The senate minority leader is criticizing Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte for not ordering the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff at the state Capitol in honor of the Capitol Police officers who died in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.
State Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, sent a letter to Gianforte, a Republican, on Tuesday rebuking him for not lowering the flag despite President Donald Trump's proclamation Sunday to fly flags at half-staff at federal buildings from Jan. 10 until sunset on Jan. 13.
She said the governor did not follow the president’s lead and issue his own proclamation, and her staff reached out to his office.
“They were informed that while your office had no official statement, your office decided not to lower flags at the state Capitol,” Cohenour wrote, noting she read a proclamation on the floor of the state Senate on Monday and asked for a moment of silence to honor “these American heroes.”
“Like so many Montanans, I have family members, friends, and colleagues who serve this great state as law enforcement officers,” she wrote. “I am requesting you honor the Capitol Officers who died and all who serve, and immediately order the flags at the Montana State Capitol lowered to half-staff in accordance with the President’s request and issue a Governor’s Proclamation asking all Montanans to do the same.”
The governor’s office offered the following response Tuesday:
“Consistent with what he said as American cities were on fire last year and the extreme left sought to defund the police, Gov. Gianforte was clear again last week that he unequivocally stands with law enforcement officers and against violent protesters. Instead of raising the issue with the governor when she met with him yesterday, Minority Leader Cohenour unfortunately has opted to fish for likes and attention on Twitter amid this national tragedy.”
The governor's spokeswoman offered another statement later in the day Tuesday, saying he appreciates the service of the Capitol Police, whom he saw daily while serving as the state's U.S. representative, and mourns the deaths of the two officers.
"Since the courageous fallen officers had no ties to the state, the decision was reached, in consultation with Department of Administration staff, to keep our flags at full staff," she said. "We are in the process of reviewing our flag protocols."
The Jan. 6 insurrection, which has led to at least five deaths, was fueled by claims of election fraud by Trump, who lost the November election to Democrat Joe Biden. The rampage through the halls of Congress sent lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence into hiding. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died of injuries he suffered in the attack. Howard Liebengood, another Capitol Police officer, died by suicide three days after.
The U.S. House moved forward Tuesday toward impeachment or other steps to remove Trump from office.
Steve Bullock, Gianforte’s Democratic predecessor, issued 10 proclamations to lower the flag in 2020 and 12 in 2019. He was criticized in June 2019 when he had the state flag taken down to fly the Gay Pride flag. Some GOP lawmakers said the flag pole should not be used to play politics.
At least one state lawmaker has a bill proposal to establish protocols for flying flags over the state Capitol. The proposal requested by Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, is in the drafting process.
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.