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How the West Was Won

A great companion article to Mark Barabak's wrap-up of Democratic inroads in western states (see April 18 post below) can be found at Salon.com, where Tim Grieve kicks off Salon's series of interviews, "Life of the Party," about Dems' future prospects. In the first installment, "Brian Schweitzer, the blue governor of the red state of Montana, may just have the answer to the Democrats' woes," Grieve offers a lively exchange with the ever-quotable Schweitzer. In his introduction, Grieve describes Schweitzer thusly:

A native Montanan who spent time in the Middle East before returning to start his own business, Schweitzer espouses a political philosophy that combines the class-based populism of a John Edwards with the budgetary pragmatism of a Howard Dean, all wrapped up in shit-kicking Western dialect that the Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Z˙niga calls "a genuine version of Bush's fake ranch."

Sounds promising. And Schweitzer has a gift for the kind of straight talk that just might help Dems set the tone for more effective campaigns. Some nuggets from the interview:

Talk like you care. Act like you care. When you're talking about issues that touch families, it's OK to make it look like you care. It's OK to have policies that demonstrate that you'll make their lives better -- and talk about it in a way that they understand. Too many Democrats -- the policy's just fine, but they can't talk about it in a way that anybody else understands

...The problem is, they get to Washington, they drink that water, they get Washington-speak. This is not a criticism of John Kerry. It's the reason that people keep saying, "Oh, [the next Democratic president is] likely to be a governor." It's because governors are faced with this all the time: Their language has to be the language that is clear enough for Joe or Mary Six-Pack to understand. When you speak on the Senate floor or on the House floor or in a Cabinet meeting, you don't even have to use the words that we use. It's a new language -- you know, "budget reconciliation, blah blah blah blah."

No. When you're out visiting with folks in a way that touches their heart, you tell them, "We're going to find the money to do the right thing." Well, when a senator stands on the Senate floor, it'd take him two hours to explain that.

You need to have good solid policy -- that's important. But you've got to touch people. They've got to know you; they've got to know that you believe in what you're saying. And that's probably more important when people vote than your policies. Because how the hell are they going to raise their families, maybe work two jobs, go hunting on the weekend, bowl and drink beer with the boys on Tuesday night, and still have enough time to figure out who's telling the truth about the budget, about healthcare, about education?

Schweitzer isn't all about rhetoric. He recognizes that it's important to deliver needed reforms:

We've gotten just about everything I've wanted: a scholarship program, a healthcare program, a prescription drug program. We passed five [medical malpractice] bills -- five med-mals! -- no tax increases, some economic development bills that are very cool, and a "best and brightest" scholarship program, so every middle-class family in Montana finally can attain the dream to send the next generation to college.

An impressive track record and his advice on reaching out to working people and western voters, in particular makes a lot of sense. Schweitzer also shares his views on fighting terrorism, gun control, improving education and protecting abortion rights, among other issues.