BOZEMAN, Mont. — Steve Daines is the affable one, the smiler, a consummate salesman who parlayed his corporate success into a meteoric rise through Montana politics and a seat in the U.S. Senate.
His former boss, Greg Gianforte, is more brusque, sometimes even harsh, a self-made technology mogul whose political career has proved rockier and included a stinging defeat for governor and unwanted notoriety when he assaulted a reporter during a successful run for U.S. House.
Together they form a powerful political alliance on the cusp of dominating Montana politics for years to come, pushing the state’s Republican Party away from a Western brand of centrism and toward the hard-line partisan agenda of President Donald Trump.
Daines, 58, is seeking a second six-year term while Gianforte, 59, is pouring millions of dollars from his private fortune into another run at the governor’s mansion.
Dual victories would mark the latest achievement for men who first bonded on family camping trips in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains more than two decades ago. They worked in tandem to attain huge riches in the corporate world before leveraging that success into a political juggernaut that has reshaped the state’s Republican Party.
It’s a shift Montana Democrats argue is out of step with the state’s independent-minded electorate. Democrats have their own power duo hoping to hold the line in November: Gov. Steve Bullock, challenging Daines, is one of the Democrats’ best hopes to tilt the balance of power in the closely divided Senate. His lieutenant governor for the past five years, Mike Cooney, faces Gianforte.
But Democrats are handicapped by Gianforte’s willingness to spend his own money on the race — $3.5 million so far, after spending more than $6 million in 2016 — and a strong push for both by Trump, who carried Montana by 20 percentage points in 2016.
Daines has long benefited from his ties to Gianforte, who hired Daines into his Bozeman-based software firm, RightNow Technologies, that was later sold to Oracle for almost $2 billion.
Years later, when Daines was in the U.S. Senate, he would use Gianforte’s private plane, including to shuttle back and forth to Washington for key votes — at least 11 trips since 2017, according to financial disclosure reports.
Gianforte, one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. House, has been boosted in his run for Montana governor by Daines’ clout. A strong turnout for Gianforte could now help Daines fend off the challenge from Bullock, a two-term governor whose handling of the coronavirus has put him in the limelight.
The similarities between the two Republicans were on display during a recent joint interview after they toured a high tech manufacturing facility under construction in their hometown of Bozeman.
Stitting across from each other at a picnic table near the same office park that houses Oracle, Daines and Gianforte played off one another’s jokes and finished each other’s stories. Both men linked their political careers to their Christian faith. Daines is Presbyterian. Gianforte belongs to the fundamentalist Grace Bible Church.
“We’re here to serve and not be served,” Daines said.
“Service above expectations,” Gianforte added. “It’s the same theme.”
They cast the upcoming election as a stark choice pitting “socialist” policies of Democrats against the free enterprise system that Daines and Gianforte say propelled the economy and their own careers, creating several hundreds jobs in Montana along the way.
“This system we have in this country has lifted more people out of poverty than any system in the history of the world,” Gianforte said.
Asked if they had any political disagreements, they looked stumped. Daines finally shriveled his face and said Gianforte likes to eat the meat from black bears that he shoots.
“I’ll still take a good piece of beef,” Daines said with a laugh.
Democrats paint a more nefarious picture of the friendship, contending Daines and Gianforte rose to riches on the backs of American workers and that their claim to be job creators belies RightNow Technologies’ role helping companies outsource jobs overseas.
Corporate interests still dominate their agenda, said Montana Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Wilkes, who described Daines and Gianforte as being in lockstep on corporate tax cuts and repealing provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
“They’re mega-wealthy, and they are out for people like themselves,” Wilkes said.
One area where the two Republicans differ is personality, said Amy Wiening, who worked for Daines and Gianforte on the sales team at RightNow.
Both were supportive of each other and their workers, she said. But where Daines was easygoing and always made time to talk about family or matters outside work, Gianforte was more driven and could be harsh in his delivery, she said.
