Schweitzer and Western Dems make American Prospect; V says sort of the same thing
The Mountain West has trended (to put it mildly) Republican in recent decades. But its progressive Democratic legacy is being rekindled. Nowhere is this happening more than here in Big Sky Country, where Brian Schweitzer, the newly elected Democratic governor, ran a full 15 points ahead of John Kerry as the Democrats took control of both the governor’s mansion and the Montana Legislature for the ﬁrst time since 1989. ...Read the whole article, particularly the part where Celinda Lake says, "A lot of the West...is red on the outside, blue on the inside."
Brian Schweitzer is characteristic of a new wave of western progressives. “He presents himself as a problem solver, rather than in ideological terms,” says Lake, “but the policies are progressive and they build popular support for progressive government.” Since taking ofﬁce, Schweitzer has had a terriﬁc six months. In the legislative session, he steered through a tax increase on tobacco, the proceeds of which will subsidize health-insurance purchasing pools and lower the cost of prescription drugs, as well as a pioneering ethanol program that a coalition of greens, farmers, and ranchers had been pursuing in vain for nearly three decades. Under the new law, 10 percent of basic motor fuels consumed in Montana will have to be ethanol, distilled from grains. A byproduct of the process will produce feed for cattle ranchers.
The new law also provides for country-of-origin labeling to help farmers and ranchers, and will produce an estimated $250 million of new economic activity for Montana thanks to the ethanol reﬁning. Schweitzer deliberately picked a ﬁght with extractive-industry interests, which would rather see oil drilling in the pristine Front Range just north and east of here. The ethanol program was so popular with farmers that he was able to split the Republicans and force several to cross the aisle and support it. Schweitzer comes across as a pragmatist, but he’s also a canny partisan. The centerpiece of his program is a jobs and economic-development initiative.
Schweitzer is emblematic of a new kind of western politician who is both progressive and entrepreneurial. He inherited a failing family farm and turned it around by planting, of all things, mint. By researching and then efﬁciently serving an untapped market, he became a millionaire, and was able to enter politics as a farmer and small-business man as well as a progressive Democrat. He shrewdly allied himself with sportsmen, not just as a gun owner but as one determined to protect the ﬁshing and hunting environment. He was one of the ﬁrst politicians to lead prescription-drug bus trips to Canada. Campaigning statewide, Schweitzer lost a cliff-hanger election to Senator Conrad Burns in 2000, then prevailed by 18 percent in the 2004 governor’s race. Two progressive Montana Democrats, Senate President John Tester and State Auditor John Morrison, are jockeying to take on Burns, who is probably the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican in 2006.
Montana is also prime territory for a progressive Democratic resurgence because it remains a state where it’s possible to do politics retail. It takes only about 4,000 votes to win a seat in the Legislature, and $10,000 is an expensive race. Montanans are suspicious of big money in politics. This is still the kind of “small-d” democracy Jefferson had in mind.
And then go read V at Left in the West, who has some fascinating things to say about how Schweitzer is uniting unions and conservationists in an old-time Populist marriage:
One of the most depressing things I have seen happen in Montana is the move of conservation Democrats away from union Democrats, and I think that the future of Montana’s Democrats lies in reforging the old bonds between conservationists and unionists under the common flag of Populism. This is why the victory of Brian Schweitzer is such a big deal here. That is why Brian is such a good thing for the Democratic party even if runs with a Republican running mate for the rest of his life. Brian cares about the future of our party and I think that he is offering a strong hope of reforging the strengths of the party, but for some reason people still don’t seem to get it.Remember, this campaign for Schweitzer goes beyond just the Governor himself. It's a campaign to retake the West from Republican dominance. It's a campaign to promote the Western style of Democratic populism. More than anything, it's a campaign to promote honesty and integrity in American politics.
Conservationism is about people not places. It means being sure that people’s lives are not devoid of the beauty of nature and the necessity of the clean air and environment that it takes to stay healthy. It also means being able to hunt animals in parts of this state where you are positive that your quarry has watered in non-toxic streams and breathed in the same beautiful Montana air that you have.
The goals are the same for unions, simply put making the life of a worker fair and better. Whether by keeping the minimum number of workable hours manageable and the pay fair so that workers can support their families, or by being there to stand up against bosses united and not divided so that these and other workers’ rights don’t fall by the wayside, now or ever. The goals of both these groups boil down to one: we care about people, and damn it we care enough to fight for them from the bottoms of dank mines and on the tops of great mountains.