Archive for the ‘Schweitzer’ Category

No Coincidence

120424_brian_schweitzer_605_apThe abrupt and very surprising announcement last Saturday that former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer would take a pass on seeking the open U.S. Senate seat in Big Sky Country seems proof once again of what ought to be the Number One rule in politics. It’s often said that the fundamental rule in politics is to “secure your base,” but Schweitzer’s decision, sending shock waves from Washington to Wibaux, reinforces the belief that the real Number One rule in politics is that there are never any coincidences.

Consider the timeline.

On July 10, 2013 Politico, the Bible of conventional political wisdom inside the Beltway, ran a tough piece on Schweitzer under the headline “Brian Schweitzer’s Challenge: Montana Democrats.” The story made a point of detailing the bombastic Schweitzer’s less than warm relationships with fellow Democrats, including retiring senior Sen. Max Baucus and recently re-elected Sen. Jon Tester.

“Interviews with nearly two dozen Montana Democrats paint a picture of Schweitzer as a polarizing politician,” Politico’s Manu Raju wrote. “His allies adore him, calling him an affable and popular figure incredibly loyal to his friends, who had enormous political successes as governor and would stop at nothing to achieve his objectives.

“His critics describe him as a hot-tempered, spiteful and go-it-alone politician — eager to boost his own image while holding little regard for helping the team, something few forget in a small state like Montana.”

The story quoted one unnamed Montana Democrat as saying Schweitzer “doesn’t do anything if it doesn’t benefit him…he’s an incredibly self-serving politician.”

Added another: “He’s the most vindictive politician I’ve ever been in contact with.”

Meanwhile, conservative bloggers were zeroing in on Schweitzer with one comparing his frequent flights of colorful rhetoric – he recently said he wasn’t “crazy enough” to be in the U.S. House or “senile” enough to be in the Senate – to the disastrous campaign of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin in 2012. Other Republicans suggested they had done the opposition research on the man with the bolo-tie and found, as one said, “a lot of rust under the hood.”

Then last Saturday morning Schweitzer, who went almost instantly from a sure-fire contender to hold the Baucus seat for Democrats to a non-candidate, told the Associated Press that he would stay in Montana. “I love Montana. I want to be here. There are all kinds of people that think I should be in the U.S. Senate,” Schweitzer told AP. “But I never wanted to be in the U.S. Senate. I kicked the tires. I walked to the edge and looked over.”

The surprise announcement came as Montana Democrats were gathering in convention. Schweitzer did no real follow up with the media. His advisers had nothing to say. The national media reported that the decision not to run was a blow – as it is – to national Democrats. Then Sunday, the day after Schweitzer’s surprise announcement, the Great Falls Tribune published a lengthy piece, a piece that had been hinted as in the political pipeline earlier in the week, that raised numerous questions about Schweitzer’s connections with shadowy “dark money” groups that are closely associated with some of the former governor’s aides and close political friends. The “dark money” connections are particularly sensitive in Montana, a state that has a long and proud tradition of limiting corporate money in politics and a state that unsuccessfully challenged the awful Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that took the chains off corporate money.

As a friend in Montana says Schweitzer is staying on Montana’s Georgetown Lake rather than head for Georgetown on the Potomac. But there is always more to the story.

Brian Schweitzer had a political gift, the gift of making yourself a unique “brand.” The bolo-tie, the dog at his heels, the finger wagging, blue jeans swagger. He was gifted, perhaps too much, with the quick one liner. He won many fights, but almost always by brawling and bluster and with elements of fear and favor. In politics always making yourself the “bride at every wedding” and the “corpse at every funeral,” as Alice Roosevelt famously said of her father Teddy, exacts a steep price. Brain Schweitzer may have found the truth of another rule of politics: your friends die and your enemies accumulate.

Schweitzer may genuinely want to stay on Georgetown Lake in beautiful Montana or, if you believe in no coincidence, he may have found that his personal political brand had finally reached its “sell by date” and would simply not survive another round of intense scrutiny. Politics is always about personality. People like you or they don’t. They respect you or not. Rarely do they dislike you and fear you and also hope that you succeed.

“It’s always all about Brian,” another Montana Democrat told Politico. “That I think is the root for every problem.” No coincidence.

 

The Veto

The Final Vote

The presidential or gubernatorial veto may be the single biggest political club our nation’s executives can swing. The House and the Senate at the federal and state level can consider, debate and pass legislation, but it still must come to the executive for the final vote. The way this considerable power has been wielded in Montana and Idaho lately is a real study in contrasting political styles.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, he of the bolo tie, has been swinging the decisive veto club with abandon over the last few days. As of a couple of days ago Schweitzer, a Democrat, had vetoed more than 50 bills approved by the Republican controlled Montana Legislature. Schweitzer has generated many headlines for vetoing, among others, legislation dealing with concealed weapons, medical marijuana, abortion, federal health care, mining with cyanide and employment taxation. Schweitzer, a clever and confident politician if ever there was one, seems to revel in casting the final vote and he has used ever occasion to bash the legislature.

