Election Night 2020

Rep. Greg Gianforte accepts his gubernatorial win with a speech to supporters and media during an election night watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman.

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Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte has named 21 Montanans — including two from Gallatin County — to the coronavirus task force that will guide his administration’s COVID-19 response.

The task force includes health experts, business owners, faith leaders, school administrators and local and tribal officials who will work with state and local health officials.

The group, which will hold its first meeting soon, will craft recommendations for Gianforte on how to manage the coronavirus pandemic, safely reopen the economy and help Montanans return to work.

“It remains my top priority to work together to protect the most vulnerable among us, while also safely and fully opening back up the economy,” Gianforte said in a statement. “This task force will be indispensable to me in tailoring a plan unique to the Treasure State that will promote both the health and economic well-being of Montanans.”

Among the task force members is Daniel Bierschwale, the executive director of the Big Sky Resort Tax District, which oversees the distribution of the town’s sales tax revenue.

Bierschwale said he hopes to share the ways in which the district has worked with businesses and nonprofit groups to respond locally to the coronavirus pandemic. Their efforts include providing free masks to businesses to help them comply with the statewide mask mandate, building a surveillance testing program for the winter tourism season and creating the Big Sky Relief Fund, which distributes money to those impacted by COVID-19.

“I’m looking forward to showing how our methodologies for addressing COVID-19 might help the state at large continue to respond to this pandemic,” Bierschwale said.

Bozeman resident Don Beeman, who serves on the Bozeman Health Board of Directors and is the former vice president of U.S. commercial operations for Merck’s vaccine division, has also been appointed to the task force.

Two members of Gianforte’s task force — Adj. Gen. Matthew Quinn and Liz Moore — participated in Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s COVID-19 response team.

As the leader of Bullock’s COVID-19 task force, Quinn has worked with the heads of several state agencies, as well as public health experts, health care providers, emergency responders and business leaders to create a plan for reopening Montana after the statewide lockdown ended in late April.

Moore, executive director of the Montana Nonprofit Association, helped provide recommendations to Bullock on how the state should use the $1.25 billion in aid it received from the federal government. The group’s work resulted in Bullock creating dozens of grant programs to provide assistance to individuals, nonprofits and businesses.

The group also came under fire for not opening its meetings to the public. Some state lawmakers said they — rather than the governor and his task force — had the authority to allocate the federal dollars.

Marissa Perry, Bullock’s spokesperson, said Bullock’s office is working with Gianforte’s transition team and has “offered the support of the governor’s coronavirus response team to the incoming administration.”

Seven of the new task force members contributed to Gianforte’s campaign, according to records from the commissioner of political practices. Bullock, who lost his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines, was criticized for naming donors to his COVID-19 advisory groups.

Throughout his campaign, Gianforte said he would advocate for personal responsibility over mandates in responding to the virus and emphasized the importance of rebuilding the state’s economy. However, he provided few specifics on the policies or rules he would implement to manage the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.