|Brian Schweitzer formerly farmedmint
for toothpaste companies, but says mint farming has mainly been
outsourced to China. Nowadays, the farmer harvests alfalfa and
winter wheat on his Whitefish ranch. He also owns ranches in
Bigfork and Hot Springs.
Best Shot: Brian Schweitzer for Governor of Montana
Democrats' Best Shot: Brian Sweitzer for Governor
of Montana." Missoula Independent,
28 October 2004.
Electronic mail message from Kathy Mangold, Illinois,
November 3, 2004
My first cousin, Brian Schweitzer, will most likely be the newly
elected Governor of Montana. Brian is the grandson of Michael
and Franziska (Schwahn) Schweitzer, who originally came from Strassburg,
Kutschurgan District, Russia. They homesteaded in Goldstone, Montana,
near the Canadian border, in 1912.
A fairly accurate (in my opinion) portrayal of Brian is found
in the linked article below (basically a reporter followed Brian
for a day on the campaign) - notice that in a third of the pictures,
Brian (or at least his hands) is a blur, which is not surprising
with his energetic disposition.
Another famous family connection - Franziska (Schwahn) Schweitzer
was a younger sister of Christina (Schwahn) Welk, Lawrence Welk's
Brian Schweitzer sets his sights on the governor’s
office armed with energy, ideas and empathy– and no political
“This is important, what I’m
doing right here,” says Democratic gubernatorial candidate
Brian Schweitzer on Thursday, Oct. 7. As he says it, he’s
not preparing for the next night’s debate against Bob Brown
in Missoula. He’s not working on the speech he’ll deliver
to the Montana League of Cities and Towns later in the day. Instead,
he’s washing his hands in a men’s room sink at Whitefish’s
Grouse Mountain Lodge.
“I’m going to shake more hands than anyone else,”
Schweitzer says. “I’ll shake more hands in the first
30 minutes of the day than Brown will shake in a whole day.”
Indeed, Schweitzer shakes the hand of nearly everyone who crosses
his path, and even swerves to meet those who might slip by. As he
enters the Grouse Mountain Lodge to meet with the board of the Montana
Equipment Dealers Association, he first darts around the dining
room of the lodge like a pinball, shaking the hands of everyone
having lunch. Half of them aren’t even from Montana, but Schweitzer
doesn’t let that stop him. Instead, he leaves the tourists
with a message: “Spend some money while you’re here.
We need it.” On this day, Schweitzer doesn’t ask a single
person he meets for their vote. Instead, he simply introduces himself
and assumes, probably rightly so, that the “vote for me”
bit is implied. Schweitzer’s opponent, Republican Secretary
of State Bob Brown, is running on his résumé after
three decades of state government experience. But with Montana’s
wages the lowest in the nation, Schweitzer is banking on the insight
that experience doesn’t mean what it used to in the Treasure
State. Judging by the most recent poll—which shows Schweitzer
with a 48 to 43 percent lead over Brown—he might be right.
And though he has no political experience beyond a near-miss Senate
campaign against Conrad Burns in 2000, Schweitzer has three aces
in the hole: ideas, energy and a natural ability to relate to people,
which is ultimately what campaigning—if not necessarily governing—is
all about. Those three aces have made Schweitzer the Great Democratic
Hope in a state that hasn’t had a Democrat in the governor’s
office since 1988.
The kid from Geyser
Brian Schweitzer’s casual attire screams “populist.”
On the day of the Independent’s ride-along with the candidate,
he wears a dress shirt, the collar unbuttoned, blue jeans, black
leather boots and a matching black leather belt. In short, he looks
like a farmer and rancher from the Flathead, which is in fact what
he is. It’s not so much Schweitzer’s clothing that puts
those he meets at ease, however, nor is it the jolly circle of a
face that ought to make him a shoo-in for the part of Santa Claus
in about 25 years. It’s the fact that he seems to have a story
people can relate to for almost every occasion.
At the Grouse Mountain Lodge, Schweitzer runs into a man from Geyser,
where Schweitzer grew up after being born in Havre in 1955. Instantaneously,
Schweitzer is commiserating with the fellow over the Geyser Gym’s
state of disrepair, and this seamlessly leads into a story about
Schweitzer’s high school football days.
