Gubernatorial candidate Busse visits Bitterroot

Second Amendment

Ryan Busse, candidate for Governor, responds to a question from the public while meeting with the Ravalli County Commissioners on January 4th. Photo by Nathan Boddy.

by Nathan Boddy

Ryan Busse, a Democratic candidate for Governor, has traveled over 14,000 miles across Montana in his truck since declaring his candidacy last September.  He was in Hamilton on January 4th to introduce himself to the all-Republican County Commission. And while a recent New York Times article has suggested that Montana’s political landscape is taking a dramatic shift to the right, Busse does not see it that way. Instead, he feels as though a relatively small percentage of radicals are trying to define state and national issues with, “culture war diversions.”

“I didn’t believe, going into the race, that that is the majority of Montanans,” he told the Bitterroot Star. “I believe it even less now, way less.” Instead, Busse says that he is convinced that, “the vast majority are tired of the loud, screaming radicals.”

Busse has made a name for himself calling out radical behaviors and institutions.  As a young man, he moved to Montana from rural Kansas in order to pursue a dream of working in the firearms industry, which he did successfully for years.  In 2020, however, after years of growing apprehension about the influence of the gun industry and entities like the NRA upon the changing nature of guns and gun ownership in the country, Busse left the industry and wrote, “Gunfight – My Battle Against the Industry That Radicalized America.”  

In addition to migrating away from the gun industry, Busse found himself migrating away from the Republican Party as his own dedication to conservation put him at odds with party policies. His lifelong love of hunting and fishing meant that he was adamantly opposed to development of oil and gas resources within the Badger/Two Medicine area of northern Montana, and he was motivated to make a stand against it.

Busse is now running on a platform which includes: access to public lands, scientific management of wildlife, freedom of reproductive choice for women, and adherence to policies which favor a healthy environment. On more than a few of these issues, Busse feels as though Governor Greg Gianforte has dropped the ball.


“Everywhere, there is this fear that the state that we love is being rigged and sold to billionaires and taken from us,” he said. “Whether that’s public lands, river access, or women’s healthcare rights, or housing costs. It’s like the system is rigged against working Montanans. I’m telling you it doesn’t matter what corner of the state I go to, everybody feels that. Everybody.”

Of particular frustration to Busse has been the dramatic changes in property taxes under the Gianforte administration. He illustrates his point by saying that “the legislature began with a $2.8 billion surplus, and ended up giving entities like NorthWestern Energy a $36 million tax break,” something he says amounts to shifting the tax burden to homeowners. Busse says that, throughout his travels within Montana, frustration with Gianforte and the Republican super-majority’s property tax changes have been universal. He says that it has amounted to a “breakdown in communication between county and state government,” while many people tend to blame county commissioners for the changes.

During his brief visit with the three county commissioners, Busse discussed his outlook on federal lands management, taxes and even the proposed Sheep Creek Mine up the West Fork of the Bitterroot. Few of the topics, however, were as involved as the issue of wildlife management.

Busse, who was responding to a question by Commissioner Jeff Burrows in regards to the setting of harvest thresholds by FWP, said that he is frustrated with FWP management of wildlife in general. “There have been multiple pushes both by the legislature and the (FWP commission) to do things contrary to the North American Wildlife Model in favor of commercialization and I think it’s damn dangerous.”  

Busse, who has been both a member and chair of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, asserted that he understands that a wide variety of issues have pushed large species like elk onto private lands, and that their presence can cause problems for ranchers and other landowners. Still, he asserted that science should take precedence when deciding how to manage wild game and that monetization of wildlife should not be the answer. He said that a “harboring” issue can exist where some landowners choose not to allow hunting, but that such cases shouldn’t be a reason to allow those landowners to claim depredation or to see the elk as their own private resource.

“A ranch has a right to allow people to hunt or not to hunt,” he said. “It’s private property. But the ranch does not own the wildlife. That’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of law.”  

Ravalli County resident Skip Chisholm also presented Busse with questions, one of which struck at Busse’s background in the firearms industry. Chisholm asked for Busse’s thoughts on any new rulings that might affect the second amendment.

“I’ve sold almost 3 million guns in my life,” Busse responded. “I believe in the right to defend yourself and the right to own guns, both of which I do. I also believe that we have to balance our rights with responsibilities and I’m a little worried that, in our democracy right now, our responsibilities-to-freedoms thing is a little out of whack.”

Busse went on to explain that he would rather not see broad sweeping new laws, but does feel as though the definition of responsible gun-ownership may have been lost. He gave the example of open-carry being legal for years, but says that, “Only in the last few years, did we see guys with loaded (AR-15s) march up and down the streets, trying to scare kids. I think we, as gun owners, need to take back the position of responsibility and make it known that that is not what responsible gun owners do.”

Even though he is a Democrat running for office in a largely Republican state, Busse reiterated that he feels as though most Montanans find value in similar things such as hunting, fishing and access to rivers. “This quality of life is the kind of thing that ties us together, whether we do it a little or a lot. I do it a lot, but I think people really care about it. I think the way this administration is mismanaging things is very, very dangerous for the things we care about.” Busse asserts that, across the state, he is seeing people who are fed up with Greg Gianforte’s policies. To that end, he believes that many Montanans, both Republican and Democrat, will see him as the best fit.

“I think it (the election) is important for people who care about the state more than national (political) boxes. I think people will stand up and vote against Gianforte and vote for me.”

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