HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s remarks about election manipulation clearly were in jest and no one who heard them at a Philadelphia conference took them seriously, says a Montanan who was in the audience.
“There was no doubt in anybody’s mind in the audience what this was,” Great Falls lawyer Larry Anderson told a reporter for the Lee Newspapers of Montana.
Anderson was interviewed about Schweitzer’s remarks, recently criticized, suggesting that he influenced the outcome of Montana’s 2006 U.S. Senate election in which Democrat Jon Tester defeated Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. In the remarks, for which Schweitzer has since apologized, the governor suggested that tribal police bullied out-of-state Republican poll watchers at tribal polling places likely to favor Democrats, and that he encouraged elections officials in Butte-Silver Bow County to potentially tamper with election results.
The Democratic governor has said he was only joking as he addressed a July meeting of the American Association for Justice, formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers for America.
“It was just Brian poking fun at the caricature of Montana and poking fun at the caricature of Butte and poking fun at outsiders,” Anderson said. Schweitzer appeared after Al Franken, a comedian turned politician, and the tone of the event was humorous and satirical, Anderson said.
Anderson said he is a Democrat and his wife, Nancy, was a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Anderson has donated $250 to Schweitzer’s re-election campaign, according to the Helena-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, which tracks campaign donations in statewide races.
Schweitzer appointed Anderson to the five-member Montana Equity Capital Investment Board.
Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath has declined to investigate Schweitzer’s comments. Republican Secretary of State Brad Johnson, Montana’s top elections official, had requested an investigation.
On Friday, McGrath’s office produced documents showing the attorney general’s staff successfully defended Johnson two years ago in an elections fraud case. The lawsuit alleged that Johnson presided over an election fraught with the kind of misconduct to which Schweitzer referred. U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull dismissed the suit in November 2007.