Page 3 of 4
And who can forget the countless times Schweitzer's unflinching candor has landed him in trouble? This year alone, Schweitzer has gotten flak for insinuating that racism against American Indians in Montana is a societal norm, and for stating that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's father "was born into [a] polygamy commune in Mexico." CNN's Anderson Cooper pressed Schweitzer about the latter comment. Schweitzer was unabashedly unapologetic.
Today Schweitzer's just sending a letter, albeit a strongly worded one, to Amtrak officials asking them to abandon this "knuckleheaded idea" of charging for ski equipment. People get quality family time on the train, he says, but that extra fee could add up, preventing potential tourists from making trips to Montana. A reporter asks him how big an impact that $10 fee could have.
"Well, it made me mad," he says.
Jan Metzmaker, director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau, looks on as Schweitzer and Jag pose for photos. Metzmaker's known the governor personally since well before he was in office.
"I think he'll have a wonderful legacy," she says. "He supports us. He's done great things." Of course, she adds, he's "a bit of a showman."
Asked if he's changed much during his time in office, Metzmaker studies Schweitzer from a distance for a second, humming. "Well, he's definitely thinner."
Over the course of the day, it becomes increasingly apparent that Schweitzer is prone to distraction. As the car pulls away from the Amtrak station headed for a ribbon cutting at Proof Research, a firearm manufacturing company near Columbia Falls, Schweitzer turns to O'Neill.
"Do we have time to stop at the best bar in Montana?" he asks. The answer seems non-committal, but Schweitzer directs the driver to the Great Northern Bar and Grill anyway. After eight years of constantly traveling the state, it must be difficult to narrow it down to a single best bar.
- Photo by Alex Sakariassen
- Schweitzer enjoys a bit of indoor shooting in November at Proof Research, a new firearms manufacturer in the Flathead Valley focused on developing carbon rifle barrels.
"Well, for a while we were trying to come up with a list," Schweitzer says. "Let's see, there was the Northern in Whitefish, the M&M in Butte, the Sip 'N Dip in Great Falls, probably Stockman's or the Iron Horse in Missoula. What did we decide on for Bozeman, Jayson?"
"Montana Ale Works maybe?" O'Neill replies.
"Yeah, that's the one. That or the Rocking R."
Schweitzer leaves Jag in the car and heads into the Northern. Afternoon drinkers immediately begin whispering. One shouts, "Uh oh. Here's trouble. Schweitzer." Schweitzer orders a Wheatfish and walks up to a group of men at the end of the counter. One guy asks him if he's going to stay in politics.
"Hopefully not," Schweitzer says. "I want to get a respectable job. Maybe a piano player in a whorehouse."
Every time someone asks him what's next, he has a slightly different answer: Drink more beer in the afternoon, buy a bar in Butte.
One guy tells Schweitzer he voted for him. Twice.
"I hope I didn't let you down," Schweitzer answers.
Schweitzer starts sharing stories with the bar, but interest in the governor begins to wane. On the way out the door, someone asks if Schweitzer's driving.
"No," Schweitzer answers. "We left Jag in the car. He's our designated driver."
Schweitzer clearly runs on his own time. On the drive down to Proof Research, the clock is ticking. The company's executives are expecting the governor any minute. But Schweitzer interrupts a story about a bar brawl at the Blue Moon Grille and rubber-necks at a used auto yard on the side of the road.
"Did you see those dozers?" he asks frantically. "Turn around, turn around."
The driver does a U-turn in the middle of the highway, backtracks a half mile and pulls to the side of the road. Schweitzer climbs out, Jag and all, and begins fawning over a John Deere 455D bulldozer.
"This is the exact same one I was looking at online last night!" he shouts. "It'd be perfect for my irrigation ditches. Does the scoop swivel?"
He inspects the bulldozer, climbs in, voices his immense satisfaction to nobody in particular. As he walks the line of dozers, he looks back.
"You know the difference between men and boys?" he asks. "Bigger toys."
Asked just how often these impromptu side trips happen, O'Neill chuckles. "All the time."
Proof Research is packed by the time Schweitzer rolls up. He disappears amid a flurry of beer, wine and high-end appetizers. Proof Research is actually a merger of four companies: Kalispell's Lone Wolf Riflestocks, Missoula's Jense Fabrication, Lewistown's Lawrence Rifle Barrels and ABS out of Lincoln, Neb.
Proof Research is in the business of making lightweight weapons to keep our peacekeepers and our warriors safe in the field, explains co-founder Pat Rainey. Carbon barrel technology has been around for upwards of 20 years, but the process was never reliable. Barrels had limited durability and were far from combat ready. Rainey intends for this new company to revolutionize the tech, and he's glad the governor is on board.
"I think this falls in line with a lot of the things he's talked about," Rainey says. "We're science-based, we employ about 29 locals. And it's a growth industry."