Monday, January 23, 2006

Brian Schweitzer to receive national attention -- scheduled to be on "60 Minutes"

Them city slickers in New York have come all the way from the canyons in Manhattan to pursue to story on Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Well, kudos to them.

Schweitzer is going to featured in a segment of "60 Minutes" which may air in February, although no specific date has been set.

Here's the info from The Missoulian:
Schweitzer subject of upcoming ‘60 Minutes' news segment
By Missoulian State Bureau

HELENA - Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who's been the subject of several stories in national press outlets, will be profiled by the CBS news-magazine show "60 Minutes,” his office confirmed Friday.

Crews from "60 Minutes,” including longtime CBS newswoman Lesley Stahl, were in the state filming last weekend. They interviewed Schweitzer at a Helena-area ranch and at the state Capitol, said Schweitzer spokeswoman Sarah Elliott.

Elliott said "60 Minutes” is doing a profile piece on Schweitzer and that much of its time in Montana was spent focusing on energy issues and Schweitzer's interest in promoting the conversion of coal into diesel fuel.

Since last summer, Schweitzer has been talking about using Montana coal as part of a project to manufacture liquid fuels, to increase domestic fuel production.

CBS crews went with the governor last Monday to Colstrip, the site of a major coal mine and coal-fired power plants, Elliott said.
For the rest, go here.

Montanan Rick Bass profiles Brian Schweitzer, Montana and more in GRIST

Rick Bass, writing in GRIST, provides an in-depth look at Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, how Montana is changing, what effect that might have on the rest of the country and more. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Wild to Be Born
Montana's landscape is changing -- will America's be next?
By Rick Bass
18 Jan 2006

The governor is a politician of such breathtaking dexterity, ability, and raw, hungry, political instinct that your first thought upon witnessing him -- no matter whether you're a Republican or Democrat -- is likely to be, "When does he explode, and in what manner?" For rarely in American politics has anyone this good been that way indefinitely.

Brian Schweitzer has only been the governor of Montana for a year, but already, among Democrats in the state and beyond, I sense a Clintonesque déjà vu creeping in, a relief that all will be all right, that our values are protected. We are not considering how fast and bright such stars burn.

As was Clinton, Schweitzer is incredibly likeable -- he seems sometimes to be leaning forward on his toes, beaming in advance of an audience's appreciation -- but while Clinton was often guilty of working over-hard to placate his enemies, it's easier to envision Schweitzer responding with a real bristle factor when someone gets in his face, tries to be a bully or a malcontent, disruptive of a project that builds economic or community or social strength. Schweitzer single-handedly trounced the Republican Party in 2004, not just driving them from the capitol, but leading the charge to regain the state House and Senate as well -- but, bridge builder that he is, he chose state Sen. John Bohlinger, a progressive Republican, as his running mate.

The new governor displays a flair for visual, even cinematic, politics, and Montanans have become accustomed to above-the-fold photos of him knocking back a shot of sunlit amber whiskey to celebrate the 10 a.m. reopening of a historic bar in Butte, or popping a cork to celebrate the initial stages in the removal of a dam on the Clark Fork River. Already, there seems no end to the roll call of his greatest hits, and no lessening of his appetite for (or ability to provide) them.

He is remaking, in that fashion, Montana political culture -- and, argue his strongest supporters, he would also be able to remake the entire country's image, at this critical stage of necessary self-repair, were his job ever to become that of chief executive.
To read the rest, go here.

Schweitzer gets a 'thumbs-up' from women's groups

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer didn't quite 'ace' this paerticular rating but came mighty close.
Women's group gives Schweitzer B+

Associated Press
January 20, 2006

HELENA -- A coalition of women's groups issued a report card on Gov. Brian Schweitzer Friday, saying he mostly did a good job in looking out for their interests.

Montana Women Vote gave Schweitzer an overall grade of B+.

The governor did an excellent job in supporting domestic violence programs and abortion rights, the group said.

Schweitzer got lower marks in other areas for supporting a ban on gay marriage, not putting more money into social service programs and pushing for more coal-fired power plants that could harm the environment...

...Montana Women Vote is an umbrella group that includes other organizations like the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, NARAL ProChoice Montana, Planned Parenthood, Working for Equality and Education Liberation and others.
For the rest of the article, go here.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Heavens! Schweitzer For President blog gets a mention

I guess we are going to have to hire agents now since the Washington talk shows will certainly be beating down our respective doors and Newsweek, Time and the rest will be after us for the most pithy and eloquent of quotes about the political terrain today and prospects for the future. Watch out George Will, you're just keeping the seat warm for us! Right.
Schweitzer for president?
The Billings Outpost

Brian Schweitzer for president? Sounds wacky, perhaps, for a first-term Democratic governor from a state with only three electoral votes. But Schweitzer is making a splash on the national scene, and his candidacy is quietly being boosted by bloggers and Democratic insiders who like his plainspoken talk and bipartisan political appeal.

