Singer/songwriter Rob Quist was the Democratic candidate in the May 25 special election in Montana to decide who will represent the state in the House of Representatives after President Donald Trump chose Ryan Zinke as his Secretary of the Interior. Quist ran an ultimately unsuccessful campaign against businessman Greg Gianforte, who previously ran an unsuccessful campaign for Governor last year.
Thanks to anti-Trump sentiment, Quist was thought to have a real shoot at becoming the state’s first Democratic U.S. Representative since Pat Williams retired in 1997. The race took another strange turn the night before the election, as Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs accused Gianforte of “body slamming” him at an event in Bozeman. When approached by reporters just moments after it happened, Quist didn’t have a comment ready.
Ultimately, the incident didn’t stop Gianforte, who won with 51 percent of the vote.
The 69-year-old Quist is an unconventional political candidate. He’s never run for elective office before, spending the majority of his life in the music business. The Cut Bank-born musician has written songs performed by Loretta Lynn, Michael Martin Murphey and many others.
Quist has been married to his wife, Bonni Willows Quist, since 1979. They have two children, son Guthrie and daughter Halladay.
Here’s what you need to know about Quist.
1. Quist Is a Pro-Gun Democrat & Shot a Television With a Rifle in a Commercial
Quist found himself in trouble in January, when he suggested in an interview that he’d create a registry for automatic weapons. The National Republican Congressional Committee responded by releasing an ad that claimed Quist would establish a “gun registry.” So Quist defended himself with his own ad, in which he shot a television with a rifle.
“For generations, this old rifle has protected my family’s ranch,” Quist said in the commercial. “I won’t stand by while a millionaire from New Jersey tries to attack my Montana values.”
The “millionaire from New Jersey” Quist is referring to is Greg Gianforte, a New Jersey-raised software executive. In 2016, he ran for governor against incumbent Steve Bullock, but lost.
In an interview with Montana Public Radio (MTP), Quist insisted that he does not support new gun regulations and said the quote that got him in trouble was taken out of context.
“I was talking about fully automatic assault rifles, and they already are required to be registered,” Quist said, adding, “I think that I fully support Second Amendment rights and I think that the the laws that we have in the state are for the state of Montana are working.”
Quist did say he would support a mental health background check though. “We need to look at ways for for people who have mental health issues,” Quist told MTP. “You know I think that that’s something we should consider because you know that’s definitely going to be a factor that we’re going to have to face.”
2. Quist Really Did Perform at a Nudist Resort With His Daughter Halladay By His Side
In April, The Washington Free Beacon reported that Quist was a regular performer at the Sun Meadow Resort, a nudist resort in Worley, Idaho. The resort’s website once prominently featured a photo of Quist performing with his daughter, Halladay Quist, by his side.
The Free Beacon reported that Quist first performed there in 2009. He returned in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The photos of Quist showed that he and his daughter were fully clothed during their performances.
Quist’s team confirmed to USA Today that he really did perform at the venue multiple times and downplayed the importance of this.
“This is just a naked attempt to distract voters from (Republican rival) Greg Gianforte’s shady Russian investments,” Tina Olechowski, Quist’s communications director, told USA Today.
Of course, that’s not how the Republicans saw it. The story was pushed by the Republican National Committee in an email. “When all is stripped away, this washed-up hippie is just a naked embarrassment to the voters he’s running to represent,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jack Pandol wrote in an email.
3. Quist Claimed He Had Financial & Health Trouble in 2011, But He Really Performed 35 Times That Year
In March, the Billings Gazette reported that Quist’s claim that in court documents that he “suffered from significant health problems, making him unable to work” in 2011 doesn’t hold water. The Gazette reported that he actually performed at least 35 concerts that year, including a tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Mission Mountain Wood Band.
Quist claimed in a lawsuit against U.S. Bank, Stewart Title and Homestead Mortgage that he and his wife couldn’t make mortgage payments on their home because of his inability to perform and his wife’s sagging real estate business. The candidate previously told the Gazette that he had a botched gallbladder surgery in 1996 and has struggled with occasional health problems ever since.
In a response to the report, the Quist campaign said that the 35 performances in 2011 were not enough to save him from his debt. He used to perform over 100 shows a year when he was healthy.
“Any working Montanan can tell you how little Rob worked while he was having health problems was not enough to cover the catastrophic health care bills his family had to deal with,” Tina Olechowski, communications director for Quist, told the Gazette. “What is at stake in this election is whether Montanans will send Rob Quist to Congress, who understands the everyday struggles of hard-working Montana families, or a New Jersey multi-millionaire who is being backed by D.C. politicians that want to raise Montanans’ health care premiums by $300 a month and charge older Montanans five times more for insurance.”
4. Bernie Sanders Even Traveled to Montana to Support Quist, Calling his Campaign ‘Extraordinary’
Quist’s campaign gained national attention as he inched closer to Gianforte in polls. On the weekend before the election, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders traveled to Montana to show his support for Quist. Sanders appeared at rallies in Butte, Billings, Missoula and Bozeman.
“We are at a pivotal moment in American history,” Sanders said during a rally at Montana State University, report the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “Now is not the time to be demoralized, now is not the time for despair, now is the time to fight back.”
Sanders said that, if Quist won, he could “change the priorities that currently exist” in Congress. He praised Quist as a “man of the people,” noting that, “What he has done in the last couple months has been extraordinary.”
“We are in a fight for the soul of Montana,” Sanders added. “Stand up and defend her like a lady that we honor and respect.”
Quist has earned the support of other big names, too. On May 24, he posted a video he received from actor Michael Keaton, who has a home in Montana.
5. Quist Supports Single-Payer Healthcare & Called the American Health Care Act a ‘ax Cut for Millionaires’
Quist strongly supports implementing a single-payer health care system, where residents pay taxes to cover healthcare costs of all residents. He has also said he doesn’t support the American Health Care Act, which Republicans passed in the House to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“No Montanan would vote for this bill,” Quist said in a statement to Montana Public Radio. “[Gianforte is] all for de-funding Planned Parenthood, which this bill does. Montana deserves a Congressman who will speak out when something as disastrous as this bill that will raise healthcare costs for working Montanans.”
Quist has called the AHCA is a “tax cut for millionaires,” a href=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/05/19/montana-democrat-closes-with-health-care-message-in-closely-watched-congressional-race/?utm_term=.63a8676e6aa2″ target=”_blank”>notes the Washington Post. He has also released several campaign ads about health care, including one where he makes the case that health care costs are behind the debts he’s faced.
“We’re all thankful to be here,” Quist says in another ad. “Greg Gianforte says he’s thankful for the new health-care bill, the one that eliminates protections for preexisting conditions and raises premiums on every Montanan who has one.”