By K. T.
Section 4. Qualifications. A candidate for the legislature shall be a resident of the state for at least one year next preceding the general election. For six months next preceding the general election, he shall be a resident of the county if it contains one or more districts or of the district if it contains all or parts of more than one county. The Montana Constitution
Steve Gist is currently serving as the Representative for HD 25 in Great Falls. Gist’s filing with the Commissioner of Political Practices lists his residence as an address in the town of Cascade. He doesn’t live in the district he represents. Nothing unusual about that. State law allows any resident of Cascade County to run in a district which is entirely within the boundaries of the county. And, it is pretty common that individuals from a given county run in districts they don’t live in.
But this whole residency thing gets more complicated when you look into public records. True enough, Gist owns a couple residences in Cascade. He also owns one in Whitefish. The company he owns is a firefighting contracting company, Gist Enterprises LLC. The registered agent for that company is his spouse, Virginia Gist. The address of the company is in Whitefish. Interestingly, Steve Gist is registered to vote at his address in Cascade but has his absentee ballot sent to his Whitefish address. His wife Virginia (Ginny) is also registered to vote at the Whitefish address, and her Facebook page says she lives in Whitefish. In addition, the bank for his campaign is First Interstate Bank in Whitefish. So, let’s see, his wife lives in Whitefish, his business is located in Whitefish, he has his absentee ballot sent from Cascade County to Whitefish so he can vote. But for purposes of getting elected he says he lives in Cascade County? Hmmmm.
Aside from the ethical implications of skirting the law, let us tell you why this may be a bigger deal than you might think. Gist’s business is contracting to fight forest fires. That requires equipment. And, in fact, if you go to the Gist Enterprises Facebook page, you see pictures of guys fighting fires and numerous vehicles with Gist Enterprises signs on the doors. Presumably those vehicles are registered in the county where the business is located. That would be Flathead County. So, while he represents Great Falls in the Legislature, the county share of the tax revenue from his vehicles likely flows to Flathead County. Maybe he ought to run there. After all, that is where his spouse and business are located, and he owns a nice house there.
If Gist wins the election his qualification to serve should be investigated. If it is found that he has violated the constitutional residency requirement for legislators, he should be removed from office.