As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage Montana, it’s up to the governor to strike the right balance between protecting the economy of our state and guarding the health of its residents.
Of the two candidates seeking to succeed Gov. Steve Bullock in the current election, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney is best suited to lead our state through the unique challenges posed by this public health crisis.
More than 230 people in Montana have already died from the novel coronavirus, and many more will be at risk if the safety measures in place are relaxed as the number of cases continues to grow. But it’s important to ensure the restrictions don’t go too far, which could cause more Montanans to lose their livelihood and lead to economic collapse.
While Republican governor candidate and current U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte has a strong record of creating high-wage jobs as an entrepreneur in the private sector and has emphasized that he would make that a top priority as governor, we fear that his strong focus on the economy might come at the expense of public health.
Gianforte opposes the mask mandate currently in place in Montana, arguing that he favors personal responsibility over mandates and that those most vulnerable to the virus should just stay home. We certainly wish all Montanans would voluntarily do the right thing, but this approach has already proven ineffective, and it’s up to the governor to come up with a plan that keeps people safe.
Cooney recognizes that we can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy citizenry, and he is prioritizing the safety of Montanans as well as measures to support good paying jobs and bolster commerce.
Cooney said the science will guide his approach to the pandemic, and it’s important to maintain that flexibility in his COVID-19 plan as scientists continue to study and learn more about the virus and how it spreads. His Keep Montana Working Plan includes measures that would provide incentives to businesses that hire apprentices, favor Montana-made products in state purchases, give more state contracts to Montana companies and grant higher preference to those that do not outsource jobs to other states and countries.
Cooney served as a state representative from 1977-1980, secretary of state from 1989-2001, a state senator from 2003-2011, and lieutenant governor from 2016 to today. He has also worked for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, served as executive director of the nonprofit Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, and worked as deputy commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and interim director of the Montana Historical Society during his long and successful career, where he gained the experience and skills to help him hit the ground running as Montana’s next governor.
At lieutenant governor, Cooney helped pass the Medicaid expansion program that now provides access to coverage for nearly one in 10 Montanans. If elected governor, he vowed to strengthen programs that provide access to public lands and veto any legislation that threatens those lands or privatizes wildlife, and he will be a strong advocate for public education.
Of all the elected offices on the ballot this year, this one has the most direct impact on the daily lives of all Montanans.
Cooney is an empathetic leader with a cool head, a steady hand and an impeccable record of service to Montana, and we trust him to lead our state through these challenging times.
This is the opinion of the Independent Record editorial board.