“He reminds me of a doctor you would totally want to be your doctor because he would know what to do. But he would not want to console you if it’s bad news,” Wiening said.
Daines was first to enter politics, running for lieutenant governor in 2008 while still at RightNow. He lost, then left the company in 2012 for a successful campaign for the state’s sole U.S. House seat. He ran for Senate two years later, cruising to victory after the recently-installed Democratic incumbent, John Walsh, a former lieutenant governor under Bullock, quit amid plagiarism allegations.
Daines had been encouraging Gianforte to join him in politics. In 2016 Gianforte ran for governor, losing to Bullock in a tight race. He won the House seat once held by Daines in a special election months later.
To say the pair now represent the face of the Montana Republican Party would ignore the role of Trump, who has loomed at least as large on the state’s political scene and demands loyalty from Republicans.
Gianforte and Daines were initially lukewarm to Trump. When Trump headlined a rally in Billings as he neared victory in the 2016 primary, Gianforte skipped the event and issued a press release welcoming “another visit by a 2016 presidential candidate” without mentioning Trump. Daines told a Montana newspaper in the primary that Trump was “not my first choice, or even my second for president.”
They have since become ardent Trump loyalists. Gianforte caught the president’s attention when he body-slammed a reporter for The Guardian on the eve of his election to the House. “My kind of guy,” Trump said about Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanour assault after initially misleading investigators about what happened.
The fruits of the pair’s loyalty to Trump are now on display: The President tweeted his support for Gianforte on Wednesday and Vice-President Mike Pence headlined a rally last week near Bozeman where Gianforte and Daines spoke back-to-back and then enjoyed a lengthy shout-out from Pence.
Democrats as recently as 2014 held both Montana U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s mansion and a bevy of other statewide offices. The GOP has been in ascendance as the state has trended more conservative. The party now controls both chambers of the Legislature and every statewide post except governor and Democrat Jon Tester’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
Daines and Gianforte “fit the party like a glove right now,” University of Montana political analyst Rob Saldin said. If they sweep the November election, “that’s a real vindication of going in this much sharper, Trump-y direction for the party,” he said.
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Matthew Brown, The Associated Press
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U.S. election: How COVID-19 misinformation is being weaponized in politics – Global News
In a global pandemic, inaccurate information not only misleads but could also be a matter of life and death if people start taking unproven drugs, ignoring public health advice or refusing a coronavirus vaccine when one becomes available.
“A very dangerous element of all of this misinformation is distrust in institutions, in media and in democracy,” said Luca Nicotra, a disinformation researcher with non-profit research and activism foundation Avaaz.
“And this has very clear effects, for instance on vaccination rates. We have already seen how Facebook and other social media have promoted the rise of the anti-vaccination movement all around the world.”
A study by his organization found that content from the top 10 websites spreading health misinformation had almost four times as many views on Facebook than websites providing evidence-based information, like public health institutions such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nicotra says this has a lot to do with Facebook’s business model.
“Facebook is not a neutral platform. So basically, every time a user logs in, its algorithm decides what you see from the thousands of posts of all the pages you like or the friends you have. It selects the one that it believes will keep you in the platform the most,” he said.
“And what Facebook knows, (CEO Mark) Zuckerberg himself has said that they know that its algorithm, if left unchecked, will promote in a user’s timeline, divisive, sensationalist content and disinformation.”
Despite all evidence, strong rhetoric downplaying the risks associated with COVID-19 has been endorsed at the highest levels of the U.S government.
According to a study by Cornell University, President Donald Trump has been the world’s biggest driver of COVID-19 misinformation during the pandemic.
A team from the Cornell Alliance for Science looked at 38 million articles published by English-language, traditional media worldwide between Jan. 1 and May 26 of this year.
Coronavirus: COVID-19 and the fear fueling conspiracy theories
And misinformation is increasingly moving offline and spilling over into the streets in the form of protests or sometimes aggressive refusals to follow social distancing restrictions.
