Support Local Journalism


Republican state lawmakers have launched a campaign to reopen Montana.

This week, they will release plans for loosening the restrictions on everyday life and reinvigorating the economy, said House Majority Leader Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, who is heading the Republican effort, called START Montana.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, has said he will introduce a plan for gradually restarting the state’s economy this week and said the reopening would likely begin after his stay-at-home order expires on Friday.

Bullock has a group of experts advising him on his reopening plan, but Tschida said no Republican legislative leaders were included, which is why he and other state lawmakers are developing their own plan.

“It seems a bit counterintuitive for Republican leadership not to be included, especially because we represent and speak to Montanans across the state and have been having discussions about the process of reopening for a month,” Tschida said.

Montana has fulfilled one of the state and federal guidelines for beginning to loosen restrictions, a 14-day reduction in new cases of COVID-19.

As of Monday, the state reported 433 cases — the same number as the previous day — with 243 recoveries and 19 active hospitalizations. There were two COVID-19 deaths on Monday — one in Toole County and one in Cascade County — bringing the state total to 12.

Gallatin County continues to have the highest number of COVID-19 cases with 143. Of those, 138 people have recovered.

Since some counties have very few or no cases, Tschida said they should be allowed to return to business as usual while other areas may need to continue more stringent restrictions. He and other Republican leaders say they would like to leave decisions on reopening to local governments and school districts because they understand the situation on the ground.

Republican lawmakers have also begun a social media campaign for START Montana, which stands for Strategy To Activate a Real Transition.

The campaign includes videos from state lawmakers and business owners describing the economic hardship they have faced due to the coronavirus pandemic and urging Bullock to reverse some of the orders he has given over the last few weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, said the closures could be eliminated while people continue to maintain a social distance and businesses clean their premises thoroughly to protect vulnerable groups.

Standing outside Grizzly Gold and Silver in Missoula, Senate President Scott Sales, a Bozeman Republican and candidate for secretary of state, said he needs a haircut and is looking for his barbershop to reopen.

“Many of the businesses around Montana are suffering and we need to start Montana,” he said.

Among the businesses featured in START Montana’s campaign is Artistic Barbering in Kalispell, which has been open despite the stay-at-home order.

“I believe I’m breaking no laws,” the owner said. “I’m very concerned about our constitutional rights. I’m very concerned about the people who are not paying attention about these rights.”

START Montana is the latest iteration of the clash between Bullock and legislative Republicans.

Last week, GOP leaders including Tschida, Sales and Thomas sent Bullock a letter criticizing his response to COVID-19 and calling some of his actions unconstitutional. They also said it was past time to reopen Montana.

In a response letter, Bullock refuted the criticism and accused Republicans of “politicizing a dangerous health crisis.”

On Monday, Tschida said politics aren’t the motivation behind START Montana or Republican lawmakers’ efforts.

“It’s not a Democrat versus Republican or legislative versus executive branch thing,” said Tschida, who is up for reelection in November. “In his response letter, the governor said we were making this political, but there were political motivations in what he said. This isn’t us versus them. I want to cooperate with the governor. We just want a place at the table.”

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.