Perhaps, they speculate, Schweitzer is the sort of Democrat who can reverse the party’s national image as big-spending liberals who are weak on defense and out of touch with the rural ways of the West.

On the web, bills itself as “Your online center for news, views, and action alerts on Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, the next President of the United States.” The site links to pages where visitors can sign petitions asking Schweitzer to run, pledge donations or buy “Brian Schweitzer for president” buttons for $1.89.

The site is run by Jeremy Young, who describes himself as an “Arizona/Maryland occasional blogger,” and Kevin McCarthy, a California resident who describes himself as an “unreconstructed McGovernite.” The men hope to do for Schweitzer what bloggers did to make Howard Dean an early leader for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

“Why Brian Schweitzer?” Young asks. “Because he is the most intelligent, most eloquent politician I have seen in a long time. Because he knows how to frame issues like the environment and individual liberties and progressive values in ways a large majority of the American people can understand. Because he’s not afraid to stand up and say “No!” to special interests, or to tell the downtrodden that they matter. Because he’s shown he can win in the reddest of red states. Because he’s supported strongly by progressives and moderates alike. Because he is honest and decent and kind and visionary.”

Schweitzer’s projected candidacy also has drawn attention in more influential circles. Roll Call, a widely read Capitol Hill publication, said that Schweitzer’s “willingness to criticize Republican policymakers in plainspoken ways” has some Democratic activists “touting Schweitzer as a dark-horse candidate for president in 2008.”, one of the most prominent online political journals, said in April that he “may be the next best hope of the Democratic Party.”

Who’s taking all of this talk seriously? Certainly not the governor.

“I’ve got the best job in America,” he says.

He has called the Roll Call story “kooky.” When Rolling Stone magazine labeled Schweitzer as the nation’s “hot” governor, he sniffed to a Lee Enterprises reporter, “Since Hunter S. Thompson left, Rolling Stone hasn’t been worth reading.”
To read the rest of this obviously fine article written by the most insightful David Crisp, go here. ;)

Brian Schweitzer enlivens the Al Franken radio show

Courtney Lowery, maven of the New West web site, provides a nice look at Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's appearance on the Al Franken show
Franken on Montana Going Blue, Burns & the Correct Pronunciation of "Creek"
By Courtney Lowery, 1-13-06

Radio talk show host and author Al Franken said Friday, "Montana is a great story."

During the live broadcast of his show from the Missoula Childrens' Theatre with Missoula's KNS 105.9, he told his listeners and a crowded auditorium, "What we have here is a red state turning blue."

And that shift, he said, is very much because of his first guest on the show, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who Franken introduced as "an inspiration to Democrats all across the country."

With national eyes on Schweitzer and his policies, Franken said Montana is poised to teach national politics a thing or two.

The Governor was most definitely was on his game Friday, effectively stealing the show -- hitting on alternative energy, wild lands, small businesses and health insurance -- all the while keeping up with Franken's witty banter. (Which if you've ever listened to the show, Franken can be a hard one keep with on the wit scale.)

The two traded barbs here and there, spending a fair amount of time on "Montana-isms" like how to pronounce "creek" (Franken said a how Montanans pronounce it, the word means something you get in your neck. "In America, it's a creek," he said) and Schweitzer's plans for Montana to lead the nation in alternative energy like wind power and his signature coal gassification proposal.
The article ends with blogger David Sirota, author of the upcoming book Hostile Takeover, due in bookstores March/April 2006, saying:
"When you speak from the heart and you show you're willing to stand up for ordinary people … that's a way to really communicate with people," he said. "Governor Schweitzer and others have shown that is really the way to build a different kind of politics that isn't just left or right, but really, truly populist," he said
.To read the entire article, go here..

Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald on the new 'blue' in The Big Sky state

Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald talks about the Democratic resurgence and the leadership of Governor Brian Schweitzer in Montana:
All eyes on newly blue Montana, top Democrat says
By GINNY MERRIAM of the Missoulian
January 15, 2006

The national popularity of Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the upsurge of Democrats in office in Montana may give the state a serious political role in the next presidential election, Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald said Thursday in Missoula.

“The whole country is watching what's going on here in Montana,” he told an audience brought together by the Missoula Organization of Realtors. “We've become a blue state.”
People watched with “fascination and wonderment” as Democrats won back the governor's office - for the first time since 1988 - and control of the state Senate last fall.

