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"We've run the state of Montana the way a small business would run or the way a rancher would run a ranch," Schweitzer told Lapin. "When times are good, the cattle are fat, the grass is high, the crops are good. Put some grain in the bin. Store some hay to get you through the second winter, not just the first one."
It probably didn't hurt that the segment was filmed in front of the log cabin on Schweitzer's ranch estate, either. Or that Schweitzer treated Lapin to a bit of fly-fishing on camera. But even when he's not in his own yard, Schweitzer is at ease playing to the camera, as he did on "The Late Show with David Letterman" last April. The governor told Letterman to "take it easy there, cowboy" and explained that his post-gubernatorial plans were to "fish in the morning and drink whiskey in the afternoon."
Schweitzer strolls into the Beartooth NBC studio to a string of handshakes and hellos. He's become a regular figure here. He navigates the hallways straight to the sound stage and takes his seat in a director's chair. There's a good six inches of snow outside, but the stage backdrop shows a framed photo of the capitol lawn in full bloom. The cameraman clips a microphone on Schweitzer's jacket, does a quick sound check and centers Schweitzer in the frame.
Schweitzer quietly runs through some bit about "balancing checkbooks" as he waits for the call from MSNBC. He's rehearsing, perfecting a talking point for a question he hasn't been asked yet. When he's satisfied with his wording, he begins passing the time with talk of the recent scandal involving Gen. David Patraeus and biographer Paula Broadwell.
"The real guy that bothers me is that Gen. Allen," Schweitzer says, referring to John Allen, whose own affair with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley came to light shortly after Patraeus started making headlines. "He sent 30,000 emails to this gal in Tampa while he was running the War in Iraq. How'd he have the time?"
Schweitzer nods to Jag, who's snoozing in a corner of the stage. "Remember how bad he wanted to go herd those buffalo?" he asks. The governor may be a Democrat, but he's got a memory as long as an elephant's. Up on the Fort Peck Reservation this spring, Jag had slipped under the bison fence and made a beeline for a huge bull. The governor was there to greet a new herd of 63 Yellowstone bison. By the way, Schweitzer says, the tribe contacted him this fall. A new bison calf was born in October.
After 40 minutes of waiting, Schweitzer cuts himself off in mid-sentence. Krystal Ball from "The Cycle" is finally asking him a question. The speech he gives in response sounds just like his presentation at the budget announcement the day before. He talks about the "educate, incarcerate and medicate" tenets again. He compares Congress and the "fiscal cliff" to Hamburger Wimpy from the old Popeye cartoons.
"They come in and say, 'Oh we'll solve 10 percent of this now, and the other 90 percent, we'll do that Tuesday.'"
The whole interview lasts three minutes. Schweitzer unclips the mic, stands up and walks out. Jag stirs and follows. In the coming weeks, Schweitzer will also appear on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley," where he'll discuss the frontrunners for the 2016 election and answer questions about his own political ambitions. He'll wear an arrowhead bolo tie. He'll tell Crowley directly that only Washington, D.C. is talking about 2016 this early, and that the rest of the country is more concerned about jobs in the here and now. And he'll mention his "warm regard for the people of Iowa and New Hampshire," sparking several days of headlines claiming he teased a presidential run.
Schweitzer may have been born in Havre, but in many ways Whitefish seems more like home. When he returned from work as an irrigation developer in the Middle East in 1986, he settled down here and launched a ranching and irrigation business. Schweitzer clearly hasn't lost touch with the town or its people. As he walks into the Amtrak station, it seems like he's on first-name terms with everyone.
Schweitzer isn't at the train station to glad-hand like he's on some campaign trail. Amtrak recently announced plans to start charging a $10 fee for ski and snowboard equipment. Schweitzer's here to make sure that doesn't happen. The way he sees it, Big Mountain Resort is one of only a few ski destinations nationwide that Amtrak actually services. "They're just picking on Whitefish," he says.
Schweitzer doesn't take kindly to outsiders who try to meddle in Montana's affairs, and for a folksy, easy-going guy, he can be ruthless. He has constantly chastised the Department of the Interior for its response on pretty much every issue, from wolf delisting to the 15-year-long Cobell lawsuit, which alleged that the Interior owed millions to Indian Country for decades of mismanaged Individual Indian Money accounts. Those bison Jag tried to herd on Fort Peck months ago may never have made it to the reservation; in response to the Interior's refusal to accept transplanted Yellowstone bison at the National Bison Refuge in Moiese, Schweitzer issued a brief moratorium on all bison relocations. Of course, Schweitzer's strong-arm tactics don't always work. Back in spring 2010, he momentarily withheld stimulus grant money from several counties in the state, using the funds as leverage to build support for coal leasing in the Otter Creek Valley. The stunt backfired, and Schweitzer was widely criticized even after releasing the stimulus cash.
There have been a number of major Schweitzer missteps over the years. In 2006, he was criticized for his younger brother Walter's role in his administration despite state law barring Walter from working on the governor's paid staff. Political insiders in Helena claimed Walter, who was described in an Independent story as "the governor's enforcer, firewall and political bully," had his run of the governor's office, attended high-level meetings and weighed in on policy matters. Lobbyists were reportedly mum on Walter's true role in the early Schweitzer administration for fear of political retribution.
Walter was later appointed as chief deputy to State Auditor Monica Lindeen, and was the focus of a legal probe into whether he'd violated state law by soliciting campaign funding for Lindeen's 2008 election bid. The probe found insufficient evidence to back the allegations. Walter left Lindeen's office in early 2011.
Then there have been the stubborn pursuits and unkept promises, like clean coal. Schweitzer spent years plugging coal-to-liquid technology, claiming development would bring billions in additional fossil fuels revenue to western states like Montana and North Dakota. Despite mounting evidence that clean coal would only further contribute to climate change, Schweitzer has doggedly persisted in his attempts to bring the process to southeastern Montana. As early as 2006, he announced a deal between the Bull Mountain Land Company and a Houston-based coal technology firm aimed at constructing a coal-to-liquid mine outside Roundup. The project, which Schweitzer said would create thousands of jobs, never took off.