“I made the team in Geyser,” he says. “Of course,
everybody made the team in Geyser,” since it is so small.
Schweitzer, who played tight end, goes on to recount a game in which
the quarterback broke his collarbone. The coach told Schweitzer
he’d be taking the next snap.
“So I got in the huddle and I realized the team was looking
for leadership. So I said, ‘Okay, so now what do we do?’”
The tale serves as a metaphor for how Schweitzer plans to run the
state. Over and over again, the Schweitzer campaign’s mantra
has been “listen to the people,” and if elected, it’s
a principal that Schweitzer plans to emphasize.
“I’m going to create a virtual suggestion box and every
month while I’m governor, I’m going to reward the state
employee who comes up with the best money-saving idea for more efficiency
in government with a $1,000 check and a medal,” he says. “We’re
going to institutionalize listening.”
But Schweitzer’s story is more interesting than the simple
tale of a kid from Geyser who grew up to own farmland and then ran
for office. He’s got a master’s degree in soil science
from Montana State University. He married his college sweetheart,
a woman from Billings named Nancy Hupp, in 1981. After graduation,
Brian and Nancy traveled the world, working on irrigation projects
in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, including the development
of tens of thousands of acres of irrigated cropland in Saudi Arabia.
By 1986, Brian and Nancy had decided it was time to raise a family,
and they returned to Montana. Today, the Schweitzers have three
children, all of whom attend Whitefish High School: Ben, 18, Khai,
16, and Katrina, 14. Ben is autistic.
“He’s real smart,” Schweitzer says. “His
organizational skills just aren’t like ours.”
Schweitzer says that he and Nancy had talked about Brian being
involved in a leadership position for some time.
“I’ve always had kind of an innate ability to lead,”
Schweitzer says, driving his gigantic 2004 Chevy Tahoe down the
road to his Whitefish KM Ranch, so named because the Kalispell Mercantile
originally owned it. Schweitzer tried to put that innate ability
to use in his 2000 race against Conrad Burns, the incumbent Montana
Republican senator, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Schweitzer
started out as something of an “also ran” candidate,
but drew considerable attention to his campaign through the publicity
generated when he took busloads of senior citizens to Canada to
buy cheaper prescription drugs. Though he lost, Schweitzer received
47 percent of the vote and was instantly catapulted from an unknown
to a household name in Montana politics.
A new bull moose
After passing several barns, rumbling along KM Ranch Road, Schweitzer
points to his ranch in the distance and notices that someone has
come to fill his propane tanks, which sit beside Schweitzer’s
home, planted on a corner of 500 acres of alfalfa and winter wheat
pastures. He owns other 400-acre parcels in Hot Springs and Bigfork
and makes sure to emphasize each when talking to residents of those
Schweitzer says that his close-but-no-cigar Senate campaign of
2000 taught him an important lesson: Money matters.
|(above) On the air during
Kalispell radio station KOFI’s “Coffee Talk”
with Wendy Ostrom Price, Schweitzer tells the listening audience,
“Eleven governors have already said they’ll allow
Canadian medicine into the U.S. If you elect me, there will
be 12. The suggestion is that we ought to sit on our hands while
people are being gouged. Not this governor.”
(below) “I’ll shake more hands in the first 30 minutes
of the day than Brown will shake in a whole day,” Schweitzer
says. Here, the Democrat meets briefly with the board of the
Montana Equipment Dealers Association, after greeting every
single diner in the dining room of Whitefish’s Grouse
“What happened in 2000 is [Conrad Burns] outspent me about
four to one,” he says. “He started running negative
ads against me on Labor Day and I just didn’t have the resources
to respond. I knew that if I was ever going to do this again, I’d
spend more time on the road, meet more people individually and raise
more money so that I wouldn’t be in a position of being overspent.”
It has worked. In part by beginning his campaign cycle at the very
beginning of 2003, the Schweitzer campaign had raised just over
$1 million as of its last finance report, while Brown had raised
just over $700,000. What makes Schweitzer’s fund-raising efforts
even more impressive is that the campaign hasn’t accepted
a single cent of Political Action Committee—or PAC—money.
Instead, Schweitzer’s camp has collected more than 9,000 contributions
from individuals, a new Montana record.
