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Republicans have held majorities in both houses of the state Legislature for 11 years running and controlled both houses in all but two legislatures in the last 25 years. That’s not likely to change in the coming election.

Despite this seemingly intractable hold on the Capitol, more extreme conservative ideas have been held in check by Democrat control of the governorship. Current Gov. Steve Bullock and Gov. Brian Schweitzer before him have used their veto power to block sometimes draconian budget slashing and extreme legislation.

In the interest of maintaining moderation in state government, Montana voters would be wise to elect Mike Cooney to be the state’s next chief executive. On top of that, we find Cooney to be the better candidate.

Cooney faces Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, who won his first full term to the House in 2018 after replacing then-Rep. Ryan Zinke through a special election in 2017. A tech entrepreneur who sold his firm RightNow Technologies to Oracle, he was for a time the wealthiest member of Congress. That wealth has enabled him to loan millions of dollars to his own campaign as he seeks the governorship for a second time.

When Mr. Gianforte challenged Bullock for the governorship four years ago, he struggled to tell this board of a single past Bullock veto that he supported. Today, that tells us that if he is elected, the checks and balances of our state government will likely go by the wayside.

It should be noted that Gianforte declined an invitation to meet with the Chronicle editorial board. His campaign objected after investigating past contributions to Democrats and Planned Parenthood by citizen members of the board. That’s unfortunate and, we believe, telling that he would have difficulty representing all Montanans rather than just those who share his politics.

For his part, Cooney has a long and distinguished track record as a moderate public servant – as a legislator, secretary of state and now lieutenant governor under Bullock. His experience will serve Montana well.

The lieutenant governor is also well positioned to continue the sound policies that have benefitted Montana during the pandemic. No one likes wearing a mask, but Gov. Bullock’s mandate to wear one has been instrumental in keeping us safe and businesses open. Cooney has said he will continue that mandate; Gianforte has said doesn’t support the mandate but would instead rely on the “personal responsibility” of citizens. That’s waffling, and it’s not the leadership we need.

The majority of Montanans don’t place themselves on the fringes of the political spectrum. We believe Mr. Cooney, as our governor, will better reflect that reality.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.