Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte was set to return home on Thursday, six days after his state was inundated with historic flooding that forced the closure of Yellowstone National Park and caused millions of dollars in damage.
The governor’s return came a day after his spokeswoman said Gianforte, who left the country last week on a “long-scheduled personal trip” with his wife, Susan, was trying to return home as “early and as quickly as possible,” according to NBC Montana.
While the governor’s office refused to say where Gianforte was, it did say he has been in contact with his team in Helena, the state’s capital, and has been following the unfolding disaster on social media.
Gianforte, a Republican elected in 2020, declared a “statewide disaster due to flooding” on Tuesday in order to “help impacted communities get back on their feet as soon as possible.”
But most Montanans got their first inkling that Gianforte was out of the state on Wednesday, when the state’s formal request for major disaster relief arrived on President Joe Biden’s desk, bearing the signature of Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, “on behalf of Governor Greg Gianforte.”
The White House announced Thursday that Biden has approved the Montana Disaster Declaration, which will send recovery funds to the beleaguered state. He did so while Gianforte was on his way to Montana. Gianforte spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke did not respond to a question about the governor’s arrival time.
Gianforte did not fly in his private jet, which is registered to Bozeman Technology Incubator Inc., a company he and his wife own.
According to flight records, the plane has been parked at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport since Tuesday morning.
The deluge that caused the Montana crisis began last Friday, when heavy rains in the state’s southwestern corner combined with snow melt caused the Yellowstone River to swell to near-record levels.
Rising waters had stranded thousands of tourists and locals by Monday, sweeping away bridges, cutting off many communities in Park, Carbon, and Stillwater counties, and causing catastrophic flooding in cities such as Red Lodge, Billings, and Livingston. Approximately 10,000 visitors were relocated from the national park.
A headline in the Montana Free Press on Wednesday summed up the growing dissatisfaction many residents felt because their governor was no longer in office.
It asked, “Where is Greg Gianforte?”
“The fact that it [the flooding] is so extreme and his office has just been pretty recalcitrant about where he is and what’s going on is not great,” Eric Austin, a professor of government leadership and ethics at Montana State University, said. Democrats chastised Gianforte this week for failing to disclose that he was out of the country during the state’s disaster.
“In a time of unprecedented disaster and economic uncertainty, Gianforte purposefully kept Montanans in the dark about where he was and who was actually in charge,” said Sheila Hogan, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party. “Once again, we wonder where Gov. Gianforte is.”
Gianforte made national headlines five years ago when he body-slammed a Guardian reporter. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and later apologized to reporter Ben Jacobs for his “unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful” behavior.