“Brian's obviously a big part of that,” he said.

At a recent conference in Phoenix where Schweitzer was scheduled to speak, a delayed plane made the governor late. But people waited, just to meet him and talk to him, McDonald said.

That kind of national attention will continue into the presidential primaries in 2008.

“I have to tell you, without being too arrogant, I think Montana's influence is going to be significant,” he said.

Montana's participation in a proposed Western states primary, held earlier than the state's usual June election, could also boost its standing on the political map.

“From my standpoint, I'm just hopeful,” McDonald said. “It would be nice to be a player.”

At the same time, longtime Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns' star appears to be falling in the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Burns' current tour of Montana may be a move to rebuild his support, McDonald said.

“I don't think he'll run,” he said. “If you just want speculation, my idea is they've told him to come out here and get his numbers up, or they won't support him.”

Polls testing support for challenges by state Senate President Jon Tester and Montana Auditor John Morrison show Tester and Burns dead even at 45 percent each, and a Morrison-Burns race gives Morrison 43 percent and Burns 45 percent, a poor showing for a three-term incumbent, McDonald said.

“Obviously, I'm way partisan,” he said. “But however you view it, we've got to do something about this culture of corruption in Washington. It's an embarrassment for Montanans to have their senator named among the 13 most corrupt in Washington. ... We have a long history of sending good people to Washington.”

Montana Democrats elected McDonald state party chairman in July. A Sweet Grass County rancher and president of the Montana Cattlemen's Association, he and his family raise and train registered quarter horses, cutting horses and working cow horses and run 750 head of Angus and Brangus cattle at their ranch near Melville. He practiced law full-time in California for 20 years and has ties to the Bitterroot Valley, where his brother used to ranch.

Like Schweitzer, McDonald is serving to reunite the words “Democrat” and “agriculture.”

“It's been over 20 years since we've had a governor who knew how to pull a calf or sew up a prolapse,” he said.
For the rest, go here.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Brian Schweitzer's plans in 2006

From the Helena Independent Record and reporter Charles Johnson comes this interview with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer:

Gov looks ahead to ’06

By CHARLES S. JOHNSON - IR State Bureau - 01/02/06

HELENA — If Montanans thought Gov. Brian Schweitzer was everywhere last year, he has a surprise for them this year.

The Democratic governor won’t be grounding himself in 2006. Schweitzer said he plans to travel even more than he did last year — both inside and outside of Montana.

“The first year I hit the ground running with the Legislature right away,” Schweitzer said in an interview. “We had this school funding thing that we needed to get resolved. We’ve got that in the rear-view mirror. Now we’ve got this next year to start fine-tuning government and spend some time on the road. Without the Legislature, school funding I’m going to expand that.”

Schweitzer said he will travel to major cities in the West and Midwest and wherever he can to help Montanans living there form local chapters of the Montana Ambassadors to help bring business to Montana. He’s already done so in several West Coast cities.

“They still love Montana,” Schweitzer said of the transplanted Montanans in Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and other cities. “They still believe in Montana. They’ll still help to bring business here.”

Rebuffed by the Legislature, Schweitzer will be promoting a proposed ethics initiative for the 2006 ballot. After the final version is drafted and passes state review, Schweitzer and his allies will need to gather thousands of signatures to place it on the November ballot.

Schweitzer has been highly critical of the influence of lobbyists on state government and vowed to impose some restrictions. He has refused to appoint any lobbyists to state boards and commissions.

His proposal is expected to impose at least a two year waiting period to temporarily close the “revolving door” in which elected officials, particularly legislators, become lobbyists as soon as their terms expire. It’s also expected to impose stiffer reporting and disclosure requirements on lobbyists and perhaps add other restrictions.

This fall, Schweitzer figures to play a major role campaigning for Democratic state legislative candidates so his party can win majorities in both chambers. Democrats now control the Senate, 27-23, while the House is deadlocked, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.

Schweitzer said he may not hit the campaign trail throughout the state, but likely would target races in key battlegrounds like Billings.

“I’ll be willing to help some people who’ve been helpful to us,” he said.

Schweitzer pooh-poohed speculation that he will devote his spare time to stump for Democrats out of state.

“Oh hell, I don’t know if I can help anybody anywhere else,” he said. “I might be helpful in Billings. I doubt that they care what I say in Baltimore.”

For the rest, go here.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Mike Dennison on Brian Schweitzer's first year as governor

Mike Dennison/The Missoulian takes a look in the following on what Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer accomplished in his inital year. This is a solid look at Schweitzer's personal values:

Schweitzer: what he said and what he did

By MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Bureau

Here, one issue at a time, is a look at Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer's first year in office - the promises vs. the accomplishments:

School funding: Schweitzer supported an 11 percent, $120 million increase in ongoing state funds for public schools - the largest two-year increase since 1991. He also proposed and supported another $40 million one-time, lump-sum payment to schools, most of which goes for building maintenance, energy costs and Indian Education for All, a program to infuse the teaching of Indian culture throughout the public school curriculum.

