Here is yet another profile of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer:
Five Minutes With Brian Schweitzer
The Washington Post, America’s most influential political Bible and occasional newspaper, recently quoted Brian Schweitzer this way: "You know, if John Kerry could do what I do, he'd be president."
That kind of language might be considered bragging in some quarters if it weren’t true. The cattle ranching, mint farming, first-term governor of Montana is a fast learner who got his backside kicked in his first try at political office, a run at the Senate in 2000. Four years later, he shocked the Democratic power elite when he won the Montana governorship by 4 points while Kerry was losing the state to Bush by a 20 point landslide.
Landslide, hell. Let’s call it an avalanche of historic proportions. Heat sensors, helicopters and a dozen St. Bernards couldn’t have found Kerry under the Montana snow pack. The difference in vote count between Schweitzer and Kerry was astounding in a general election where tenths of a percentage point was the norm. Suddenly, Hillary wanted to be his best friend.
Here’s what he told the Post’s Blaine Harden about that first political try. "In politics, it doesn't matter what the facts are. It matters what the perceptions are. It is the way you frame it." In politics, especially states like Montana, he explained, “it’s important to be likable, be self-deprecating, don't be a know-it-all using a lot of big words."
It’s a lesson that seems to escape 21st century Democrats everywhere, much to the delight of the Republican party.
Montana is a ranching state that has an innate distrust for the big East and I’m not talking about the college sports conference. The folks of Big Sky Country (or is it “The last best place?”) tend to cover their hip pocket - the side with the wallet, not the side with the tin of Skoal - and slowly back out of the room when they hear a politician talking with an Eastern accent. They reacted with a speedier retreat, almost a stampede, when John Kerry got anywhere near the state during his campaign.
Schweitzer believes the best way to frame an issue in Montana is to get horses and guns into the picture. Maybe a mule or two in the background would help, a lesson learned after he lost his Senatorial campaign when he discovered a significant percentage of Montana men “are mule-headed, unwilling to change their minds on issues, even when presented with information showing that their views are not supported by facts.”
It was the male gender gap that cost him the Senate post. Polls showed that he won among the ladies but lost the farm when the men of Montana stepped into the voting booth. So he started doing ads John Wayne style - sitting on a horse, often with a rifle in hand. All he needed was an eye patch and a bottle of redeye and he could have been Rooster Cogburn, a character with true grit.
Explaining his approach to male voters, he said, "Ninety percent of them don't ride horses and many of them don't shoot a gun, but my ads said visually that I understand Montana. My gender gap disappeared. I think I have just summed up why Democrats lose elections."
He’s not afraid to shoot his rifle, either – the rhetorical firearm, that is. He hit Alberta cattlemen hard on the trade issue, threatening to slow down the flow of Canadian animals through his state after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously countermanded Montana Judge Cebull’s border closure order and re-established cattle trade. Not trusting the USDA to do its job, Schweitzer said he would require the state’s vets to check every animal. Alberta’s premier, Ralph Klein, followed up on Schweitzer’s declaration of a renewed border war by inviting him to party with an annoyed group of provincial cattlemen during their centennial celebration last month. Schweitzer quickly accepted.
Not content with firing a shot across international borders, Schweitzer called USDA officials “a bunch of stooges” that were in bed with the big four meat packers. He fired this verbal volley at the boys in Washington: "All I said was Montana will watch the regulators and the USDA became unglued because we were going to require that they actually do their jobs.”
Schweitzer yelled long and loud when the feds, perhaps reacting to that political flesh wound, temporarily shut down Ranchland Packing in Butte for violating sanitation standards. He saw it as a cause-and-effect; the USDA denied it, of course. The plant quickly reopened and Gary Wold, Ranchland’s owner, acknowledged Schweitzer’s political clout in the issue when he said "Montana is being singled out, and we circled the wagons here and got to where there's enough pressure on them (the USDA)."
From his command post in Helena, Schweitzer is definitely an influential man in the cattle business. Politically speaking, he’ll have a voice in the national scene when it comes time to nominate the next Democratic presidential candidate. It’s time to spend five minutes with the new man in the national power elite.
Q - You're from a ranching background. Can you give us a little bit of history on the Schweitzer family?
A - Ranching is a big part of my family history, and it continues to shape the way I live and do business. Both sets of my grandparents homesteaded in north central Montana near the Canadian border. Following in their footsteps, my parents made their living in agriculture as well, expanding their operation in the 1950’s when they moved to Geyser, Montana. They raised primarily Registered Hereford cattle and a few grain crops like wheat and barley. In the late 60's, my parents became leaders in the Simmental industry after having the first Simmental calf born in the USA. I’ve been in the cattle industry my whole life. I’ve exported American cattle, semen and embryos around the world. I understand free and fair trade issues.
Q - What do you do to relax when you're not in Helena or battling the Feds?
A - I don’t have much free time, but I have been able sneak in a couple of fishing trips on some of the streams near Helena. Now and again, I make it back to the ranch with my wife, kids and border collies, but as you can imagine there is plenty work to be done there too.
Q - You took the governorship in one of the reddest states in the country. The lone member of the House of Representatives is the far-right Denny Rehberg, and Montana's senators include an ultra-conservative Republican and a conservative Democrat who many consider a Republican in disguise. How did you pull off such a huge political coup?
A - It was not an easy campaign, but I worked very hard and traveled to all 56 Montana counties more than once. In each community, I would head right to where people were gathered, usually the local coffee shop, and listen. Folks from all corners of Montana and all walks of life told me their concerns and their ideas to improve government. I can tell you one thing - the people of Montana are not concerned about democrats or republicans, right or left. They are worried about quality education for their children, affordable healthcare and good paying jobs that will keep their families near them here in Montana. People in Montana want to make sure we have clean places to hike, fish and hunt for generations to come. That’s what we spent our time talking about, the issues that Montanans were concerned with and how we could ensure that government was a help, not a hindrance.
Q - Despite your outspoken position against importing Canadian cattle, your neighbors to the north still invited you to help celebrate their Centennial. How warm was your welcome in Alberta?
A - I love Alberta, heck, my wife was born in Calgary. I had a great visit to Alberta and I was honored to help them celebrate their centennial. I took some time to visit with Premier Klein about the border and cattle imports and we had a good discussion. He understands that I am committed to the ranchers and consumers of Montana and that we will take every precaution available to us to protect Montanans and the Montana cattle industry. I assured Premier Klein that Montana's Department of Livestock will inspect cattle imported into Montana from Canada in compliance with the USDA rule, nothing more and nothing less. If the USDA won’t do their job, we’ll do it for them. It’s important to note that cattle, goats, hogs, sheep and horses cannot be exported from Montana to Alberta. I’ll say that again, Montana is NOT ALLOWED to export livestock to Canada. The border has been used for decades to stem the flow of Montana cattle into Canada on weak health arguments. Alberta cattleman who criticize Montana’s inspection regime is like the pot calling the kettle black. The Premier assured me he would work toward opening the border North for Montana cattle, not just south into Montana. Premier Klein is a good man and I think I was able to explain my position and my commitment to the producers and consumers of Montana. I’ll be back in Alberta again and I look forward to it.
Q - The rumors persist that you might be tempted by the national stage. What circumstances would make a presidential bid a likely proposition?
A - I already have the best job in America and live in the greatest place on the plane.
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