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Biography of Brian Schweitzer


Biography of Brian Schweitzer



Brian Schweitzer was born in Havre, Montana, the fourth of six children of Irish and German-Ukrainian derivation. Schweitzer earned his bachelor of science degree in international agronomy from Colorado State University in 1978 and a master of science in soil science from Montana State University, Bozeman in 1980.Upon finishing school, Schweitzer worked as an irrigation developer on projects in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. He spent several years working in Libya and Saudi Arabia, and speaks Arabic. He returned to Montana in 1986 to launch a ranching and irrigation business in Whitefish.

Bill Clinton appointed Schweitzer to the Montana USDA Farm Service Agency Committee, where served for seven years. In 2000, Schweitzer ran for the U.S. Senate to challenge Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in Burns’ effort for a 3rd term. Schweitzer primarily challenged Burns on the issue of prescription drugs, organizing busloads of senior citizens to take trips to Canada and Mexico for cheaper medicine to politically demonstrate the problem. Schweitzer lost narrowly to Burns, 51%-47%, remarkably well for a first time challenger to a sitting US Senator, despite being outspent 2-to-1, and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore receiving just 33% of the Montana vote that same day.

When incumbent Republican Governor Judy Martz announced she would not run for re-election in 2004, Schweitzer announced his candidacy for Governor. He chose John Bohlinger, a Republican state senator from Billings, as his running mate. He won the general election by defeating Montana Secretary of State Bob Brown 50%-47%. Schweitzer won re-election to a second term in 2008 by a landslide, 66%-33%, over Republican State Senator Roy Brown

Both while campaigning and as governor, Schweitzer exhibited a folksy public persona, wearing jeans, boots and a bolo tie. The governor's dog, a border collie named Jag, regularly accompanied him on work days at the Capitol, as well as some other official occasions. Schweitzer was known for his unsparing use of the veto, a power exercised 95 times during his tenure, none of which were overridden. He vetoed 74 bills in the 2011 legislature alone. In April 2011, Schweitzer made national news and near folk-hero status with his unconventional use of a branding iron to publicly veto several bills passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, which he labeled as "frivolous, unconstitutional and just bad ideas" that were "in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana."

Advancing an “all of the above” approach to Montana energy development, Schweitzer endorsed an expansion of wind, solar, and biofuel technologies as well as a plan to turn coal into diesel fuel. He shepherded Montana’s first new coal mine in 30 years. A prudent and active fiscal manager of Montana’s treasury, Schweitzer pointed out that Montana has had the highest ending fund balances in the state’s history under his administration, with an average ending fund balance of $414 million. The average balance of the eighteen years prior was $54 million.

Schweitzer consistently held one of the highest approval ratings among governors in the nation, with polls regularly showing a rating of above 60 percent. Due to term limits in Montana, he was barred from running for a third term in 2012. As Governor, Schweitzer was an active member of the Democratic Governors Association, where he was at various times its chair, vice chair, finance chair, and recruitment chair. He was also vice-chair and chair of the Western Governors’ Association and national chair of the Council of State Governments.

On May 3, 2006, Schweitzer granted posthumous pardons to 78 persons convicted of sedition during World War I for making comments that were critical of the war. These were the first posthumous pardons in Montana history, but the convictions had become notorious in recent years because Montana's sedition law had been one of the broadest and harshest of its time: one man went to prison for calling food rationing a joke, while others were targeted because they refused to physically kiss a U.S. flag or to buy Liberty Bonds. At a public ceremony attended by family members of the pardon recipients, Schweitzer said, "[i]n times when our country is pushed to our limits, those are the times when it is most important to remember individual rights."

Following the suicide of Iraq war veteran Chris Dana in 2007, Governor Schweitzer started the Yellow Ribbon Program. Schweitzer testified in Washington D.C. saying, “the federal government does an excellent job at turning a civilian into a warrior, I think they have an equal responsibility in turning that warrior back into a civilian.” This program developed policies and procedures that each Montana guardsman would undergo to ensure that physical and mental health were documented before, during, and after deployment. Automatic enrollment into the Veterans Affairs system would also be required of guardsmen to ensure delivery of benefits entitled.Following its success in Montana, the Yellow Ribbon Program was implemented nationally and is now a part of the National Defense Act.

The same year Schweitzer completed his term as governor he was named to the Board of Directors of Stillwater Mining Company on May 2, and subsequently chosen as non-executive Chairman on May 17, 2013.

Publication Date

Winter 2016

Biography of Brian Schweitzer