Tax policy: Proposed and delivered a freeze of the property tax rate on business equipment at 3 percent, while eliminating the tax for businesses that own $20,000 worth of equipment or less. The latter move eliminated the tax for 13,000 small businesses.

Schweitzer also had promised to examine corporate taxation. He proposed changes to capture unpaid taxes on business and property sales. The proposal was killed by the Legislature, but Schweitzer vows to push for it again in 2007.

State budget: Schweitzer promised to balance the state budget without any tax increases. He accomplished that goal, thanks in part to huge revenue surpluses, and also increased overall government spending by more than $900 million in the current two-year period. The spending increase includes large chunks of federal and one-time funds. Thanks to better-than-expected income and oil-and-gas tax revenue, the state treasury is still projected to have a positive balance of $250 million by mid-2007.

State spending review: The Legislature did not approve Schweitzer's proposed independent panel to audit state spending and look for savings throughout government. The governor says he has instructed his agency directors to closely examine their budgets for possible savings.

Health care/prescription drugs: His administration helped enact and carry out the proposals of Initiative 149, which increased tobacco taxes to pay for prescription drug subsidies, higher Medicaid payments to health-care providers, tax credits to help small businesses provide employee health insurance, and expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

However, six months into the CHIP expansion, 2,000 of the funded slots remain unfilled. CHIP advocates say the Schweitzer administration should promote the program more aggressively.

Schweitzer also had promised to push for re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada and to expose pharmaceutical advertising costs. He's been less successful here, as the Legislature killed initiatives in this area.

Ethanol: Schweitzer supported a proposed mandate for ethanol-blended motor fuel in Montana, hoping to encourage grain-based ethanol production in the state. The Legislature passed a compromise proposal that says the mandate kicks in only after 40 million gallons of ethanol have been produced in Montana for at least three months. Several ethanol-production plants are on the drawing board, but none yet has gone forward.

Alternative energy: Schweitzer pushed for “renewable energy standards” that require public utilities to include minimum amounts of renewable energy, such as wind power, in the electricity they provide customers. The governor says the standards have helped create a boom in wind-power proposals for the state, with several on the drawing board. However, the state's first major wind-power project, which began producing this year, was largely in place before the standards took effect.

Economic development: Schweitzer promised to recruit businesses to Montana, and says his administration has helped on several projects, such as a new DirecTV office in Missoula, a biodiesel plant in Culbertson and a manufacturing plant in Conrad. He counts his accomplishments on ethanol and alternative energy as economic development as well.

Country of origin labeling: He supported the bill that requires “country of origin” labeling for nearly all meat products sold commercially in Montana, effective Oct. 1 this year.

Ethics bill: The Legislature killed Schweitzer's proposal to toughen state ethics laws for public officials, including a new ban on legislators becoming lobbyists for two years after they leave office. He wants to put the proposal on the 2006 ballot as a voter initiative.

University system: Schweitzer proposed, and the Legislature enacted, a new scholarship program for Montana students attending state colleges and universities. About 500 students are eligible for scholarships of up to $2,000 a year.

He also had promised to make two-year colleges more affordable, through public-private partnerships and other steps, and to encourage establishment of $10 million endowments so state schools can offer more scholarships. He has yet to deliver on the latter proposals.

Home-heating assistance: Schweitzer proposed $10 million in home-heating assistance funds for poor households this winter and next, but the Legislature approved only $1 million of the funding. Last week, the governor used his “emergency” powers to set aside another $2.5 million this winter for home-heating assistance.

The Missoulian looking at Brian Schweitzer

Missoulian beat reporter Mike Dennison has an article containing all political viewpoints about Brian Schweitzer and his first year in office:
Governor reflects on flashy first year
By MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Bureau

HELENA - As Gov. Brian Schweitzer looks back on his first year in office, he sees a resume any governor would kill for: a state treasury overflowing with cash, high approval ratings and frequent national publicity.

Montana's first Democratic governor since 1988 also lists a string of policy goals that he says he's delivered, from increasing public-school funding to wind power to new business prospects.
“We continue to put the planks on the bridge to attract new business, new investment to Montana,” he said in an interview from his Capitol office.

Even political opponents acknowledge that Schweitzer has shown impressive talent, both at building a positive image for himself and pushing proposals through the Legislature.

To read the rest, go here.