The Montana Broadcasters Association, along with the Greater Montana Foundation hosted the first live gubernatorial debate at Big Sky early Sunday morning.

The event, broadcast live on several TV networks and over the Northern Broadcasting Network was exactly 58 minutes long, and featured three prominent TV news anchors on the panel. Julie Weindel from NBC Montana, Jay Kohn with the Montana Television Network and Becky Hillier from ABC Montana.

Each candidate was allowed a two minute opening, and a three minute closing statement. Bullock won the coin flip and chose to make the final closing statement, so Republican Gianforte went first.

Gianforte began by reminding the audience that he is a businessman and not a 'career politician'.

"My wife and I started a business in out home, Right Now Technologies, that eventually became Bozeman's largest commercial employer, with an average wage of nearly $90,000 a year," Gianforte began. "Unfortunately, our state is mired in 49th place in the country in wages, and dead last for our kids, and sadly, they're our state's most precious export."

In his opening statement, the incumbent. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock fired his own first economic salvo.

"We've made great steps in our first three and a half years in the governor's office," Bullock said. "But, we still have a long way to go. More people are working in the state of Montana than ever before in our state's history, with 20,000 new jobs created in the past three and a half years.Wages are the sixth fastest growing the country. Our economy is the fifth fastest growing, with manufacturing growing twice as fast as the national average."

And, so it went for the next 50 minutes, with each side taking jabs at the other.

Bullock criticized Gianforte for filing suit against the state over stream access, while Gianforte countered that Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks agreed that Gianforte's claims against the sate were correct.

Other topics included immigration, gun control, Montana's energy future, equal pay for women, sales and resort taxes, and infrastructure funding.

On that topic, Gianforte accused Bullock of 'flip-flopping'.

"The exact bill he vetoed in 2015, is now the one he is proposing," Gianforte said, staring straight into Governor Bullock's eyes. "so, my question for him, is 'Why the flip-flop on that one, Governor?"

Closing statements were condensed versions of both men's campaign platforms.

At the close, both men met for a very brief handshake for the cameras.

Gianforte has never held public office, while Bullock, an attorney, served as Montana's Attorney General before becoming governor.

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