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Ryan Busse introduces running mate at SKC

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | February 22, 2024 12:00 AM

Salish Kootenai College was the first stop in gubernatorial candidate Ryan Busse’s swing through Montana this week to introduce his running mate, Helena attorney Raph Graybill.

The two appeared Monday at a gathering of around 60 people in the Sherri McDonald Hospitality Room at the college gym. Their next stop was Helena, where they officially filed Tuesday.

Busse, a former firearms executive who has become an outspoken advocate of gun control and public lands, said he chose to make Pablo his first stop on their nine-town tour due his commitment to working with tribal nations if elected.

“We will have equal native representation on every board, in every leadership position,” he said. “That's why we're starting here today.”

During a 40-minute talk and Q&A, the two Democrats returned again and again to their theme of “Get Your Montana Back,” claiming Republican Governor Greg Gianforte’s administration has waged “an all-out war on our Constitution and your fundamental constitutional rights in Montana.”

Graybill grew up in Great Falls, attended Columbia University, earned his law degree from Yale and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. His family has deep roots in northcentral Montana, where his grandfather founded a law firm a century ago and presided over the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention.

He ran an unsuccessful campaign for attorney general in 2020 against current officeholder Austin Knudsen, losing that race by 17 percentage points. 

Graybill, who served as chief legal counsel for former Gov. Steve Bullock, has become a thorn in the side of the Republican-dominated Legislature and Governor, successfully blocking 14 pieces of legislation, ranging from restrictions on voter registration and abortion rights to carrying guns on college campuses.

Despite his success in the courts, Graybill said the most sustainable solution to laws deemed unconstitutional is “a true movement to get that veto pen back in the hands of someone sensible, someone principled, someone with moral clarity like Ryan Busse.”

Graybill’s wife teaches math in Helena and he has three children, ages 4, 3 and 10 months. He says he joined the campaign, in part, to ensure that his kids have the same opportunities he did.

“The thing that scares me the most about Montana slipping away, apart from this attack on our Constitution, is the way it's becoming wildly unaffordable for everyday people,” he told the crowd.

He was especially critical of the sizeable hike in property taxes most Montanans faced last November in the wake of a big jump in the value of land and homes across the state.

“Every governor, Democrat, Republican in the past, when home values have gone up, has said, okay, let's just equalize the tax rates and no one pays more, we'll just fix the thing,” he said. “No controversy, it's done. This governor sees this wave of tax hikes coming. He does nothing … He blames local government.”

Busse describes his running mate as the “go-to fix-it guy” for curbing legislative attacks on public education, women’s health care and the right to privacy. “That dude is 14 and 0 against Gianforte and Knudsen,” he said.

Asked if Busse supported a statewide sales tax, he replied, “we’re not a fan,” and went on to say that those who make $90,000 a year or less would be hit hardest.

A woman who said she wasn’t affiliated with either major party asked how Busse – who was an advisor on hunting, gun rights and outdoor issues with President Biden’s campaign – would “bring the working class back to Democrats.”

He replied that “every single thing we’re doing is aimed at making it easier and more affordable for working people, standing up for the things that all of us average Montanans need, desire and must have for our quality of life here – public education, affordable healthcare, rights to healthcare, access to our public land.”

The candidates touched several times on Gianforte’s wealth, noting he put $7 million of his own money into his last campaign for governor, and accused Republicans of giving large corporate tax breaks while lower income Montanans face higher property taxes and childcare expenses, unaffordable housing and the risk of losing Medicaid coverage.

Busse accused the governor of “dismantling” state government, and said state agencies, with leaders appointed by Gianforte, aren’t serving Montanans. He called the Department of Public Health and Human Services “a dumpster fire,” and said the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks “is bleeding talent.”

He promised, if elected, to “run government efficiently for the citizens of the state … We are not doing it right now.”

Asked about his position on climate change, Busse said he grew up on a farm and drives a diesel truck, “and I'm guessing most of you drove combustion engines to get here.”

“We're not just going to flip the switch tomorrow, but we can stop ignoring reality,” he added.

Montana, he said, possesses “a beautiful, small-d democratic tradition,” and encouraged audience members to help “build a movement that's going to be boiling up from below … We're just here running with our names on this sign. This really is about you.”

    Ryan Busse discusses his campaign for governor to a crowd of around 60 people at Salish Kootenai College, as running mate Raph Graybill looks on. (Kristi Niemeyer/Leader)