Deer Lodge group says state’s COVID-19 response hurt state’s economy

(KPAX) DEER LODGE — Some people are taking aim at coronavirus (COVID-19) policies they claim have gone too far – even to the point of violating their constitutional rights.

“These are God-given rights. We don’t look to the government to give us those rights, so we’re going to protect them,” said Dave Rowell, owner of Elk Tips Outdoor Gear in Deer Lodge.

Members of START Montana, which refers to itself as a grassroots group that is critical of Gov. Steve Bullock’s coronavirus policy, stopped in Deer Lodge to hear concerns from some local businesses owners.

Though START claims it is non-partisan, it does have support from some state Republicans.

“The voices of the people who operate businesses in Montana were not being heard. Period. The governor was tone-deaf to that,” said State Rep. Brad Tschida (R-Missoula).

Some Deer Lodge business owners are worried about the small town’s economic future.

“I mean we’ve already seen three, four or five businesses in town not be able to open back up and it’s just going to continue,” said Deer Lodge business owner George Mann.

START Montana argues Gov. Bullock overreacted to the coronavirus threat and has hurt the state’s economy for a long time to come.

“Why are we living in fear? Fear doesn’t prevent you from dying. Fear prevents you from living, and that’s what’s happening to a lot of business here and people are going to lose their businesses as a result of the decisions that were made,” said Tschida.

Some people involved in the movement feel like they have the right to even defy the governor’s executive order through civil disobedience.

“Civil disobedience does not mean any kind of violence whatsoever. It just means that at this point, when you let people know, that we’re going to open up Main Street, we’re going to open up our businesses right here in Deer Lodge,” said Rowell.

The Governor’s Office stated that Gov. Bullock’s actions were based on science and data and his early efforts helped Montana maintain the lowest rate of cases per capita in the nation. The Governor’s Office added that a healthy economy requires a healthy workforce.