By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Montana congressional candidate Rob Quist addressed a crowd of several hundred supporters in Missoula on Wednesday, outlining his agenda to support public lands, the timber industry and conservation.

Quist, a Democrat, brought up many of the talking points leveled against his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, during last year's race for governor. In the process, he pledged to maintain access to public lands and fund the U.S Forest Service.

“I will join with members of Congress from other Western states to ensure the Forest Service has the funding it needs to do its job managing our forests instead of going bankrupt fighting wildlfires,” said Quist. “We need to end the practice of fire borrowing, and ensure wildfires are paid off just like other natural disasters.”

Quist, who is still honing his campaign speech and spoke for roughly 10 minutes, read from a binder and referred to his opponent as “Mr. Gianforte” only a handful of times.

As Gov. Steve Bullock did during his bid for reelection last year, Quist accused Gianforte of blocking stream access and supporting special interest groups looking to privatize public lands and the national forests.

Quist also noted that Gianforte campaigned last year with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who “advocated for selling off public land in America.”

“If Mr. Gianforte understood our Montana values, he would not have bought property and put up a fence to keep other Montanans out,” Quist said. “He's been funding and working with the very politicians and groups that want to take away our Montana way of life.”

Before a supportive crowd, Quist drew widespread applause on many of his talking points, particularly those geared toward public access to public lands. He was introduced by a Missoula business owner who makes a living off the outdoors, and his message resonated with those in the crowd.

“Public lands are part of the lifeblood of the residents of this state, and they bring a lot of cash into the state and are good for the economy,” said Skip Kowalski. “Quist grew up in Montana, is a Montanan through and through, and I don't think we could get anyone closer to the people than he is.”

Rob Quist supporters for Congress respond to the candidate's talking points on access to public land and keeping public land in public hands. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
Rob Quist supporters for Congress respond to the candidate's talking points on access to public land and keeping public land in public hands. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Quist didn't mention this week's news that both he and Gianforte once owed back taxes – Quist to Montana and Gianforte to New Jersey. Nor did he discuss health care, the Supreme Court or other current issues being discussed in the nation's capital.

Quist supporter Dixie McLaughlin said equal pay, health care and women's rights were important election issues. She also suggested that Gianforte was attempting to buy the election.

“I feel that Rob Quist is a true Montanan, and I think Gianforte is just trying to buy the election and trying to buy himself a seat,” said McLaughlin. “He doesn't really care what state he represents. It's all about power to him. And I don't think he's a voice for women.”

Quist echoed those statements during his speech.

“Mr. Gianforte spent millions of dollars trying to buy the last election, and that didn't work,” Quist said. “This house seat should not be his consolation prize.”

Gianforte's campaign didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at