Washington, Sept. 17 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, has asked gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues. Greg Gianforte, a Republican seeking the governorship of Montana, responded to the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates for people with disabilities.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.
Montana currently has the twelfth highest percentage of employed people of disabilities (40.5 percent), compared with 77.7 percent of people without disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
Geographically, Montana is in an employment hotspot for people with disabilities. It is bordered by Wyoming and the Dakotas, three states who have some of the highest rates of employment in the country for people with disabilities. This gives Montana the opportunity to closely communicate and collaborate with its neighbors to identify and employ best practices and improve outcomes for people with disabilities.
Despite these positive numbers from Montana, the state will soon be undergoing a talent shortage and loss of employment as baby boomers retire and Montana’s economy evolves. There are almost 69,000 working-age people with disabilities in Montana and just under 60 percent of them are outside of the workforce. Many of those who are working are only working part time and/or are under-employed. A recent detailed study by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire shows the 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities are striving for work.
Furthermore, the gap in the labor force participation between people with and without disabilities is nearly 37.3 percent. While this is lower than 40 other states, this lack of employment for people with disabilities creates poverty, powerlessness and poor health. Polls and studies show that people with disabilities want the opportunity to have the dignity and independence that jobs provide.
While Gianforte did not answer each question individually, he sent a letter addressing several of the issues brought up in the questionnaire including employment and education. He also discussed his family foundation, which “has donated to a number of organizations that help persons with disabilities, such as Reach Out and Care Wheels that builds custom wheel chairs for children,” and his family business, where they “hired and promoted all different kinds of people, including a number of people with disabilities, based on one criteria: their ability to do the job.”
RespectAbility also has sent the questionnaire to the campaign of incumbent Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock, who is running for re-election. We will post his response when we receive it.
We are presenting Gianforte’s full letter below:
Thank you so much to reaching out to me on this important issue. With one in five Americans having some kind of disability, this is an issue that touches just about every family across Montana and the country.
Let me start by saying that my wife and I believe that to whom much is given, much is required, and we strongly believe that every person with a disability should have every opportunity to enjoy a high quality of life. Our family foundation has donated to a number of organizations that help persons with disabilities, such as Reach Out and Care Wheels that builds custom wheel chairs for children.
I’m also a businessman, not a career politician. In business, it’s imperative that you hire the best people for available jobs. At RightNow Technologies (the business my wife and I founded), we hired and promoted all different kinds of people, including a number of people with disabilities, based on one criteria: their ability to do the job. We made accommodations for employees with disabilities as needed.
When I’m governor, two of my primary focus areas will be education and jobs. I think these are areas that are vitally important to all Montanans, especially those with disabilities. These are also connected issues.
I believe that the goal in education should be to help every child reach their full potential. For students with disabilities, they need to be taught valuable skills just like anyone else. This is the great thing about technology, and why one of my primary goals is to get computer science into every high school. Particularly for students with physical disabilities, this provides a great skill that is in demand.
We also have to recognized that students with disabilities have special educational needs. This is why I supported a bill in our last session that would have allowed parents of special needs students to establish educational savings accounts. The ESA’s would give parents and students more options to find the right school for them in their community. Unfortunately, the current governor vetoed it.
If we get education right for persons with disabilities, then the job picture becomes a lot easier. If disabled people have skills that are in demand, they’ll be hired. That’s just good business.
As we all know, there is great dignity in having a job, and I fully support making reforms to our social safety net to remove perverse incentives that punish people for working. No one should have the rug pulled out from under them simply because they want to work and improve their situation.
Finally, as governor, my door will always be open to the ideas of all Montanans, including those with disabilities. I look forward to working with this community, hearing their ideas, and finding solutions that improve the lives of Montanans with disabilities.
Candidate for Governor of Montana
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.
The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president and has begun coverage of down ballot candidates. Coverage can be found at https://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.