Anytime Montana shows up in the New York Times, it can’t be good. East Coasters don’t want to hear about the positive aspects of mountain life—most of them are too afraid of bears or guns to ever come here. The same goes for Wyoming and Alaska.
So when the venerable Gov. Brian Schweitzer appeared in those noble columns as a Montana politician under fire for claiming to have tampered with the 2006 Senate race that elected friend Jon Tester, many in the Treasure State let out a collective sigh.
On July 14, Schweitzer gave one of his patented rousing speeches to a convention hall full of sharks in Philadelphia. In it, the governor made some statements about a purportedly fictional phone call between he and Butte-Silver Bow Clerk-Recorder Mary McMahon on the night of the 2006 General Election, in which he told her not to release results until he said so. “‘I want you to listen, I want you to listen close,’” Schweitzer recounted to the crowd. “‘I’ll call you when you’re done counting [the vote]—now do you understand it?’ She’s from Butte—she understood exactly.”
Our good governor, essentially, admitted and testified in a recorded speech before thousands of witnesses that he “turned dials” in the hotly contested Senate race. Later, he heavily implied that the party used tribal police to chase poll watchers off the reservation. That’s two acts of self-snitching in the same night—something utterly unheard of outside of baseball and hip hop.
Then, when the recording eventually appeared on the Internet, Schweitzer responded that the whole thing was one really bad joke.
The Governor offered an apology, which didn’t satisfy the GOP or Republican Secretary of State Brad Johnson, who called on Democratic Attorney General Mike McGrath to conduct an investigation. McGrath declined. Meanwhile, McMahon and tribal authorities want direct apologies for alleging their complicity in fictional scandals.
Did Schweitzer monkey around with the election? Probably not. The governor has a track record of letting grandstanding get in the way of fact. He knows the system too well to stumble into such a foolish misstep, but sometimes the truth can ruin a really good story like this one—spare the distasteful topic.
All the same, we feel the AG’s office should probably take some time to look into this. Doing otherwise, in an election year, only fuels the possibility of furthering this statewide embarrassment. A joke’s a joke, but the Diebold scandal remains too fresh a memory to muse on such a direct threat to the democratic process.
Election tampering makes Baby Thomas Jefferson cry, and, to steal a line from Schweitzer’s speech, makes the American public as nervous as pregnant nuns.