Archive for the ‘Walter Schweitzer’ Category

by jhwygirl

We’ll give the link to the Great Falls Tribune, which broke the story this past Sunday – State Auditor Monica Lindeen – “in an abundance of caution,” has ordered an independent investigation into allegations by fired/terminated/resigned state (who knows?) administrator Laura McGee that Walter Schweitzer, Deputy State Auditor, had harassed Ms. McGee and solicited political funds on the state’s dime.

From the GFT:

McGee also said Schweitzer on several occasions solicited campaign funds from his sub-ordinates. The federal Hatch Act forbids such political activity if the agency receives federal funding.

The auditor’s office Web site showed that more than half the agency’s funding was federal, but spokeswoman Jessica Rhoades said that information was outdated and has been corrected.

“That (federal) funding was also a pass-through to counties and doesn’t apply to any of our programs, so the Hatch Act would not apply anyway,” Rhoades added.

(Please note that GFT links are only live for about 2 weeks.)

That would explain why the original story’s reference to the Hatch Act disappeared….

Here’s another version of the same story on Lindeen ordering an internal investigation, this time from the Flathead Beacon:

Lindeen said she wants to make sure with the external investigation that staff followed state ethics policies and laws. The auditor said the agency already has determined with an internal investigation that similar federal laws don’t apply to the state office.

(cont.)Rhoades said that Lindeen is currently reviewing candidates to conduct the outside investigation. She said an internal investigation was made when McGee first made the allegations.

Rhoades said that she could not say any more on what that found, other than that federal law does not apply to the office.

Reading both of those stories, what I see is a focus by Lindeen’s office on the fact that the previous internal investigation focused on whether there was a violation of the federal Hatch Act.

Anyone find it strange that the apparent defense that ‘nothing was wrong’ was that whatever it was that occurred didn’t violate any federal laws? Not a defense that is rooted in ‘it didn’t occur’?

Enough of that…

I also see that the focus of the next internal investigation is going to be whether there was any violation of state policies or ethics laws.

Jessica Rhodes, spokesperson for Auditor Monica Lindeen, says that Lindeen also “wants to take this opportunity to conduct a review of agency policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with state ethics laws.”

Good for Lindeen. This is a smart move. She can’t and shouldn’t allow the serious allegations out there just hang. If she had just handed this investigation over to Political Practices Commissioner (and Governor Schweitzer appointee) Dennis Unsworth, anything he came up with would have automatically have been dismissed by critics merely because of whom appointed him, even though Unsworth has proven himself to be a fair arbitrator. I think, ultimately, though, that she should hand whatever her investigation finds over to Unsworth for a final pass – as it is his office’s responsibility to determine what violates state ethics laws.

Further, her investigation – whether it finds a violation or not – could educate Montanans on what state ethics laws allow and what it doesn’t. That all rests, of course, on the truthfulness behind the allegations.

Anyone want to bet on how many senate or house bills that this spawns in the 62nd legislative session?

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by jhwygirl

As in the Governor and his brother, Walter.

Probably State Auditor Monica Lindeen, too, when you think about it.

I won’t editorialize too much, except to say that Governor Schweitzer caught his bad Sunday with this story and its accompaniment which tell what I’ve known – that Hagener was fired unceremoniously, and rather than throw daggers (Hagener by all accounts is a class act) he intended to move on. Hagener didn’t want to talk about it, and for someone in that situation, it’s very understandable.

That is until daggers were thrown in his reputation’s direction.

Walter – and State Auditor Monica Lindeen – caught the bad Sunday with this piece in the Great Falls Tribune.

In that story – it’ll fall to paid archives in a week or so – state employee Laura McGee claims she was fired in retaliation for bringing forward allegations of harassment by Deputy State Auditor Walter Schweitzer who was allegedly soliciting campaign funds.

The comments are quite interesting on that one, too. Don’t miss ’em…and a star for the day to whomever figures out which one is Larry Krajl first, OK?

She resigned a $45,000 a year job (in this economy!) but she was fired…but she got a letter of recommendation…aww, who the hell knows.

Only the Billings Gazette picked up on that story. Unusual, no? A story that involves the State Auditor and her Deputy, and only one other state paper picks it up? It’s not like it wasn’t on Associated Press.

