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Allure of Montana turns into feudal estates

We get the allure of the Great American West, the majestic landscapes, rivers teeming with trout, clean air. When talk show star Kelly Clarkson announced she and her family were leaving Los Angeles, she said her first choice was “Montana.” She kept moving, though, landing in New York City. Business considerations, you know.

But we understand what she meant by “Montana.” And during the pandemic, a lot of claustrophobic Americans thought likewise and transferred themselves to Big Sky Country. Too many for local tastes.

And that might be the boost Sen. Jon Tester needs for a reelection race that Democrats in Trump country are finding difficult.

There’s growing discontent over the state’s population boom, The Wall Street Journal reports.

In 2021-22, the state’s migration rate exceeded even that of Florida. House prices have shot up 42% since before the pandemic. In Flathead County, rich outsiders are snapping up lakefront property. That means rising prices, which mean rising property taxes forcing families to sell their cabins, according to The Journal.

One likely Republican challenger to Tester is Tim Sheehy. He is already being tarred as a multimillionaire who “got rich off government contracts.” What could sink him, though, is apparent evasion of Montana taxes. Despite owning a 20,000-acre spread in central Montana with about 2,000 cattle, Sheehy appears to have not paid Montana taxes on his animals over several years.

Another is Matt Rosendale, originally a real estate developer from Maryland. Rosendale is among the handful of right-wing hotheads who helped boot Kevin McCarthy out of the House speakership. Rosendale claims to be a rancher, but actually, he leases the land and others work on it.

Elsewhere in Montana politics, the Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte just vetoed a bill that would have restored $30 million to a program dedicated to improving public access and conserving wildlife habitat. Writing in the Daily Montanan, local conservationists John Todd and Christopher Servheen noted that 130 of 150 state legislators, from both parties, supported the bill. “It was a boon for wildlife and for the activities and way of life that make Montana so special, a testament to our love for the outdoors and our commitment to preserving them for generations to come.”

It is hard to explain how Gianforte got elected governor in the first place. He was a rich executive from New Jersey who made a pile of money, bought a big hunting estate in Montana, and promptly made war on locals who thought they could walk to a fishing stream they used for generations.

In 2009, Gianforte sued the state to remove a public easement that gave anglers, walkers and others access to the East Gallatin River via his property. In the old days of the West, landowners didn’t fret much about their neighbors crossing their property.

Gianforte is among rich out-of-state buyers from all over the world who are amassing huge tracts of land in the rural West and erecting no-trespassing signs around their kingdoms. Their friends jet in to do private hunting in the vast landscapes that are being closed off to ordinary outdoorsmen.

As for the regular people living in Montana, the right wing that yaps about freedom is fencing them off. In the end, though, they get what they elect.

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