As a result of his fund-raising style, Schweitzer says, “No
party has their finger on me, and obviously no lobbyist does. They
can put their arm around me all they want, and I’ll listen
to them, but no one group is going to be able to say, ‘Well,
remember how we helped you?’ I’m not a product of Helena
insiders, not by any stretch of the imagination.”
Schweitzer leads the way into his house, where his wife, Nancy,
doesn’t seem too thrilled that we are about to go try out
a new rifle that Schweitzer just bought and hasn’t yet fired.
When his wife isn’t around, Schweitzer says, “It seems
like women in Montana don’t understand that you need guns.
You need some guns, and the answer will usually be that you could
use some more. But it’s better off not to talk about guns
around the wife.” Moments later, in an open field adjacent
to his winter wheat crop just beginning to sprout below the topsoil,
Schweitzer points to the spot where he buried six dead cattle last
year before some bear cubs got to the carcasses and dug them up.
The hole they left is still clearly visible in the ground of the
It’s Schweitzer’s farming heritage that he thinks is
going to deliver the eastern part of the state for him.
“I’m a farmer and a rancher and they are, too,”
he says. “They’re just sick and tired of people who
don’t understand what they do and they know that I understand
Schweitzer opens the box containing his new gun and sets the cardboard
up against a tree as a target. Before his first shot, he relieves
himself behind the Tahoe, the same one that ignited a firestorm
of Republican criticism when Schweitzer bought it and another vehicle
in Idaho, not Montana. The controversy even spawned a Kalispell
car dealership billboard featuring a cartoon character saying, “I
almost bought in Idaho.”
“That’s one thing about being governor,” Schweitzer
says, doing his business. “I won’t be able to take a
leak in my back yard anymore.”
Then Schweitzer and two reporters took turns shooting his new semi-automatic
rifle, a .22 with a banana clip. As soon as the first shot is fired,
one of Schweitzer’s three border collies, Pica, runs for the
house, away from the blasts. Shooting on his ranch, then digging
in the dirt to take a quick survey of his fledgling crop, Schweitzer
doesn’t fit the stereotype of a governor, or even a gubernatorial
hopeful. Were he wearing a suit and tie, the whole situation would
seem ridiculous. But it doesn’t, for one simple reason: Schweitzer
has honed a political image that’s a throwback to an old “don’t
make ’em like they used to” style. In political essence,
Schweitzer is not a Democrat, but a Republican born several decades
too late. He’s basically a bull moose Republican, in that
he believes in civic responsibility, government accountability,
economic opportunity and conservation both fiscally and environmentally.
However, the political landscape has shifted so dramatically since
the ideological likes of Ronald Reagan reformed the Republican party
in the ’80s that Schweitzer is now a more comfortable fit
under the Democratic label.
When I mention that Schweitzer’s approach seems akin to that
of Teddy Roosevelt, his eyes light up with a curious twinkle.
“Now you’re talking,” he says. “Ted Roosevelt
was the greatest president in the history of this country.”
Schweitzer sees parallels between what Roosevelt stood for and what
he himself stands for.
“T.R. looked around and said, ‘You know what, capitalism
doesn’t work under monopolies.’ So it was under T.R.
that we created all the anti-trust stuff and broke the banking,
oil and steel monopolies. He was also the father of the conservation
movement. He came out West here and said, ‘You know what,
this is some of the most spectacular real estate on the planet and
it ought to belong to the public.’”
Today, Schweitzer says, “We have more concentration in fewer
companies in the meat-packing industry than we did in oil, steel
and banking in T.R.’s days. Those of us who raise cattle and
produce crops, we’ve got no shot, because it’s a monopoly
with these food processors. And then our own Congress, which seems
to be bought and paid for by the special interests, they do these
nutty things like passing NAFTA, where they say things like ‘Free
trade is good, unless it’s cheaper Canadian pharmaceuticals.
