|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.|
The Democrats' Best Shot: Brian Schweitzer for Governor of Montana
Keefe-Feldman, Mike. "The 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 mother.
Brian Schweitzer sets his sights on the governor’s office armed with energy, ideas and empathy– and no political experience.
“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 areas.
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 Mountain Lodge.
“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 candidate’s farmland.
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 them.”
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 each year.”
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 Schweitzer’s lapel.
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 moderate
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 firm handshakes.
“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 their cities.”
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 the camera.
“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 try it.”
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 now.”
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 us?’
“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 cut.
“But you don’t get that up front,” Schweitzer says.
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 the candidate.
“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, shows character.
“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 should be.
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 on Schweitzer.
Reprinted with permission of the Missoula Independent.