The operative backdrop for Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s guest spot with liberal talk-radio hero Al Franken last Friday was provided not by politics, but by theater. The MCT Center for the Performing Arts—where Franken also interviewed wonk David Sirota, Independent columnist George Ochenski, former Congressman Pat Williams and Missoula Mayor John Engen during a live three-hour broadcast of his “Air America” radio show—will soon host a musical Wizard of Oz retread called The Wiz and a gauzy rendition of a winding road stretching toward a horizon-shrouded emerald city already hung behind the table where Franken and his guests sat.
Schweitzer mounted the stage during a commercial break, waving and showing off his dog as flashes popped and people clapped furiously. The governor was dressed as per his custom in jeans, a beaded bolo tie and a jean jacket emblazoned across the back with a swath of red fabric imprinted with a horse-and-rider design. Schweitzer acknowledged the crowd’s raucous applause with an enthusiastic “woo-ha” and a “dang” before taking his seat by Franken, who introduced the governor, saying “You represent hope.”
The pair’s 45-minute back-and-forth included an off-air exchange on the pronunciation of “dang” that prompted Franken to remark, “The further west you go, the more adorable America gets.”
But the interview covered more than just folksy colloquialisms. Schweitzer spoke at length on his signature issues, including a lengthy discourse on energy policy in which he dropped gobs of technical terms—“integrated gas combined cycle” to describe clean coal technology and “sequester” to talk about what can be done with excess carbon dioxide (“you know, the stuff that’s warming up the planet”)—explaining each bit of jargon with a pedant’s precision and a politician’s pith.
Take, for instance, Schweitzer’s rapid-fire summary of a recently-initiated wind power project: “We’re now producing wind energy for $32 a megawatt, and…when we blended it with some natural gas peaking power, we have that power coming in at $38 a megawatt, which is the cheapest electricity produced in America of any generation that came on-stream in the last five years.”
Franken was duly impressed. “That’s just—that’s dang exciting.”
The governor beamed. “Now you’re catching on.”