HELENA — Montana’s 25th governor promised a new way of doing business in Helena, as he and other statewide officials started their terms in office Monday.
Gov. Greg Gianforte was sworn in, along with Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, in a small ceremony in the Governor’s Reception Room at the Montana State Capitol in Helena.
There were none of the large crowds and celebrations that typically mark an inauguration. Gianforte said, in light of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was important that his swearing-in also change with the times.
“Montanans have had to make sacrifices and do things differently,” he said. “You’ve had to change how you celebrate holidays, scale down wedding ceremonies, and postponed many of your long-awaited plans. This inauguration ceremony is no different.”
Gianforte praised those like health care workers, first responders, teachers and parents who have stepped up to help during the pandemic. He promised to lead a comeback from the pandemic and the economic devastation that accompanied it.
“I am confident that with vaccines and increased testing, we will get a better handle on our response to COVID-19,” he said. “I am confident that our economy will rebound. I am confident Montanans will get back to work in good-paying jobs. I am confident that we will recover.”
Gianforte is Montana’s first Republican governor in 16 years. He said his inauguration would set a new course for the state, and vowed to prioritize economic growth, better jobs and a government that is more responsive.
“Growing opportunities here in Montana, bringing the American Dream within greater reach for more folks and promoting greater prosperity in every corner of our state,” said Gianforte.
Gianforte said he believed more united Montanans than divided them, and he pledged to work with people across the political spectrum to serve the state’s interests.
Gianforte’s victory gave Republicans all five seats on Montana’s land board. The other four statewide offices remained in the party’s hands for another term.
First to be sworn in Monday was Attorney General Austin Knudsen. Knudsen, a former Montana House speaker and Roosevelt County attorney, said he planned to immediately implement new operational efficiencies at the Department of Justice.
He said DOJ needed to focus on prosecuting crime, particularly drug-related offenses, and provide more support to local law enforcement.
“I know how much small-town and rural Montana can benefit from a little extra help from the AG’s office,” said Knudsen. “The Attorney General’s office can and must work better for the people of the state.”
Knudsen took over for Tim Fox, who was term-limited and could not run again.
Christi Jacobsen, sworn in as Secretary of State, was deputy to the previous secretary, Corey Stapleton, who ran for U.S. House last year. Jacobsen called being elected to the position – which oversees Montana elections and business registrations – the “honor of my lifetime.”
“I promise to lead with a servant’s heart,” she said. “My deep love for Montana makes it easy to give it my all, each and every day for the next for years, and keep my promise to you to protect the integrity of elections and always be a partner with businesses.”
The only land board official to start a second term Monday was Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, who has been in the position since 2017. Arntzen said she would work with lawmakers to ensure the state keeps its promises to support public education.
“I know they join me in making sure that the children’s future – our future – is bright,” she said. “I’m humbled and I am so blessed to be taking this office, not for me, but for you.”
The last to be sworn in was State Auditor Troy Downing. The auditor is Montana’s commissioner of securities and insurance, responsible for overseeing both industries. Downing said he wanted to focus on holding those who defraud consumers accountable, while limiting what he sees as unnecessary regulations on businesses.
“I think that there is a fine edge there, in protecting consumers and then also making sure that we can thrive – because if we thrive, we have more opportunity, we have more jobs, we have more selections, we have better pricing, we have things that are great for all Montanans,” he said.
Downing replaced Matt Rosendale, who was elected Montana’s representative in the U.S. House.