Gianforte: Missouri River Breaks remains controversial, needs review

By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte on Sunday endorsed the Trump administration’s ordered review of all 100,000-acre-plus national monuments designated since 1996, including Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks.

“There was a lot of confrontation with local landowners” when the Breaks was protected as a national monument, Gianforte said during a Q&A on Montana Television Network’s “Face the State” program.

Former President Bill Clinton designated the 495,000-acre Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in January 2001, three days before the end of his presidency.

Most of the area was already managed by the federal government. The designation was cheered by conservation, wildlife and sportsmen’s groups, but was panned by others, including some local ranchers.

Trump’s executive order reignited those old debates. The order gave Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, formerly Montana’s lone representative in the U.S. House, 120 days to make recommendations to the president on whether each of 24 monuments should be rescinded or downsized.

Past presidents have “gone too far” in using the 1906 Antiquities Act to unilaterally protect “cultural, historic or natural resources on federal land that is under threat,” said Gianforte, who is campaigning to fill Zinke’s now-vacant House seat.

Gianforte said national monuments have become “large land grabs” and were designated without sufficient local input. Some were “very popular,” he said, citing Pompeys Pillar. Others, not so much.

“Better government occurs when decisions are made at the local level,” he said. “These monuments have been designated from the top down.”

Gianforte exchanged a rapid-fire Q&A on the Sunday morning public affairs program with MTN reporter Mike Dennison and political analyst David Parker.

Over the course of 30 minutes, they discussed environmental laws, tax policy, the Affordable Care Act, balancing the federal budget, Syria, Medicare, coal and timber production, and North Korea.

Gianforte reiterated his support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

“Obamacare is broken,” he said. “We need to repeal and replace it. That’s what I’ve said repeatedly. But I will not vote for repeal and replace unless it protects people with pre-existing conditions, brings down premiums, and protects rural access to health coverage.”

After Dennison’s follow-up question, Gianforte said he couldn’t lay out exactly what provisions should be included in the new health care legislation or whether he would have voted for the bill passed last week by the U.S. House.

(However, a recording given to the New York Times on Friday found Gianforte telling Republican donors that he was happy the GOP-backed American Health Care Act passed.)

“There is no silver bullet,” he said on Sunday’s news program. “There is a series of things.”

Insurance companies should be able to sell policies across state boundaries, he said. Dennison countered, saying insurance companies already can do just that. Gianforte said, though, the companies need “more flexibility in how it’s structured.”

Obamacare “did nothing about the underlying cost of health care, including prescription drugs,” Gianforte continued.

“I don’t believe single payer (also called universal health care or universal Medicare) is the solution,” he said. “As a country, we already spend 20 percent of the GDP on health care. Other nations spend 10 percent to 12 percent.”

This time, Parker countered. “Those other countries have single payer,” he said.

Although insisting he would not be “in lock step” with the president on every issue, Gianforte also stood with Trump’s handling of recent foreign crises, including the bombing of Syria following a chemical gas attack by President Assad’s forces.

There was no need for Trump to ask Congress before bombing Syria, he said. “If there is consistent ongoing action, then yes, Congress should be involved. But not for a single strike.”

Assad, Gianforte said, is “testing” the new administration because the Obama administration backed away from its “lines in the sand.”

“Anyone who has children knows what this is,” he said. “They are testing the boundaries.”

The larger threat to America, though, is North Korea, Gianforte said.

“We have a wing nut in charge in North Korea who is actively pursuing intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, and he wants to send them toward America.”

Dennison asked for Gianforte’s thoughts on whether Trump should be professing his admiration for brutal dictators and authoritarian leaders in Turkey, the Philippines and Russia.

“We have to take into account it’s a messy world we are living in,” came the candidate’s reply. “The president is building relationships with all the neighbors and bringing all diplomatic forces to bear to resolve this crisis (in North Korea) – and that’s the right thing to do.”

Gianforte touched on several areas of environmental policy. He said that in 18 months of traveling Montana (“over 77,000 miles”), first as the GOP candidate for governor and now as the party’s House candidate, the No. 1 issue has been over-regulation by the federal government, particularly environmental regulations.

Now, Trump is taking action to address those concerns, according to Gianforte. The new president has ordered a review of the Clean Power Plan, restarted construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and wants the largest national monuments studied, rescinded or resized.

“I do believe we’ve seen overreach with our environmental regulations,” Gianforte said, specifically mentioning protection of the sage grouse. “There are way too many rules coming out of Washington. I believe many of these violate the 10th Amendment, which is state’s rights.”

However, Gianforte said he does not support proposals for two gold mines in the Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone National Park.

“I’ve met with the local community, and there is near universal opposition to these mines,” he said. “So I came out against permitting the proposed mines” in Jardine and Emigrant.

“My commitment to Montanans is that I’m not going to Washington with any particular ideology. I have principles, but I’ll listen to what they want on the issues,” he said.

The special congressional election is May 25. Also on the ballot are Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks. Absentee ballots were mailed to voters last week, and are also available at county election offices.