Then it’s bad.’ Well, that’s because on average
every member of Congress gets $319,000 from the pharmaceutical industry
It’s Schweitzer’s “get ’er done,”
approach that may ultimately win him the election. At a fund-raiser
in Bozeman, Teddy Roosevelt IV, who owns a ranch in Montana and
is the former co-chairman of the League of Conservation Voters,
approached Schweitzer. Roosevelt, a Republican, pinned a bull moose—Teddy
Roosevelt’s symbol of his break with a Republican party that
he felt had become too indebted to corporate interests—on
Like Roosevelt, to Schweitzer “conservatism” means,
as he often says, squeezing the most juice possible out of every
government orange, and this approach—along with his pick of
Republican John Bohlinger as his running mate—may explain
why twice during the Independent’s day with Schweitzer, citizens
approached the candidate to tell him that he’ll be the first
Democrat they’ve voted for in decades.
Schweitzer looks at his ranch in the rearview mirror of the Tahoe
as he pulls away, ready for the day’s next event.
“Yeah, Ted Roosevelt. I can’t call him my mentor, but
I can say that I’d be satisfied if when my days are done,
they said, ‘You know, old Schweitzer, he was a real T.R.’”
got notebooks full of ideas,” Brian Schweitzer says in
his closing statement during a debate with Secretary of State
Bob Brown in the Montana Theatre of the University of Montana
in Missoula on Friday, Oct. 8.
(below) Schweitzer tosses a football outside of Whitefish campaign
headquarters while being briefed by staff prior to an appearance
before the Montana League of Cities and Towns. “I’m
a policy wonk. I can pick this stuff up like that,” Schweitzer
says with a snap of his fingers.
If Brian Schweitzer wins the governor’s office, it won’t
be because of his experience. It’ll be because of hard work.
The man does not stop moving. From the moment he meets up with the
Independent at KOFI for a morning radio interview in Kalispell,
he is a ball of kinetic energy that seems to jolt those around him.
At KOFI, he bounds up the stairs just in time to offer a couple
“I’m going to need water, a pen and some paper,”
he says, and then he’s off and running. The interview with
KOFI’s Wendy Ostrom Price is a mile-a-minute rampage of ideas.
Schweitzer rapidly motions with his hands to illustrate points even
though the radio audience can’t see him. Between Ostrom Price
and listener call-ins, Schweitzer quickly pinpoints his positions
against a sales tax, for a tobacco tax, for cheaper Canadian drugs
and against both gay marriage and medical marijuana with the expeditious
thud of a young child playing one of those carnival “whack-a-mole”
games. After a half-hour, Ostrom Price turns to the studio’s
technical manager and slips him a piece of paper.
“Can I skip the break and get out early? If so, what time?”
it reads. When the interview is finally over, everyone in the room
looks exhausted. Except Schweitzer.
“That’s as intense as we’ve been in a while,”
the technician says, taking a deep breath.
Energy isn’t just a positive for the Schweitzer campaign.
It’s a necessity. When you’re running for the highest
office in the state without much in the way of a résumé,
there’s only one way to win: be there. Where’s “there?”
Everywhere. And when you show up, you’d better know what the
hell you’re talking about, which means waking up at 4:30 a.m.
every morning, as Schweitzer does, to read every online newspaper
in the state of Montana over two eggs and two pieces of bacon that’ll
keep him going until dinner (Schweitzer’s metabolism mirrors
his campaign pledge of squeezing a lot from a little). “Being
there” means offering as warm a welcome to voters at the end
of a long day as at the start. Brian Schweitzer does this on a diet
of bottled seltzer water and adrenaline.
Even as he makes mental notes during a mid-morning briefing with
his optimistic young staff, Schweitzer doesn’t stop moving.
Instead, he shoots hoops and throws a football around while the
staff peppers him with talking points. Schweitzer responds with
quick affirmations between jump shots and hail marys. He writes
down six bullet-point headings on a piece of paper and an hour later
those six bullets become a half-hour speech at the Outlaw Inn in
Kalispell, where members of the Montana League of Cities and Towns
have gathered. The conference room is a lobbyist’s wet dream;
all the local players are there. It’s an important occasion
for Schweitzer because the room is filled with the mayors and the
city councilors whose opinions other voters will seek in local coffee
shops and post offices throughout the state. Schweitzer works the
room like a master. He’s been thrown out of nearly every Wal-Mart
in the state for campaigning in a store that doesn’t allow
solicitations of any kind, he claims, but here, he’s free
to be the natural candidate that he is. Schweitzer greets Larry
Bonderud, mayor of Shelby and president of the Montana League of
Cities and Towns, with a firm handshake. He jokes that he hasn’t
seen the mayor since the two got out of prison, later explaining
that just a few weeks ago Bonderud led him on a tour of Shelby’s
Crossroads Correctional Facility. Next he runs into Jim Magone,
mayor of Deer Lodge. Magone says he’s supporting Schweitzer
due to his personal character rather than his party affiliation.
