(From Friday’s, April 27th Great Falls Tribune, here’s my essay about Brian Schweitzer in the Big Apple)
The day before he was a guest on The David Letterman Show, Brian Schweitzer competed for attention with a perennial entertainer in the heart of Times Square: the Naked Cowboy. Schweitzer is not a regular visitor to these here parts; seeing the famous wandering minstrel in thong underwear took this Montana dirt farmer-turned-politician aback. Schweitzer shook his head and said, “He might get arrested back home.”
For a few hours, the fully dressed governor of the Treasure State got more attention than the guy with the barely covered family jewels. It could have been the huge Watkins-Shepard semi truck completely wrapped in a colorful Montana tourism ad, it could be that Schweitzer has undeniable charisma, but I’m betting it was the free T-shirts, Montana huckleberry jam, Big Sky bison jerky and tiny stuffed mountain goats that the governor and his crew handed out to the passing crowd.
There was one moment in Schweitzer’s New York jaunt when he had to hang on. On Wednesday’s Letterman Show, Schweitzer, normally so much at ease he could pick his teeth while riding a rodeo bull, shifted on the saddle when David Letterman brought up Schweitzer’s recent embarrassing remark about “a polygamy commune” in Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s family tree.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, knows he’s got some good ol’ fashioned barn dung on his boots, but he’s a big cowboy who knows he can’t step in the political arena without smelling bad sometimes.
I guess Letterman felt bad for cornerin’ the governor, so he let Schweitzer ramble on for a few minutes about agronomy, eminent domain and education. Not exactly sexy or funny, but the governor might not let Letterman back in to Montana unless he made up for the polygamy jab.
Schweitzer did much better on CNBC, where he defended Montana’s solvent state budget by having a Mike Mansfield ‘say it simple’ moment. “Government has three jobs: to educate, medicate and incarcerate.”
When financial reporters intimated that Montana might be in the black only because of oil revenue, Schweitzer replied that only 2 percent of Montana’s state budget comes from oil money (he was mum on coal revenue). When the reporter wondered if states with small budgets might not work the same way that big state budgets do, he shot that comment down from the hip, too. “It’s all a matter of percentages.” You may disagree with Schweitzer’s politics, but there’s no denying the man could outtalk a city slicker in 10 syllables or less.
The main reason Gov. Schweitzer came to New York City was to promote tourism. There’s a new direct flight from Big Sky Country to the Big Apple this summer. From June 9 through Sept. 1, thanks to contributions from 17 Bozeman area businesses, a federal grant, and the Bozeman airport’s agreement to temporarily waive landing fees, United Airlines will be flying direct from Yellowstone International to Liberty International Airport in Newark.
I hope they aren’t planning to siphon Great Falls passengers: it’s more efficient to spend that time in the Minneapolis Airport than drive six hours round trip to Bozeman.
Technically, it’s not a direct flight to New York City, it’s a direct flight to Newark. I’m hoping that bypassing New Jersey doesn’t upset governor Chris Christie. The man is very unpleasant when he is insulted. Newark’s landing fees are probably lower than JFK or LaGuardia, and it’s very convenient to take the train into Manhattan, but last time I looked, Newark was in New Jersey. If it comes down to fisticuffs between Schweitzer and Christie at the next National Governor’s Conference, my money is on Brian and the “rope-a-dope.”
Headed out west? I don’t want to be the Bozeman airport employee who has to explain to a bewildered tourist who arrives with a rucksack and hiking boots that Yellowstone International Airport is 90 miles from Yellowstone Park.
Seeing as how Montana tried to sell tourism in Times Square, I asked Schweitzer if New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would be welcome to set up a tourist kiosk in downtown Bozeman. He could straddle a friendly Democrat donkey and hand out New York City swag to encourage Montanans to fill up the return flight to Newark. “Anytime,” was Brian’s response. But please, Governor Cuomo, get a permit. And a shovel.