HELENA, Mont. – Dinosaurs have roared into Montana's race for governor with a renowned paleontologist who consulted with Steven Spielberg on the "Jurassic Park" movies saying the Republican candidate would spend taxpayer money on private schools that teach creationism and mislead children about how old the Earth is.
A new television ad features former Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner saying candidate Greg Gianforte thinks the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Horner says Gianforte supports using taxpayer money to fund "private schools that obscure the truth about dinosaurs and the age of the Earth."
"He'll say I'm attacking his religion — I'm not," Horner says in the ad. "We just need to make sure that our kids learn the truth. I'd think twice about voting for Greg Gianforte."
Gianforte, a Bozeman technology entrepreneur who is making his first run for political office, is in a tight race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. Gianforte campaign spokesman Aaron Flint on Wednesday called the ad silly and said it misrepresents Gianforte's strong support of public schools and teachers.
"From his personal support of CodeMontana, computer science in every high school, support for more trades education and more — Greg is proposing increasing investments in our public schools once he's elected governor," Flint said.
Gianforte does not have an opinion on the Earth's age, Flint said. Regarding Gianforte's views on evolution, Flint forwarded a comment made last year by Gianforte in which he said, "I believe young people should be taught how to think, not what to think, and a diversity of views are what should be presented."
The ad is funded by a newly formed political action committee called Montanans for Truth in Public Schools. It aired over the weekend on broadcast and cable news channels in the Billings, Bozeman and Missoula markets.
The committee's treasurer, Adrian Cohea, said the group is concerned that Gianforte would promote teaching creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution.
"The purpose of the group is to educate the public about Ginaforte's desire to use public dollars to fund private schools that may be teaching methodologies in evolution that are at odds with scientific consensus," Cohea said.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show the group is funded by 12 donors. Its two largest donors are Billings television broadcasting pioneer Joe Sample and Helena real estate developer Alan Nicholson.
Gianforte has steadfastly refused to talk about his religion, and it has not emerged as a major issue in the campaign. He attends and helped build an expansion to Grace Bible Church in Bozeman and has donated millions of dollars to religious organizations in the U.S. and in Africa, according to tax records released by Gianforte last year.
He also funded an expansion to the Christian school his children attended, Petra Academy, and his foundation has donated at least $2.3 million to help students afford tuition at Montana private schools.
The tax records show Gianforte's foundation also donated $290,000 to a museum that holds the creationist view that humans and dinosaurs coexisted.
Horner, one of the world's best-known dinosaur researchers, left Montana State University's Museum of the Rockies over the summer. Michael Crichton based the character Alan Grant on Horner in the 1990 book "Jurassic Park," and Steven Spielberg brought Horner on as a technical adviser on all of the "Jurassic Park" movies.
Horner declined to comment Wednesday, saying the ad speaks for itself. In an interview with The Associated Press in May, Horner dismissed creationism as "pseudo-science."
"A lot of times people say creation science is a science and of course we know it isn't because science is a process, not a product," Horner said then. "We find physical evidence for something and we test it, we test to see whether we can demonstrate that it's wrong. And creation science, or pseudo-science, does exactly the opposite."