In an article in the IR this weekend reflecting on Schweitzer’s eight year reign, past and present Republican leaders said they don’t much care for Schweitzer and are anxious to see him go. Given how many times they tried getting the better of him but ended up getting burned, I can’t really blame them for having had enough of him.
Former Senate President Bob Story complained in the article that Schweitzer ruled with an “iron hand” and often belittled the legislature and did not “share credit.” Outgoing President Jim Peterson was quoted in a grudging admission that Schweitzer has “put Montana on the map,” but went on to say that he doesn’t like Schweitzer’s “divide and conquer” strategy.
What these guys are not mentioning, of course, is that they spent the full eight years of the Schweitzer administration sending awful bills to the Governor’s desk, constipating the legislative process wherever they thought it benefited their party politically,playing games to try to jam Schweitzer politically, and often killing good legislative proposals solely to prevent good policy from being achieved by Democrats. Like, for example, the 2011 bonding bill that would have created great numbers of jobs around the state by investing in much-needed infrastructure. Clearly that would have been bad news for a GOP legislature, to have new jobs created by a Democratic governor. So they used their superior numbers to scuttle it. And yet these same bozos are now complaining that Schweitzer was somehow too heavy-handed a governor. It’s laughable.
Really what you are seeing, with these weak shots across Schweitzer’s bow in the waning days of his administration, is the agony of defeat. Nothing makes a Republican angrier than a successful Democratic executive, especially one who humiliates his opposition and occasionally poaches traditional GOP territory. And humiliated they were.
Without a strong GOP leader in either chamber, they simply got routed again and again, progressively worse each session, and in 2011 stumbled over themselves so badly that they became a national joke. And yes, the Governor took the credit for himself and his party, as well he should have. Why would he give credit to a bunch of obstructionists?
With the exception of a few moderate Republican lawmakers who have a commendable approach to public service that puts citizens above political games, the GOP crew in House and Senate have mostly focused on playing petty games, pushing Tea Party lunacy, and searching for a reason to get in Schweitzer’s way. Having morphed slowly but surely, over thirty years or so, into a party that does nothing but complain about liberals, environmentalists, “big government”, “illegal immigrants”, “people getting stuff for free” and all the other supposed ills of Democratic governance, the GOP now knows no other existence except to try to paint Democrats as boogeymen and boogeywomen. They tried the same thing with Schweitzer, but it never worked.
Worse, he beat them on their own turf: managing taxpayer money, creating a vibrant business climate, developing energy, and cutting taxes. Not to mention the bag of goodies with a more traditional Democratic flavor, including new programs like full-time kindergarten for toddlers, tuition freezes, a new public health system for state workers that might eventually be expanded for private citizens, many renewable energy projects, new protections for those seeking to avoid discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and new relations with Indian country, who were excluded from government and ignored by the GOP.
And so the GOP’s whining and moaning about Schweitzer’s shortcomings are nothing more than the whimper of a defeated army. It is enjoyable, predictable, and hopefully will continue on.
And Steve Bullock will continue the fight, I am certain. Though he doesn’t necessarily have a stage act like Schweitzer’s, Bullock showed during his campaign that he can be ruthless and nasty. His campaign hit hard at Hill. They crucified him over his taking the illegal 500lk$ and also ran brutal negative ads portraying Hill’s support of a sales tax. Hill himself has complained that these ads finished him off and were unfair. All is fair in politics.
I’ve even heard it whispered that many of the low blows dealt Hill during the primary– which forced him to empty his wallet to defend himself and caused infighting among the GOP, and ultimately suppressed enthusiasm for Hill in November–were instigated by Democrats, perhaps even Bullock’s operatives. Plausible, I suppose. If it’s so, it’s good stuff. It means he plays for keeps. It’s important, because if any of my readers think the newly appointed GOP leadership in the legislature wants to work in a constructive way with the new Governor, you are suckers, I’m afraid. A few moderates will want to do business with a Bullock administration. Otherwise, the name of the GOP’s game is to try to find ways to embarrass the new Governor. The GOP will, as always, be looking to start a knife fight. Like Schweitzer, Bullock will need to bring a gun.