While the Governor’s Office has declined to reveal the location of Gov. Greg Gianforte during Montana’s unprecedented flooding disaster, the national news outlet Newsy reported that the state’s top elected official and his wife were vacationing in Tuscany.
On Thursday, Maritsa Georgiou with Newsy was the first to report Gianforte’s location. The Governor’s Office has said it does not “reveal the location of the governor” when he’s out of the country, citing security reasons.
The office has said it will share more information upon Gianforte’s return home, which was expected to occur on Thursday night.
“Newsy obtained a photo of Gianforte and the first lady at a restaurant in Casole d’Elsa, which is a small village in the Tuscany region of Italy,” Newsy reported on Thursday. “The photo is time-stamped at 9:31 p.m. local time Wednesday.”
Newsy said that the source of the photo wished to remain anonymous.
The governor’s office was once responsive to Montana’s media, both Democrats and Republicans. Gov. Judy Martz, a Republican, was known for returning media calls and was easily accessible to trusted press.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, also had an open door policy and often talked to the press without the charades of politics.
That changed when Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, was elected to the governor’s office. From that point forward, the office has operated at arms length, a practice that has expanded under Gianforte’s tenure.
“In an email Wednesday, sent about 12 minutes before the photo in Tuscany was taken, (Gianforte’s) office said he was returning home ‘early and as quickly as possible.’ ” Newsy reported. “Another email sent at 10:21 Thursday morning said he will be back in Montana by Thursday night.”
The disaster began to unfold in Montana Sunday night and Monday morning.
Gianforte’s absence from the state he represents at the height of an emergency that prompted President Joe Biden to grant a disaster declaration has been compared to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when he was located in Cancun, Mexico, during a devastating Texas winter storm.
Like Gianforte, Cruz’s office refused to confirm his whereabouts, at least until the media found out and disclosed it.
“It was obviously a mistake and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” Cruz told reporters after flying back on his own dime from Cancun to Houston. “I was trying to be a dad.”
Both Democrats and Republicans have taken different views on Gianforte’s absence and the fact that he didn’t return when the disaster unfolded, despite his vast wealth.
Republicans have accused Democrats of playing politics with a disaster that has impacted thousands of people. It’s something some alleged Democrats agree with.
“MT’s Democrats are so damn mad at Gianforte that they’re now mad at me for pointing out that he didn’t go on vacation knowing that God would flood Montana in his absence,” Tweeted James Conner, founder of the Flathead Memo. “They’re fulminatingly angry and wrong. I’m a Democrat, but I’m also a steely eyed realist who is right.”
Others have been less forgiving.
“Gov. Gianforte is away on a mysterious international vacation during an emergency flooding, and he refuses to say where he is or when he’ll be back,” the Montana Democratic Party tweeted. “Montana needs a leader right now.”
This story has been corrected from an earlier version that neglected to note that Maritsa Georgiou is a Montana-based reporter working for Newsy.