More than 300 people packed the Northern Hotel on Saturday for the Yellowstone County Lincoln-Reagan dinner, a key political event for the state’s GOP.
Among the group were U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, Attorney General Tim Fox, other candidates for the 2014 election, veterans, families and keynote speaker Greg Gianforte, a tech industry mogul who lives in Bozeman.
The night was filled with many speeches, but most people said they were especially excited to hear Gianforte.
“Greg Gianforte, now that’s a resume to behold,” said William Selph, the finance chair for the event.
When Gianforte took to the podium, he was met with standing applause. Daines introduced him.
Gianforte is an engineer and computer scientist. He has started five companies, one of which is RightNow Technologies, which was one of Montana’s largest employers and only publicly traded technology firm for a period of time.
After giving thanks to the crowd, Gianforte laid out his four-prong business plan for Montana.
The plan focuses on creating more jobs in the tech industry, organizing and supporting state businesses, helping entrepreneurs and preparing the state’s younger population.
To do so, part of the plan involves reforming education, he said.
“Our most precious export is our kids,” Gianforte said, going on to talk about how underqualified Montana graduates are.
Gianforte also spoke about low wages in the state, saying that Montana is ranked 49th in the country. Mississippi, he said, is the only state with lower wages.
Before Gianforte’s speech, Daines, who is running for the Senate seat now held by U.S. Sen. John Walsh, spoke with urgency as he criticized President Barack Obama. Walsh was recently appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock after U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who held the seat for 36 years, was appointed ambassador to China.
“We must remind President Obama that the first three words (of the Constitution) are not ‘I the president’ but ‘We the people,’ ” he said.
The president’s health care program also took some hits.
“Calling Obamacare a train wreck is not fair to train wrecks,” Daines said.
Amy Long, of Billings, said she thought the event was very successful.
“I definitely enjoyed all the speakers,” she said, adding that she thought the dinner was an important part of keeping the Republican Party strong.
Jim Brown, also of Billings, agreed.
“The main significance of tonight is that everyone’s pulling together, not apart,” said Brown, a legislative researcher. He also mentioned that he was impressed by the turnout. “It’s my understanding that attendance is up double from last year,” he said.
In addition to the speakers, the event also featured a dinner and a silent auction. During the live auction, desserts, vacations, dinners and artwork were auctioned off. Desserts went for as much as $200.