“My dad is a die-hard conservative,” Bret Smelser,
mayor of Sidney, tells Schweitzer as the candidate puts his arm
around him during the meet and greet. “But he was really impressed
with your 2000 campaign.”
By the time Schweitzer steps to the podium to actually deliver
his speech, he’s already shaken the hands and remembered the
names of more than half of the 300 or so people in the room. He
starts his speech by talking about a “big difference”
between himself and his running mate, John Bohlinger. Of course,
everyone assumes he’s going to bring up their difference of
party, the split-ticket factor, but instead he refers to their college
days, saying, “He’s a Grizzly and I’m a Bobcat.”
The room laughs and Schweitzer is off to the races.
Schweitzer knows his audience. The local city officials in the
Outlaw Inn get “a lot less about health insurance and prescription
drugs” because they already know his plan.
“They’re tuned-in people,” he says. “They
want to hear what I’m going to do as governor to work with
Schweitzer tells them that he will be a “deal closer,”
a governor who will walk into boardrooms in New York City and ask
companies directly, “What do we need to do to get you to do
your business in Montana as opposed to somewhere else?”
Afterward, he paraphrases this message for a local network affiliate
in Kalispell, emphasizing the term “deal closer” for
“I know she wants me to say whatever I need to say in 12
seconds,” Schweitzer says. “And I’ll deliver.”
He does, and he does it well—so well, in fact, that it’s
easy to completely forget that there is even such a thing as a Schweitzer
campaign strategy, that this is a man with something at stake, not
just a random Joe who wants to bring up some ideas he came up with
one day while planting crops.
“People have called me a natural from the beginning,”
Schweitzer says. “So maybe it’s just innate.”
Maybe, but it’s still got to be hard to deal with the “lack
of experience” charge, right?
Not for a natural.
Schweitzer points to his business experience, much like George
W. Bush did when running for governor of Texas. The difference is
that Schweitzer actually has more than dry holes to show for himself.
Schweitzer got out of college carrying approximately $20,000 in
loans. Today, he owns three ranches and has the mortgage paid off
on two of them. On his Whitefish ranch, Schweitzer says, he still
has about $200,000 left to pay, but notes that the value of the
property is currently well more than that sum.
“My operation is completely paid for by the crops I grow
and what I sell them for,” he says. “I’ve grown
a lot of different crops. Whatever the market calls for, I’ll
In addition, Schweitzer has also accumulated financial success,
although he won’t pin a number on it, by selling cattle—both
live and frozen embryos—to South America and Europe.
“The bottom line is that I’ve been signing the front
side of a paycheck since I was 24,” Schweitzer says, and the
candidate gets more than a little miffed when Republicans holler
that his business experience isn’t enough to qualify him for
the job of governor of Montana.
“When people say, ‘You know, you probably ought to
have served for 20 years in the Legislature before you ran for governor,’
well, I didn’t hear them say that when Ronald Reagan ran for
governor. I didn’t hear them say that when George W. Bush
ran for governor, and I certainly didn’t hear them say it
when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor,” Schweitzer says.
“It’s a question of leadership skills and ideas, not
where you’ve been sharing your oxygen.
I’ve got an idea
|Before an interview with
a local network affiliate in Kalispell, Schweitzer says, “I
know she wants me to say whatever I need to say in 12 seconds.
And I’ll deliver.”
All the political skills and energy in the world are meaningless
unless a candidate has relevant ideas. While it’s unclear
how many of them he’ll actually be able to see to fruition,
one thing that Brian Schweitzer does have in abundance is ideas,
from the large (allowing the reimportation of cheaper Canadian pharmaceuticals
to give senior citizens prescription relief) to the small (suggesting
that the Legislature seat itself alphabetically, rather than by
party, to create a mood of bipartisanship).
He talks about creating more value-added products in Montana with
the Montana League of Cities and Towns.
