pay their property taxes, young families struggling to find or afford homes, teachers, police officers and nurses facing rising rents.

There was no reason it had to be this way. Montana had a $2.5 billion budget surplus. As a former Republican governor of Montana always reminded us, “Nobody said you could keep the change.” But Gianforte spent all that money faster than green grass goes through a goose. Has it made your life easier or more affordable?

Gianforte only had to change one number in the tax rate to keep our property taxes from going up. The last four governors – two Democrats and two Republicans – did exactly the same thing when faced with property tax increases. Gianforte's own staff warned him of the looming increase and told him exactly what he needed to do to keep our taxes low.

But Gianforte ignored them because he needed the money to finance his spending spree. He put the historic property tax increase into his budget, and now we're all paying the price.

It's not just property taxes that keep Montanans waiting for a new governor. Like you, Ryan and I are disgusted by the commercialization of wildlife in our state. Billionaires should not be given special rights to our elk and cutthroat that are denied to people like you and me. Gianforte believes the areas where we hunt and fish should be closed off and leased to his rich friends. And he is the only governor in the history of the United States to file suit to block access to a public river.

Like you, we care about vibrant public schools that are the backbone of our communities. None of this spending spree went toward hiring more teachers for rural schools or fixing school funding. We got higher taxes, and our kids are left with little. Gianforte thinks everyone can afford fancy private schools, so he's tearing up the public schools our kids depend on and pouring taxpayer money into private “academies” like the one he founded in Bozeman.

And like you, we value personal integrity and personal responsibility. Twice, Gianforte and his friends pressured police officers to lie for him. Thank God law enforcement stood up to him. Worse, like you, we are still waiting for an explanation of how Gianforte's private Helena home received a tax break last year while every single one of his neighbors was left with thousands of dollars in tax increases.

In short, we agree with you: it is time for a new governor in this state.

We may go our separate ways in national politics. That's fine. That's how Montana has always been. But our state government is not an HOA for Gianforte and his billionaire friends from other states. It's ours and we must fight like that. Join us.

I hope this fall you'll consider voting for Ryan Busse and me to get your Montana back.

Raph Graybill is the vice presidential running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ryan Busse.

Anna Harden

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