In April, thousands of people gathered at Michigan’s state capitol to protest executive orders issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that shut down most of the state.
Trump openly encouraged such protests, tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
A group of men known as the Wolverine Watchmen, said to have been motivated by Whitmer’s actions to limit the spread of COVID-19, have been arrested on conspiracy charges, accused of plotting to kidnap the Michigan governor.
Trump has admitted to downplaying the pandemic, continuing to do so even after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 — fuelling the growing coronavirus-denial movement.
“His success in responding or reacting personally to COVID that is now being fed into those conspiracies as well, that it proves that it’s a hoax, that it’s not nearly as serious as we went on it was,” said Barbara Perry, the director of Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism.
And with Facebook’s algorithm trying to keep people on its platform for as long as possible, it’s no surprise that what keeps people engaged are sensational posts often full of false information.
“So Facebook’s responsibility then comes from the inaction on not constraining the algorithm (from going into) these black holes,” Nicotra said. “That, really, in the best case, radicalizes people. In the worst case, during a global pandemic like the one we are in the middle of, really, it puts people’s lives in danger.”
Facebook has not responded to Global News’ request for comment but it has made an effort to label posts with warning notices about coronavirus misinformation — including posts by politicians.
But advocates say it’s not enough.
One idea set forth by Nicotra’s foundation is that when Facebook deems a post false or dangerous, it should not only add a warning on the initial post but also when someone shares it, sending them notifications that what they have shared is untrue.
There’s also a push to downgrade the algorithm, says Nicotra, so that when a post is verified false, its reach is automatically decreased.
And as we get closer and closer to the U.S. election and important COVID-19 regulations are debated, access to fact- and science-based information is more important now than ever.
After 30 years in politics, Carole James retires with a new pair of boxing gloves and no regrets – CBC.ca
Carole James is leaving the political ring with a few victories under her belt.
As leader of the B.C. NDP in the early 2000s, she helped it grow from only two seats in Victoria to more than 30 before John Horgan took on the role. Now, as outgoing finance minister, she is retiring in the wake of an orange wave after the party won a projected historic majority this fall.
James announced in March she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and planned to focus on her family and her health.
She told CBC she has spent her last week on the job tripping down memory lane — both reflecting on her own experiences and the success of the party.
“It’s been really extraordinary,” she said.
Watch Carole James talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly in politics:
The long-serving MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill is leaving the legislature with a unique parting gift from her colleagues — a pair of purple boxing gloves.
Boxing, says James, is a great exercise for people with Parkinson’s and she plans to step out of her comfort zone and give it a go.
“Much to the surprise of my kids who I’m not sure really believe that I’m going to follow through with it,” she said.
But not following through doesn’t really come off as a trait of James, who led a party when she didn’t even have her own seat in the house and later, as finance minister, had the unprecedented responsibility of controlling B.C.’s budget during an economically-crippling global pandemic.
“I don’t tend to take on the easy things. I tend to take on the challenging pieces,” said James, adding it was drilled into her early in life to take responsibility and get involved.
Raised by a single mom in the very community she served as MLA, James said she spent much of her childhood at protests and at her grandparents’ home where, as foster parents, there were always kids that needed caring for.
“The expectation in my family was that you have to contribute, that it’s not a choice,” she said.
Watch the retiring MLA reflect on the things that matter most to her:
But now, James is choosing to spend more time on her health and with her two children and grandchildren and her husband, Albert Gerow, the former elected chief of the Burns Lake First Nation.
“I couldn’t do this job if it wasn’t for family and friends and that’s why I remind MLAs when the come in, politics will come and go, but your family and friends — you’ve got to make sure you hang on to those relationships,” said James.
She said she plans on working somewhat during her retirement and while she didn’t specify what she would be doing, she did say it would involve what she loves — problem solving and “bringing folks together across party lines.”
And when she does think back on her time working for British Columbians, it will be with fondness for her colleagues and her constituents.
“I don’t regret a minute.”
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