Sorry Governor, Not Funny

By Beacon Staff

It’s hard not to like Gov. Brian Schweitzer as a person. He’s a chronic back-slapper who makes humorous analogies intertwined with wild stories. Whatever you think about his policies, the governor comes across as the gregarious uncle you can always count on to keep the conversation lively. But joking about tampering with a close U.S. Senate race is not only in bad taste, it’s a slight hit to his down-to-earth persona.

Schweitzer apologized Wednesday for telling an audience this summer at the American Association for Justice in Philadelphia that he delayed election results and had tribal police run off Republican poll watchers during the highly contested U.S. Senate race between Conrad Burns and Jon Tester. I believe his explanation that it was all in jest, but you can’t blame the GOP for pouncing.

“Far from being humorous, Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s comments were inappropriate and breathtakingly foolish,” GOP chairman Erik Iverson told the Associated Press. “The governor brags all the time about what a great ambassador he is for Montana. But in this instance he comes off as an arrogant, vulgar blowhard.”

That may be a tad extreme, but Schweitzer left himself wide open by making light of such a hot-button issue. Voter irregularities are nothing to scoff at, especially at time when disenfranchisement is a true concern.

Now Montana’s Secretary of State Brad Johnson, a Republican, has asked that Attorney General Mike McGrath, a Democrat, to investigate whether there was any voter tampering in the 2006 election. McGrath has refused. Mary McMahon, head of elections in Butte-Silver Bow County, has already said the governor did not delay her county’s election results even though he told the crowd in Philadelphia that he did. She was rightfully offended by his remarks.

The race in 2006 ended up with Tester edging Burns by less than 3,000 votes. And Tester’s spokesman said of Schweitzer’s recent comments, “This is just Brian being Brian.” Maybe so, but many voters won’t get the joke.