Anyways – thought I’d provide the links and short run-down. Our searches here for 4&20 show that people are looking for the pieces – I thought I’d provide ’em.

~~~~~
Addendum: More I think about it, there are some further questions to this story as it stands with its unproven allegations: Is she getting unemployment? Did she file?

If she was dismissed, as she says, then she should file for unemployment…it she quit, she knows better. She’ll be denied unemployment without extenuating circumstances. OR – if she gets unemployment, with no challenge by the employer, that tells a story in and of itself. If the employer challenges it, there’s hearings and everything to determine the validity of her claim

Puts the state in a position. They gave her a recommendation…but said she was fired. If they flat-out leave a claim for unemployment unchallenged (effectively granting her unemployment payments), then there’s more questions. I mean – they’re on the record saying she was fired.

If she gets unemployment, that’s costing the state (i.e., taxpayers,) directly. Under unemployment, the check comes, 50%, from unemployment insurance, the other 50% directly from the employers. Unless that’s changed….

So it seems to me, a relevant question is: Is Ms. McGee collecting unemployment? Taxpayers should want to know.

by Jay Stevens 

So it’s the start of a new year. I enjoyed a pleasant New Year’s Eve mingling festive family times with Colby at First Night – puppet show, ballet, and bag pipes! Colby’s family is charming, and much fun was had.

I’m not usually one for making lists or resolutions. I like to just do, whenever. But then I saw that Craig did a little retrospective of his blog in 2006, and…well…it looked like fun.

A couple of things before I kick off a 4&20 blackbirds’ retrospective. First, this blog ain’t even a year old. I started only on February 13th of 2006. I know a lot of people will be surprised – I sometimes act like I own the place, but really I’m just a damn newcomer to the Montana blogosphere. Additionally, I’m just a few hundred hits away from 100K, a pretty cool milestone I owe to my readership – tho’ I started the counting a couple of months after starting the blog…so I’m probably already past 100K…but never mind that little pesky detail. I know that’s a lot of readers for such a short time in the ‘sphere – it was a good time to be blogging about the Montana Senate race.

I want to thank Readbetween and the passel of guest bloggers I contracted to fill up the blog with posts back in October. Thanks for helping out.

Above all, thank you, dear reader, for stopping by and reading.

(One quick note: all of these posts were written by me. That’s not to say that some of Readbetween’s or the guest bloggers’ posts weren’t worthy of this list. I just conceived this retrospective as the (de)evolution of 4&20 blackbirds and my brain this past year…so take it for what it’s worth.)

February:

Debuts: Links…, Creeps, and Heroes.

A little brouhaha erupts over security at our nation’s ports…

I encounter the state’s soon-to-be-ex junior Senator from Montana, in the flesh.

March:

Missoula’s Air America affiliate demonstrates why the free market is neither.

Seattle-ites blame Montana for a mass-murdering Whitefish man.

Is going to the movies an act of treason?

April:

In which I find myself in the awkward position of defending corporate America.

A Nazi drops by the site, thereby earning the blog national attention. I am disillusioned with the blogosphere.

4&20 blackbirds puts the hurt on John Morrison’s campaign.

Debut: debate live-blogging.

May:

4&20 blackbirds makes its official endorsement for Montana’s disputed Senate seat.

Finally, Republican Congressmen oppose Bush administration’s penchant for unreasonable searchs…of their goodie bags.

No joke, some of my best material comes from my kids. And you wonder why I’m always tired?

June:

Tester wins his primary election.

JT also provides us the perfect metaphor for our soon-to-be-ex junior Senator.

Burns isn’t the only ethically-challenged representative from Montana.

The editorial board of the Missoulian demonstrates its complete ignorance of Missoula. I begin to suspect the paper’s editorials are being outsourced to India.

July:

Farewell, Patricia Goedicke. You are missed.

Blog-sampling: I steal from Justin to express outrage over gay marriage bans.

Howie Rich outed as the source for the terrible trio of fiscal extremist initiatives.

August:

Politics over principle: the NRA.

Pete McCloskey thinks Rehberg should retire from public service.

A hornet’s nest, stirred.

It’s the love, stupid.

September

Torture is un-American.

Torture doesn’t work.

So why would you want to torture a lefty blogger?

October

What’s a wrap-up of this blog without a denunciation of the Patriot Act?

Walter Schweitzer gives me a headache.

What’s few billion years between friends?

November

Tester wins! (Man, that was a long night. No, that was a long week.)

One of the worser results of the 2006 vote.

So…the election is over…let’s get things started for next one!

December

A football game happened, pitting my birth state against my adopted state.

And what’s a year-ending wrap-up of this blog without a self-obsessed examination?

A little taste of what’s to come in 2007. Whee.

Shameless self promotion

Incidentally, if you’re curious about me, Jay Stevens, check out my appearances on radio, television, and in the paper.

I also had the opportunity to write some stuff for the American Prospect, the Missoula Independent, and Gather.com. Check it out.

Obviously it was a dang busy year. I admit it: good times were had.

by Jay Stevens 