“How about making fertilizer out of natural gas, furniture
out of the fiberboard in Columbia Falls? We’re the only U.S.
supplier of platinum and palladium, which you need to make a catalytic
converter. You need that, and yet we make none here, and instead
ship all that to New Jersey.”
In order to get that kind of an industry started, Schweitzer proposes
more state funding to send representatives to trade shows where
states show industries how they might thrive by working in the rep’s
state. He suggests paying for this effort by imposing a “corporate
responsibility fee” for companies earning more than $20 million
in Montana, such as Wal-Mart.
Another piece to Schweitzer’s job creation puzzle is investing
in Montana’s colleges of technology so that when a company
asks if the state has people ready to step into jobs, the state
can answer “yes.” It’s a long-term strategy, and
Schweitzer is counting on Montanans’ ability to think beyond
the next four years in promoting this plan.
“Challenging expenses” is yet another Schweitzer campaign
mainstay. The farmer points to Arkansas, which has saved money by
buying state vehicles with 15,000 miles on them from leasing companies
instead of new ones off the lot.
“They asked that question in Arkansas. We haven’t asked
it here,” Schweitzer says. “I’m asking it right
Schweitzer also proposes turning Montana grains into ethanol and
talks about working with Paul Williamson, the dean of the University
of Montana’s College of Technology, on hydrogen power.
“I see that as Montana’s future,” Schweitzer
says. “We have the cheapest source of hydrogen—that’s
our coal. We have the platinum and palladium to make fuel cells.
No place else in the world has that. And below our coal field we
have substantial resources of dry sandstone and limestone, so we
could pump the carbon that is created back into the earth without
creating greenhouse gasses. Now those are legitimate solutions.”
It isn’t always clear exactly how Schweitzer will implement
all his ideas, but the general thrust seems to be that he will just
“get it done” by being an “activist governor.”
Schweitzer seems to think that merely by having the governor walk
into that New York City boardroom to be the
“deal closer” with companies, he’ll be able to
bring home that bacon. Some might consider it an idealistic, perhaps
overly simplistic, worldview. Then again, when Schweitzer’s
opponent is proposing the exact same Republican measures—tax
breaks to attract corporate investors, turning regulatory requirements
over to industry, reliance on natural resource extraction—that
put Montana where it is today, there are those who would argue that
a little idealism and creativity is just what the Treasure State
needs. And in seeing the way people warmly respond to Schweitzer’s
overwhelming tide of energy and “can-doism,” who’s
to say his plan of simply showing up won’t work?
The governor of all Montana
“These guys are probably mostly for Brown,” Schweitzer
says, parking his SUV in front of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company’s
(CFAC) plant. Bob Brown served as a lobbyist for CFAC from 1998
through 2000. The Swiss corporation Glencore took over the company
in 1999, and layoffs have since occurred in 2000 and 2003, cutting
the number of plant workers from almost 600 to 150.
Wind ruffles spreadsheets and maps inside a CFAC classroom as Schweitzer
talks to about 30 of the 150 survivors of the CFAC layoffs. He knows
that they have watched their peers lose their jobs and are probably
concerned that their own jobs could be next, since the price of
aluminum remains down. With a story for every occasion, Schweitzer
reaches back to his days as a mint farmer, when he sold his mint
to toothpaste company Crest.
“My mint went on the spot market,” he says. “My
contract price was $15 or $16 a pound. One day, Crest says, ‘We’re
going to be offering you $6 a pound.’ That was because of
the big, broad shoulders of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart went to Crest and
said, ‘We sell 40 percent of all the Crest that you sell in
America through our Wal-Mart stores. We think you should lower the
price. If you don’t, we have a Korean company that’s
prepared to make something that looks and tastes exactly like Crest,
and we’re going to give them your shelf space. We don’t
have to carry you in our stores. So, would you like to work with
“So they sat down with them and found that the plastic tubes
for toothpaste cost 3 cents to make. Venezuela’s got cheap
labor and all the oil you need to make the tubes. Why not make them
down there? They went all the way down all the ingredients in a
tube of toothpaste and they said, ‘You know, this is crazy
contracting farmers in the Northwest to grow this mint. They have
a regulatory environment, regulations on the pesticides they can
use, their labor costs are higher. We’re in China already.
