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September 11, 2008

Schweitzer apologizes for joke

Montana governor Brian Schweitzer has seen his political stock rise since giving a red-meat speech at the Democratic National Convention that was well-received by throngs of cheering delegates.

But he’s now under fire for another partisan speech that he gave to a trial lawyers’ association in July when he joked that he tampered with the 2006 Senate race in Montana.

From the AP:

On Wednesday, Schweitzer apologized for his comments and said he was joking when he told the American Association for Justice convention in Philadelphia that he delayed the release of election results in one Montana county and was not telling the truth when he said tribal police ran off Republican poll watchers on American Indian reservations.

“For anybody I have offended in this, including anyone in the Republican Party, I am sorry,” Schweitzer said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I have learned my lesson. I am not joking about this again.”

The comments, which surfaced this week as an audio recording on the Internet, centered on the highly contested 2006 U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jon Tester and Republican incumbent Conrad Burns. The race was too close to call on Election Night and was one of a few races that would determine the balance of power in the Senate.
State and federal officials are reviewing Schweitzer’s comments, although no investigation has begun.

At the convention in July, Schweitzer, a Democrat, told the crowd that he called the Butte-Silver Bow County election office and told the clerk, whom he called “nervous as a pregnant nun,” that she should not release the results until he called.

“And I said, ‘I want you to listen, I want you to listen close: I’ll call you when you’re done counting. Now do you understand it?’” Schweitzer told the crowd, according to the recording. “And she’s from Butte, she understood exactly.”

The incident is unlikely to cause much political damage to Schweitzer, who has sky high approval ratings in Montana.  He's already been invited to Sen. Tom Harkin's famed steak fry. 

Meanwhile, Montana’s attorney general, Mike McGrath, will not be investigating Schweitzer’s comments, calling them "admittedly intemperate remarks of a speaker trying to be funny."

(You can hear Schweitzer’s speech here to judge for yourself.)