HELENA, Montana — Technology entrepreneur Greg Gianforte said Tuesday he is considering running for Montana governor in 2016.
Gianforte's interview with The Associated Press is the Bozeman resident's first confirmation of the widespread speculation that he is mounting a challenge to incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Gianforte, 53, said he will confer with his primary adviser — his wife, Susan — before making a final decision. "It's a very big decision," he said.
He is a political newcomer, but his personal wealth and ties to U.S. Sen. Steve Daines could make him a top GOP contender.
Gianforte founded in 1997 RightNow Technologies, a software company that he sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.5 billion.
Gianforte is on a tour of 30 Montana cities and towns to promote telecommuting as a way of retaining college graduates and high-paying jobs in the state. He's planting what could be the seeds of a gubernatorial campaign by shaking hands and talking to people about his own move to Montana 20 years ago to build and manage computer technology companies.
"I owe my career to the fact that the Internet removed geography as a constraint to where you locate," Gianforte said. "For the last 20 years, I've been working on creating better jobs in Montana, and this telecommuting idea is just the next step in that plan."
Montana State University Billings political scientist Craig Wilson predicted Gianforte's wealth would be Democrats' first attack on the potential candidate. That barrier, Wilson said, is not insurmountable.
"This was not Heinz 57-inherited fortune," Wilson said. "It was a fortune he made in an industry Montana needs."
Gianforte has potential to be the wealthiest candidate for office dating back to the Copper Kings of early-1900s Butte, Wilson said.
He has invested some of his wealth in grants through the Gianforte Family Foundation that have benefited issues ranging from the arts to anti-abortion initiatives. He has been a major contributor to the conservative Montana Family Foundation, which Susan Gianforte chairs.