Lange’s Rise, and Fall

A little more than decade ago, Michael Lange was a rising political star in Montana

By Kellyn Brown

A little more than decade ago, Michael Lange was a rising political star in Montana. He was the outspoken Republican House majority leader during a state Legislature marked by two parties bickering over how best to divvy out a state budget surplus to its constituents.

It was a good problem to have, especially when compared to our current budget crunch. Still, our politicians took some grief for their inability to agree on a spending plan, which eventually resulted in a special session.

It was at the Helena capitol, in April 2007, that Lange became even more of a household name, and not in the way he had planned. About 90 minutes after meeting with then Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Lange lost it. In a profanity-laced tirade caught on camera and which has since been viewed on YouTube 45,000 times, the majority leader accused the governor of bribing him, called him the “SOB on the second floor” and summed up Schweitzer’s offer this way: “Stick it up your a–.” He also referred to Democratic legislators as “radical socialists” like those in “Red China.”

Lange later apologized and, despite his short fuse, few could have predicted the lawmaker would break bad to the extent he did — that he would be a key player in a multi-state drug ring that brought pounds of methamphetamine to the state.

A few weeks after Lange’s angry speech, GOP lawmakers ousted him from his leadership position. But it was less about Lange’s outburst. Instead, some of his colleagues were upset about the concessions Lange made to the governor in a final budget deal.

Initially, Lange was asked to resign, but he refused. “To resign would imply that I did something wrong,” he told the Billings Gazette. When asked about his future political plans, Lange told the paper he was “going to go home and mow my lawn” before deciding. Around the same time, Lange had to refinance his home after a bank foreclosed on his Billings smoothie business Jus’ Chillin’.

Lange would, in fact, run for office again — this time, for the U.S. Senate seat held by Max Baucus. It was an uphill battle. Baucus was a longtime incumbent and had a huge political war chest, but Lange along with Kirk Bushman were considered frontrunners in the 2008 GOP primary.

Then the results came in. Somehow, perennial candidate Bob Kelleher, who had previously run as both a Democratic and Green Party candidate and had advocated for more gun control, bested both Lange and Bushman. The result was so shocking that the state party essentially conceded the race, offering no resources to Kelleher. For Baucus’ part, he refused to debate him and was easily reelected.

It’s unclear what happened between then and 2013, when Lange said he was convicted of drunken driving and drug charges in California. He told the court he served eight months of a 16-month sentence before being released for good behavior.

His next stay in prison will be for much longer.

Last week, Lange was sentenced to 18 years for a role akin to a drug kingpin. Prosecutors allege over the course of several months in 2016, Lange brought at least 20 pounds and as much as 50 pounds of meth from California to sell in Montana and Wyoming. It was a long, sad fall for someone who served three terms in the Legislature and once supported giving $4 million in state money to the Montana Meth Project, an anti-meth public relations campaign.

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