The sparring between Montana’s gubernatorial candidates had to start somewhere. For Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown and Democrat Brain Schweitzer, two leading contenders, the jabs began two weeks ago over House Bill 537, which Brown proposed last winter to temporarily increase the amount of timber harvested on school trust lands. The quibble is over the amount of board feet coming off the trust lands, and whether that amount is sustainable. The bill to increase the timber yield was approved by the Legislature with 136 of 150 state lawmakers supporting the measure. The State Land Board, which is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans and includes Brown, endorsed the bill unanimously. But Schweitzer doesn’t care about the bill’s bipartisan support; he thinks the amount of timber harvested is too high.
“I don’t care whether Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or vegetarians support this,” he says. “Are any of them resource scientists? Or are they just a bunch of politicians?”
Schweitzer says that the state’s lawmakers are ignoring the scientific community’s opinion that the bill’s harvest isn’t sustainable. He adds that there are times to take more timber off the land than is sustainable, but that now, with timber prices so low, is not one of those times.
It’s Brown’s opinion that criticizing the bill only drives a wedge into one of the state’s few bipartisan success stories.
“Heck, it was unanimously decided on by the land board,” he says. “This is a good example of something that Democrats and Republicans agreed on. It benefits the public schools and it uses the land in a way it was intended to be used, and it is unfortunate that it has become politicized.”
Both candidates shy away from saying they’ve begun the bickering that constitutes a political campaign. Brown says he doesn’t know why Schweitzer would pick such a bipartisan issue to attack, but in a press release, Brown called attention to Schweitzer’s opposition.
“I’m just bringing some intelligent resource management to the discourse,” says Schweitzer. “If others want to chase off into demagoguery and attacks, then have at it.”