Montana’s Governor Reflects on Politics… and Barking Big-Dog Delegates

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer tells Robert Struckman his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver wasn’t that big a deal. And the cowboy boots people kept remarking on? They’re just comfortable.


Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer talks about energy independence with Mark Nicholas of

Midway through the Denver convention—even as Barack Obama campaigned in Billings during his fifth trip to the state this season—Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer reflected on his growing national celebrity (as far as he’s concerned, it doesn’t exist), the role of Montana in the national election (it’s only three electoral votes) and energy independence, his favorite topic (Montana needs to drill gas and oil, mine coal and produce solar, wind and other sustainable power as well as build the transmission lines to bring it all to market).

But first, an aside about Florida delegates… barking like dogs.

“This morning I told the Florida delegation: Stop running your elections like a bingo parlor. Everyone who’s eligible gets to vote, and the votes should be counted accurately,” he said. “The race is tied in Montana. It’s been tied for a couple of months. I told the Florida delegation, ‘You’re the big dog with 27 electoral votes. Montana only has three. You’re the big dog. Act like the big dog. I want to hear you bark.’ They were standing up, barking. Woof. Woof. Woof.”

Schweitzer leaned back into his chair in the lobby of the Hotel Monaco in downtown Denver. He laughed. “I don’t know where I come up with this stuff. I swear to God, I don’t.”

On Tuesday night, after the string of speeches that ended with Schweitzer and Sen. Hillary Clinton, Jacquetta Jones and Kaye Koonce of South Carolina commented about Schweitzer’s rural attire, specifically his boots.

“I noticed his cowboy boots,” Jones said. “He’s for real. He was dressed for his parts.”

About his black Ariat cowboy boots, Schweitzer said he buys them Helena at the Farm Store, depending on the sale, for anywhere from $95 to $118 a pair.

“It’s got a walking heel. It’s a comfortable boot,” he said.

One of the volunteers who tracked the speeches on the tele-prompter on the convention floor said Schweitzer left the script early and only occasionally hit on it the rest of the time. Of his strategy at the podium Tuesday night, Schweitzer would only employ a football analogy: Sometimes when the play calls for a pass, you’ve got to run the ball yourself.

“I have never been—in my entire life—able to deliver a speech from a tele-prompter,” said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer a day after he left his prepared remarks and brought the Democratic National Convention to its feet, roaring.

Schweitzer downplayed the importance of his speech on Tuesday night. “After the speech, I wasn’t mobbed. I went back down the hole. The people here barely know me,” he said.

About Obama’s chances in the state, Schweitzer said, “I can’t deliver this state. Nobody can do that but the voters. He has to run his own campaign. He’s got to do it himself. He’s got the best ground game of anyone who’s ever run for office in Montana.”

The most important issue in Big Sky country is energy, Schweitzer said. “We drive a lot of miles in Montana. When Bush-Cheney got into office, gas went from $1.75 per gallon to four bucks, but we’ve been apparently helpless.”

“We need an administration that will help us,” he said. Obama’s energy plan calls for plans to build clean power plans and an alternative energy industry as well as the all-important transmission lines to bring the power to market.

“It seems like common sense,” he said.

The thing that bugs Schweitzer the most about the convention is the idea pushed by the Republicans and taken by the media that Obama is elite.

“That’s outrageous,” he said, citing Obama’s impoverished past—raised by a single-mom and his grandparents. Obama bettered his lot through education and hard work, he said.

“You work your hind end off and you call him elite? Isn’t that something? It’s a laugh-out-loud sort of thing. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Next thing you know, they’re going to call me elite,” he said.


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