By: Madame Fleur
June 29, 2008
If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, it is time to start paying attention to the words coming from the mouth of Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, the latest great hope for the Democratic Party.
Schweitzer, a Montana native, studied soil sciences in college and spent several years working in the Middle East and Africa as an engineer and irrigation specialist. He returned to Montana in the ‘80s to start his own farming and ranching business, which he successfully built from scratch.
Schweitzer won a decisive victory for the governorship of Montana in 2004, on the very same day that George Bush beat John Kerry by more than 20% of the Montana vote, and voters statewide overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
How, you ask, did a populist, pro-choice Democrat win the seat of Governor even as so many Montanans remain firmly Republican? Chock it up to personality, straight-talk, and a brilliant, pragmatic political strategy.
Schweitzer’s personality garnered him quite a lot of press during his Senatorial campaign in 2000. Though he ultimately lost to incumbent Conrad Burns, his name recognition soared, in part because of his habit of making his political points colorfully: While campaigning against Burns in 2000, Schweitzer had armed guards dramatically spill a suitcase full of cash on the floor to illustrate how much out-of-state corporate cash his opponent was pocketing.
During that campaign, Schweitzer also demonstrated fearlessness and a commitment to straight talk, both in front of voters and special interests, when he stood and boldly criticized the drug industry lobbyists, some of whom were in the room at the time, at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Fund-raiser.
The political strategy he used to win his bid for Governor in 2004 is surpassed in brilliance only by his continued commitment to pragmatic policies and blue-collar issues.
In a strategy similar to that of the Obama campaign, Schweitzer promised voters change, casting himself as an outsider and reformist, playing on the public’s dissatisfaction with Washington insider politics and Montana’s two decades of one-party rule.
Schweitzer also rallied small business, a tactic usually reserved exclusively for Republicans, by outspokenly opposing the deals Republicans had cut in D.C. and Helena, which favored large and out-of-state corporations over small and local businesses.
Finally, Schweitzer won over the hunters and fisherman who make up such a great percentage of the population in Montana. He drafted a 9-point plan to protect hunting and fishing access rights by keeping lands in the hands of the state. By keeping lands in the hands of the state, he also appealed to voters concerned with conservation and the threat of over-development to Montana’s pristine wilderness.
Since being elected, Governor Schweitzer has made good on his campaign promises and enjoys a very high approval rating from Montanans. He has since loudly championed the cause of energy conservation and alternative energy sources, presenting a 12-step program to break our addiction to oil and signing into law a state commitment requiring 15% of the energy produced by investor-owned utilities to come from renewable sources.
With so much coal in Montana, one of Schweitzer’s biggest initiatives has been research and studies of coal gasification, where coal energy is harnessed without the harmful emissions. He also wants to expand on Montana’s growing wind-energy systems. He advocates national legislation that offers tax credits to people using plug-in hybrid vehicles and has devised an energy conservation incentive program requiring every utility to allow consumers to sell their independently generated energy back to the utility, effectively making consumers the capitalists.
In just a few short years, Governor Schweitzer has captured the attention of Montana and the nation. He is not without his opponents, but I found more than a few websites championing him for national positions ranging from President to VP to Secretary of Energy. There is actually a petition you can sign online that implores Schweitzer to run for the presidency in 2008!
Like Obama, Schweitzer represents a new generation of politician, one without tolerance for the lobbyist-riddled corruption we have come to expect from Washington. He also doesn’t give any credence to the economic sob story we are being fed by the oil company pawns who tell us that the economy will tank if we reduce consumption. In many ways he would be a perfect running mate for Obama: he is young, with a refreshing outlook on politics; he is outspoken on energy matters; and perhaps most importantly, he is able to appeal to a rural, working-class population.
I encourage you to take the time to learn more about Brian Schweitzer. Like many others are paying attention to his remarkable message, I am hopeful that Gov. Schweitzer will soon take the stage on a national level. More so, I am eager to see what role he will play in leading the Democratic Party into the future and what it will mean ultimately for American politics.