See ya later 

Everyone's guessing what's next for Brian Schweitzer. Even Schweitzer.

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Schweitzer is ushered past a door with an intimidating security system and into a state-of-the-art firearms lab. A flock of company executives and press personnel cram into a tiny indoor shooting range. There are two rifles on the table. One's an assault rifle. Schweitzer picks up the first and fires at a target downrange. His grouping isn't great, but he's grinning like Ralphie from A Christmas Story. Next comes the assault rifle. He blasts through a clip, stands up and turns around with a smile.

"Say, that could get fun!"

Later, he regales the lobby with humorous political stories and chats with longtime friend and lead Proof investor Mike Goguen. It's no surprise the company extended Schweitzer an invitation. He's a powerful political endorsement wrapped up in a shell of free entertainment. It's no surprise Schweitzer agreed to come, either.

"I'm here because you have the things I love to play with," Schweitzer tells the room. "Guns and a little booze."

There'll be plenty of time for both in a few weeks. Schweitzer's days will be filled with whatever mundane tasks his cabin on Georgetown Lake affords. Maybe he'll buy that bulldozer.



The crowds

There are 26,210 fans in Washington-Grizzly Stadium for the Brawl of the Wild, and they're just as interested in Schweitzer as they are in the biggest annual sporting event in the state. Standing on the Montana State University sidelines, Schweitzer looks like he got another six-hour sleep after Whitefish. He's chipper, working a crowd that keeps leaning over the railing to catch his attention.

The governor sports a Bobcat jersey today. It says Schweitzer on the back, right above the number one. Yesterday he said that, when he first entered the capitol eight years ago, lawmakers criticized him for wearing jeans to work, saying he was disrespecting the office. He countered that he was simply being genuine. He uses the same logic to justify why he and Nancy are decked in Cat gear today. They both went to MSU.

The pre-game crowd is bustling along the sidelines, and a man walks up to shake Schweitzer's hand. He claims to be former Republican Gov. Judy Martz's cousin. "I just want to thank you for eight years of fantastic service," he says. "I even voted for you."

A man in a cowboy hat shouts down to the governor from the stands. "Heard you were in Whitefish the other day," he says. "You never call me anymore!" Schweitzer strolls over to him.

Nancy appears more than ready for all this to endthe shouting, the traveling, the constant criticism.

"I'm just looking forward to getting our privacy back," she says.

They'll be getting a jumpstart by having Christmas at Georgetown Lake instead of in Helena. As for the prospect of an extended vacation with her husband she said, "I'm going to hold him to that promise."

click to enlarge Schweitzer and his border collie, Jag, share a moment in the governor’s mansion in late 2007. Jag has been a constant presence at the governor’s side for the past eight years. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Schweitzer and his border collie, Jag, share a moment in the governor’s mansion in late 2007. Jag has been a constant presence at the governor’s side for the past eight years.

Schweitzer's been cracking jokes about the Griz and their rash of criminal dust-ups since he arrived at the stadium. As Dave Barry's account of the castration demonstration indicates, Schweitzer rarely limits himself to the confines of political correctness. He's especially candid when his alma mater's team goes toe-to-toe with its biggest rival.

Just before kickoff, the game's announcer screams into the microphone. "Give me a G!" The crowd gives him a G, and, as prompted by the announcer, proceeds to give an "R", "I" and "Z." "What does that spell?" the announcer yells. As the stadium roars, Schweitzer leans in close with an answer of his own.

"Jail!"

Every year, the Cats just want to beat the Griz so they can "piss in their campfire," Schweitzer tells an onlooker on the sidelines. This year, the rolls are reversed. With the Cats potentially heading to the playoffs, it's now the Griz who want to do the pissing.

UM scores a touchdown with two minutes left in the first quarter. A fan leans over the rail and screams at Schweitzer.

"Veto that!"

Just before halftime, Schweitzer hustles out of the stadium and past a crowd of rowdy tailgaters into a ritzy RV. Hardwood floors, mirrored ceiling, plush leather furnishings. "It's like Las Vegas on wheels," Schweitzer says as he and Nancy squeeze into the dining booth.

"You got one of these in your future?" the owner asks.

"No," Nancy answers. "He's too cheap."

Schweitzer picks at a pan of prime rib for a few minutes, dodging questions about what he plans to do next in his political career. He turns down a mixed drink. After a bit of idle conversation, he heads back onto the field. The shouts resume. Someone screams, "Boo term limits!" Schweitzer smiles.

This is the man's element. He draws energy from the attention, milking his populist status for all it's worth. Everything about him seems homegrown. Chinwagging comes as natural with a stranger as it does his own wife.

Schweitzer doesn't have a clue where all this talk about his presidential goals started. "Here's the thing," he says, keeping his eyes trained on the field. "You have to want it to run for it. Well, I don't want it."

But if he were on a campaign trail right now, he'd be winning votes at the game through sheer character and charisma. Outside the stadium, people rush over to shake his hand or pat him on the back. He smiles, but doesn't stop walking toward his car. He's headed back to Helena, to more packing and a state land board meeting on Monday. It doesn't take long before he's gone, and the roar of the crowd has faded.

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