I wish I could take a mulligan on my two posts I wrote recently about Walter Schweitzer’s influence in the state government. On one hand, I very much support the governor and have seen no substantial evidence of wrongdoing by his brother. On the other, I want transparency in government. Whatever. You know all this.

Still, I’ve been pretty harsh on all the reporters involved – John Adams, Mike Dennison, Charles Johnson, Jennifer McKee. They’re all excellent journalists and have given me oodles to blog about over the past year. Still, on this issue, I think everybody could have done better. Adams seems to want us to raise an alarm over an issue that might not have legs; McKee, Dennison, and Johnson produced a poor follow-up that neither enlightened or explored the issue.

This week’s Indy addressed the IR coverage decently, I thought:

We were reminded of April’s John Morrison affair. Lee beat us on that one by a few days. (The lovely rumor is that Morrison delivered the “news” of his long-ago infidelity to Lee in a preemptive strike, before we could get to press with our examination of the public-service implications of that infidelity.) The Missoulian’s headline then was “Morrison: Relationship didn’t alter fraud probe.” Then too the daily allowed the subject of its “investigation” to deny soft-pedaled after-the-jump allegations before readers had a chance to skim paragraph one.

There are striking similarities between Lee newspaper coverage of Morrison and W. Schweitzer.

That said, I also agree with the Indy’s conclusion:

None of this is to imply that the Missoulian, or Lee, or any of its particular writers, are putting out bad papers. Far from it. They take far more flack than they deserve from blog jockeys and punks like us. The same Sunday Missoulian also carried Tyler Christensen’s dogged localization of the Wal-Mart drug-discount story. A day later came Michael Moore’s honest and actually kind of touching obituary for former Indy copy editor and community institution McCarthy Coyle. With the latter, the Missoulian did what we think a good daily, on the rare occasions it doesn’t get there first, ought to sometimes do instead: expand on the story, introduce it to more people, take it further.

In the end, a good media comprises different voices with different methods and different goals. And here in Montana, we’ve got just that, from the outrageous shouting from the blogs, to the aggressive independent media, to the conservative and careful daily newsprint reporting.

The Independent’s story on Walter could be seen as an alarm for people to take notice. The Helena IR’s story could be seen as a tacit statement from long-time political journalists that they don’t see any substantial story here.

In the end, it will be the Schweitzers who dictate the outcome of the story. If Walter is really a mysterious, opaque stooge for certain business interests, we’ll find out eventually. If not, we’ll never hear about this again. I’m betting on the latter.

by Jay Stevens 

In the update to the post I wrote last night about Walter Schweitzer, I mentioned I had been stewing ever since I wrote it.

Here’s the deal. When the story first broke, I didn’t see much to it. I thought it was fine that Walter Schweitzer was helping make policy, but I thought he should be completely transparent so that we could see there was nothing untoward going on. Trust no one in government. That goes without saying.

So when the IR piece came out, it seemed to confirm what I thought, that Walter was fully qualified to help out in whatever way he wanted, and that there really wasn’t much there.

The thing is, now that I’ve read the story a couple of times, one thing is obvious: “Brothers in Arms,” written by Mike Dennison and Jennifer McKee (with contribution from Chuck Johnson) is hands-down the worst investigative news story I have seen in Montana.

First the lede begins in the gentlest way possible, by obliquely referring to Walter’s long political career, so that the “accusation” – that he’s a confidante of the Governor – seems, well, like it’s just no big deal:

At age 18, Walter Schweitzer, the brother of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, cut his political teeth as a volunteer for the U.S. Senate campaign of future Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart in Colorado.

Now, 26 years later, Walter is still in the political game, but in a capacity that’s sometimes raised a few eyebrows and set tongues wagging in Montana political circles: Adviser and confidante to his brother, the governor of Montana.

And why is being an advisor to the Governor a bad thing, according to Johnson, McKee, and Dennison?

State law forbids the governor (or any other high-ranking state government official) from appointing close relatives to state jobs. Consequently, Walter cannot be part of the governor’s paid, personal staff.

Actually, that’s not the real controversy surrounding Walter’s role. That’s a bureaucratic blip, an administrative anomaly. No, if we want to find out why having Walter help craft policy is a problem, we have to scoot way down to the middle of the story after both Brian and Walter get their quotes in – which is in of itself an oddity, because in the general reportorial template, we don’t get the quotes until after all the facts are in. (You wouldn’t want to influence how readers interpret the facts, would you?)

But since Walter is a private citizen and not on the governor’s staff, it raises the question of whom he represents, for whom he speaks, and to whom he’s accountable.

“We don’t know his job title; we don’t know his responsibilities,’’ said Bob Raney, a Democratic state Public Service Commissioner from Livingston who has met with Walter on energy issues. “What if it was any other person, who we know nothing about? What if some other governor had a confidante who went completely under the radar screen, yet directed government activity? It’s dead wrong.’’