Across the Bitterroots in Idaho meanwhile, Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, with an overwhelmingly GOP legislature, drew headlines for his one and only veto of the just completed session. Otter spread red ink on a bill dealing with state efforts to establish exchanges under the federal health insurance reform legislation, but he immediately issued an executive order restoring much of what had been in the vetoed bill. Few Republicans, publicly at least, said anything about the governor’s actions and the House Democratic leader actually praised the governor’s approach.

Otter administered his one veto of the 2011 session quietly and moved instantly to placate supporters with his executive order. while Schweitzer has been known to use a branding iron in front of the television cameras to mark up bills he doesn’t like. No kidding.

As CBS reported, Schweitzer recently “stood in front of the state capitol” in Helena, “and put the bills, one by one, on display. He then used a hot brand on each one, lighting the paper on fire and burning the word “VETO” into the wooden plank behind the bill.”

If the guv considered the bill frivolous, he used a “calf brand.”

George Washington, generally not the flamboyant type, issued the first presidential veto in 1792. George W. Bush made modern presidential history by not vetoing anything during his first five years in office. Bill Clinton, by contrast left office have used the veto 37 times. Barack Obama has issued two vetoes.

Franklin Roosevelt is the all-time champion vetoer at the federal level. He issued 635 during his three-plus terms. Grover Cleveland was no slouch, either. He killed a total of 584 bills in two terms. Thomas Jefferson, by contrast, never vetoed a bill in eight years.

Governors and presidents, as a general rule, hate to have vetoes overridden. It’s seen as a mark of political weakness. But even the powerful FDR was overridden nine times, while the lowly Andrew Johnson holds the all-time record for having the Congress reject his veto. Congress did it 15 times to Andy.

The veto can be both a blunt instrument and a subtle tool used to punish, reward, make a political statement or chart a policy course. Often it is all of the above.

There could hardly be more contrast between the approach Schweitzer has taken and the line Otter had walked. Is one approach more politically or publicly effective than the other? The verdict on that may have to wait for another legislative session for as much as governors and presidents hate to be overridden, legislators hate to see their handiwork vetoed.

Most of the time, however, the final vote is the final vote whether its done quietly or with a smokin’ hot branding iron.

 

The Big Man In The Big Sky

schweitzerSchweitzer Does It His Way

While most of the nation’s governors have been serving up heaping helpings of bad news in the form of reductions in education spending, layoffs, furloughs and such, Montana’s Brian Schweitzer continues to blaze his own popular, political trail. While it may be too much to call the Big Man in the Big Sky a political original, the Treasure State Democrat continues to be one of the most talented political actors anywhere.

Schweitzer understands intuitively that effective politics often involves effective theater, particularly when the show involves the ability to pick the right fight. At the presidential level, Ronald Reagan and his advisers understood this basic reality. Remember Reagan’s “I am paying for this microphone Mr. Green!” moment during the 1980 New Hampshire GOP primary?

The Great Communicator understood that politics is performance, even as Democrats derided the one-time B-movie actor as nothing more than, well, an actor.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, Cecil Andrus in Idaho and Tom McCall in Oregon were masters of the art of picking an issue that kept them defined as “outsiders” while appealing broadly to their voters. Andrus took on the federal government over nuclear waste storage and McCall opposed storing deadly nerve gas at the Umatilla depot. Wildly popular stands that defined each governor as a crusader and populist. Andrus has joked during his long political career about being able to “throw an instant fit” to make a bigger political point, grab public attention and earn support.

Schweitzer’s most recent “political fit” generated headlines when the governor showed up at a Bozeman City Commission meeting – when is the last time a governor did that – and gave the city’s leading lights a drubbing before the public and the press. The issue was a decision by Bozeman city fathers to spend 50 grand in stimulus money on reconditioning tennis courts. Schweitzer told them spending the money on water treatment facilities made more sense. Wonder where the voters are on that one?

For students of political theater, the Associated Press account of the meeting is all the proof one needs that the bolo tie, cowboy boot wearing governor is in his element when he’s at center stage orchestrating a good ol’ political fight. Part of Schweitzer’s public appeal is that he appears to enjoy the battle so much.

In a perfect world, all our politicians would be brilliant policy wonks and the best ideas would always win out, but that is most definitely not the real world. Democrats, in particular, often seem to ignore or undervalued the fact that politics is fundamentally about the ability to communicate in a compelling, real way. It also helps to be able to see a good fight that is worth the picking.

Like him or not, you have to agree Montana’s Brian Schweitzer is a Democratic exception. He gets it.