Greg Gianforte, the governor of Montana and a Republican, was nowhere to be found this week as his state was devastated by unprecedented flooding.
Communities throughout southwest Montana were ravaged by the flooding, which was brought on by excessive rain and quick snow melt. In and around Yellowstone National Park. Swollen rivers washed away bridges, buildings, and entire roadways, stranding visitors and contaminating drinking water in several settlements. Yellowstone was completely shut down by the National Park Service, and it is anticipated that the park’s northern sections will stay closed for months. This will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on the economies of gateway cities like Gardiner, which were already hard-hit during the early stages of the pandemic when tourism virtually stopped.
A photo showed Greg Gianforte and his wife dining in Italy just minutes after his office said he was returning to the state “as quickly as possible.” https://t.co/TThBt4aOYl
— HuffPost Politics (@HuffPostPol) June 17, 2022
However, Gianforte’s staff steadfastly refused to provide the governor’s whereabouts for days, alleging “security concerns.” He had left the country last week, before the floods, on a trip..” staff acknowledged in statements to local reporters that he’d left the country last week, before the floods, on a “long-scheduled personal trip with the first lady,” and said he was returning home “early and as quickly as possible.”
Max Croes, a longtime Democratic campaign manager, and employee based in Helena wrote on Twitter that there were reports going around the state capitol in Helena that the governor was in Africa, perhaps on safari.
Well-sourced rumor in the state capitol here in Helena… Greg Gianforte is on safari in Africa.
— Max “Montana 41” Croes (@CroesFire) June 15, 2022
The governor and his wife were ultimately found to be on vacation in Tuscany, the posh region of central Italy, by Missoula-based Newsy correspondent Maritsa Georgiou. A picture of the pair dining at a restaurant in the village of Casole d’Elsa was provided to Newsy by an unnamed source. The image was apparently taken 12 minutes after Gianforte’s office released a statement regarding the governor’s “as soon as possible” return to Montana.
Gianforte was soon compared to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who famously fled to Cancun, Mexico, last year as his state was suffering from severe winter storms and significant power shortages, as a result of the incident.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has reportedly been vacationing in Tuscany as his state is under water. https://t.co/vWCJ88F3PT
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) June 17, 2022
“With the governor back in the state and security concerns no longer an issue, we are providing information as promised,” Brooke Stroke, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote. “The governor departed early Saturday morning to Italy with his wife for a long-planned personal, private trip.” His office has never detailed what “security concerns” were at play, or why it took several days for him to return.
Stroke pointed out that Gianforte had delegated his authority to Lt. Governor Kristen Juras, who in the governor’s absence signed a statewide emergency proclamation. The two “worked closely over the last four days to take swift, decisive action.”
Montana's out-of-action Gov. Greg Gianforte is on vacation in TUSCANY as historic floods devastate | Daily Mail Online https://t.co/eFk3NfFRPo
— Ben Pershing (@benpershing) June 17, 2022
According to his office, Gianforte will travel to Gardiner, which is at the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, on Friday to assess the damage.
Soldiers from the Montana National Guard were saving scores of Gianforte’s constituents from floodwaters while he was away in Italy. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell was part of a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that was on the ground evaluating flood damage. Additionally, President Joe Biden authorized the state’s major disaster designation.
The office of Gov. Greg Gianforte has refused to say where the state’s top elected official is as historic floods ravage southern Montana, despite repeated requests from Montana Free Press and other news outlets over past two days https://t.co/eNZbFWMddi
— LisaBaumann (@LisaBaumann) June 16, 2022
Conservatives flocked to Cruz’s defense with ludicrous reasons, such as that he would have had nothing to offer Texans and was “not taking up vital resources of energy, food, and water,” when he fled winter storm-ravaged Texas for sunny Mexico last year.
Republicans from Montana have also defended Gianforte.
“Regardless of where he was, he was communicating with the people on the ground to make sure that the issues were being addressed,” Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) stated.