Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte was nowhere to be found this week as his state was devastated by historic floods.
The flood, triggered by torrential rains and rapidly melting snow, devastated communities in southwestern Montana. Rising rivers have washed away bridges, buildings and entire roads in and around Yellowstone National Park, stranded tourists and polluted drinking water in many communities. The National Park Service firm all of Yellowstone and northern areas of the park are expected to remain closed for months — dealing what will likely be a devastating blow to the economies of gateway communities like Gardiner, which were hit hard early in the pandemic when tourism shut down.
But for days, Gianforte’s office refused to disclose the governor’s whereabouts, citing “security reasons.” He recognized in statements told local reporters that he had left the country last week, before the floods, for a “long-planned personal trip with the first lady”, and was returning home “early and as quickly as possible”.
Around the Helena state capital, rumors swirled that the governor was in Africa, likely on safari, according to a Twitter Publish by Max Croes, a longtime Democratic campaign manager and Helena-based staffer.
Missoula-based Newsy correspondent Maritsa Georgiou finally discovered that the governor and his wife were vacationing in Tuscany, the posh region of central Italy. Newsy obtained a photo from an anonymous source showing the couple having dinner at a restaurant in the village of Casole d’Elsa. The photo was reportedly taken 12 minutes after Gianforte’s office sent out its statement on the governor’s return to Montana “as soon as possible.”
The incident quickly earned Gianforte comparisons to famed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). fled to Cancun, Mexico, last year as his condition reeled from winter storms and widespread power outages.
Gianforte’s office did not respond to UK Time News’s request for comment Friday morning. But in a statement to the local press, he finally confirmed his whereabouts.
“With the governor back in the state and security concerns no longer an issue, we are providing information as promised,” wrote Brooke Stroyke, the governor’s spokeswoman. “The Governor left early Saturday morning for Italy with his wife on a long-planned personal and private trip.” His office never clarified what “security issues” were at play, or why it took him several days to return.
Stroyke noted that Gianforte delegated his authority to Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, who signed a statewide declaration of emergency in the governor’s absence. She said the two “have worked closely together over the past four days to take swift and decisive action.”
Gianforte is scheduled to travel to Gardiner, located at the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, on Friday to assess the damage, according to his office.
While Gianforte was in Italy, Montana National Guard soldiers rescued dozens of his constituents from floodwaters. A team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, was on the ground assess flood damage. And President Joe Biden approved a declaration of major disaster for the state.
When Cruz escaped winter storm-ravaged Texas for sunny Mexico last year, conservatives flocked to his defense with absurd justifications, including that he would have had nothing to offer the Texans and that he was “not depleting precious resources of energy, food and water”.
Montana Republicans also came to Gianforte’s defense.
“No matter where he was, he was communicating with the people on the ground to make sure the issues were resolved,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) Told UKTN.