We can get you in touch with the agricultural community there and
they’ll do the job for you.”
The members of the CFAC union look at Schweitzer intently, waiting
for the end of the story.
“We were outsourced. They sent our jobs to China,”
Schweitzer concludes. “So, you roll over and you make more
hay instead. But you folks don’t have that opportunity here.
You can’t just turn this into a copper plant.”
The tale may not have turned anyone in the room into a Schweitzer-voter,
but it did accomplish one major feat: It turned Brian Schweitzer
into a person who could relate to and understands their concerns,
not just another politician paying lip service.
Next, Schweitzer takes a huge leap, and for the first time in the
course of the day, makes a politically unwise move. He tells the
CFAC workers that he can try to help them out with the cost of electricity,
but that there may be little else he can do for them.
“I don’t and can’t control the world markets,”
Schweitzer says. “I’d love to see you grow, and I’d
be a smart politician if I said that the price of aluminum will
go up after my four years in office, but I can’t say that.
That’s probably what the other guy told you.”
What Schweitzer does say he can do echoes his pledge of “being
there.” He tells CFAC that he’d fly to Switzerland,
if necessary, in attempts to get a long-term commitment from Glencore.
He tells the CFAC men and women that he’d allow Glencore to
keep tax cuts, but only on a “pay as you go” basis,
meaning that every year Glencore upholds its end of the bargain
by providing good local jobs, the corporation would get its tax
“But you don’t get that up front,” Schweitzer
As the CFAC people file out the doors of the classroom to return
to work, talk is quiet and low. Some had come to ambush Schweitzer
but hadn’t heard what they’d been told to expect from
“Seems pretty sharp,” says one.
“Maybe too frank,” another replies.
Back in his truck, Schweitzer drives down Highway 2 toward Kalispell,
careful to obey the speed limit. The farmer admits that telling
CFAC workers he can’t help them aside from obtaining cheaper
electricity was probably not the most politically expedient move.
“It might be a gamble, but it’s just being honest,”
Schweitzer says. “Why not be honest? That’s what I’m
going to be.”
When a candidate is as savvy as Schweitzer, it’s often easy
to become jaded and assume that candidate is simply saying what
he needs to say to get elected. On some fronts, it seems that Schweitzer
does take the politically expedient stance. His position on gay
marriage, for example, seems particularly crafted not to upset anyone
too much. But hearing Schweitzer tell CFAC workers that he couldn’t
promise them the moon indicates that the bull moose does have some
integrity. That he even showed up at CFAC, well-defined Brown country,
“That was a tough crowd,” he says. “Almost none
of them came there wanting to support me. Maybe one or two did when
I left. Maybe none.”
I wondered why Schweitzer would spend his time going to CFAC when
the best he could hope for was one or two votes. Was he in such
an obsessive kinetic state that he simply couldn’t tolerate
an hour off?
Schweitzer supplied a different reason as he drove on to the next
event, a meeting with the Flathead Electric Cooperative.
“I’m going to be the governor of all of Montana,”
he says. “Just because you weren’t for me now doesn’t
mean that you’re not an important part of Montana’s
economy after I’m elected.”
It might be tempting for the Great Democratic Hope, even if he
is a bull moose at heart, to take a different stance, to say, “You
Republicans have had your turn, now get out of the way and let me
take the wheel.” But if you listen closely, that’s not
what Brian Schweitzer is saying. Instead, his idealistic belief
is that he can convince Montanans of all political stripes to join
in the huddle, just like back in his Geyser football days. It remains
to be seen what will happen if Schweitzer wins and the group in
that huddle has its own ideas about what Montana’s next play
Schweitzer puts a footnote on the tale of his unexpected rise to
quarterback in Geyser—the game “ended very badly”
he says, as did the rest of the season.
Anytime you talk change, you talk risk. The possibility of Brian
Schweitzer in the governor’s office, an idea man yet to be
field-tested, creates both a hope for positive change as well as
the possible peril of a tight end who can listen to his people in
the huddle, but simply wasn’t equipped to take over as quarterback.
Montana already knows what it will get with Bob Brown in the governor’s
office. If it wants something else, it may have to take a chance
Reprinted with permission of the Missoula Independent.