Transparency in government is one of 4&20 blackbirds’ ideological goals. So this actually concerns me. Not that I think Walter is abusing his position as confidante. I have no reason to think so, no evidence, no concrete accusation. And, as I’ve said before, I’d welcome Walter into the government, if it weren’t for that pesky nepotism law. (Possible solution to follow…)

These accusations are brushed under the table in loving paragraphs devoted to making Walter look as good as possible, with descriptions of his family, his political experience, even some mention of where his income comes from.

A couple of things jump out, things we saw in John Adams’ story, but not in this one. No anonymous sources. No Bob Keenan. Some debate the merit of anonymous sources, but a good reporter like Adams is sure to confirm his sources’ reports with others’. And some – like me! – can claim that Keenan is hardly a disinterested party, as he’s rumored to have eyes for Brian Schweitzer’s seat. But since when has a Lee newspaper eschewed clumsy talking points from Republican hacks?

The “bullying” is also gone, apparently lest the reader might be confused by the contrast of Dennison Morrison, McKee, and Johnson’s effusions with anonymous reports of Walter’s “ugly” side.

There. I spoke my mind and trashed this report. Honestly, writing such an obsequious and mealy-mouthed report only raises suspicions that Walter has a lot of power and is mis-using it. Come on, people! Get on the stick! I’m a partisan hack, not a political journalist. Don’t make me do your d*mn jobs, especially when covering those I admire!

Now. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I have absolutely no problem with Walter Schweitzer making policy decisions. None. I’ve heard as many complaints about Walter as I’ve heard praise. If he’s a bully, I couldn’t care less. If it helps the Governor govern, a few bruised egos mean little.

But I do have a problem with Walter’s opacity. Let the light shine, Governor!

Now. A solution. Let’s get rid of that damn nepotism law. Or amend it to allow Walter Schweitzer to legally have a portfolio within the Schweitzer administration.

Crazy idea? Not so. I think it could get bipartisan support, mainly because of the Good Guv’s rampant popularity, and because his coal-to-gas scheme is very popular among conservative big-business backers. Use the coal-to-gas project to leverage a change in the law. If Walter’s responsible for the plan, then they’ll want Walter around to hammer it through.

But then the IR report says that Walter is concentrating on Brian’s 2008 campaign, which isn’t subject to nepotism laws. So maybe the brothers have already found a solution by putting Walter onto the re-election drive and getting him out of Helena. If that’s the case, then they’ve already solved the problem.

by Jay Stevens 

The Helena IR released its report on Walter Schweitzer today, written by a trio of Montana’s best political reporters, Mike Dennison, Jennifer McKee, and Charles Johnson. When I first heard rumor of this story, it sounded like it would be pretty damning. Only it isn’t. In fact, this report, barring any subsequent and concrete allegations against Brian Schweitzer’s brother, would seem to bury the story for good.

The IR piece, like John Adams’ report, does allege that Walter S has been involved in some policy meetings. But where Adams’ reporting was aggressive, the IR report treads cautiously, citing more sources, including Walter — almost no anonymous sources, and not a peep from Bob Keenan — and the result is far less damaging. In fact, the IR portrays Walter as a shrewd and capable political player, even a valuable asset to the Governor, while downplaying the criticism of Walter’s possible ethical entanglement with nepotism laws and other ethical improprieties. The closing passages seem to sum up the conclusion of KDennison, McKee, and Johnson:

Some longtime Democrats in Montana say that Walter’s role seems pretty normal, regardless of the details: He’s an active Democrat promoting Democratic ideals, he’s loyal to his brother and wants to better the state of Montana.“I don’t understand the noise being made about the (Brian’s) relationship with (Walter),’’ said state Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek. “Maybe Walter has his own money, and maybe it’s nobody’s business. How petty can you get?’’

Walter also mostly dismisses any notion that he’s an insider who has some special position, or that he’s in any way profiting from his relationship with his brother.

“It’s unjustified (criticism) and not supported by the facts,’’ he said. “It’s the same people who complained about Brian wearing blue jeans who complained about Brian bringing his dog into the Capitol building. They’re grasping at straws.’’

Absent from the IR is the rumors of bullying and the “culture of fear” in Helena.

That doesn’t mean the GOP isn’t going to try to make hay of this issue in the upcoming legislative season, but there’s more than enough info and quotes in this piece to keep Walter from becoming a political obstacle.

Of course, I’m a partisan hack willing to give Brian Schweitzer the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t see much actual harm in the story when it first broke, and I see even less after this story. Still, I do know there’s been some grumbling, and I’d like to hear Ed Kemmick’s take, since he alone — other than those you’d expect — expressed any concern about the Walter Schweitzer story. Maybe I’m missing something here.

Update: I’ve been stewing on this story ever since I wrote this post.

First, I should add that Dennison, Johnson, and McKee are only three of the state’s political writers. There are at least two others: Gwen Florio and John Adams.

While this post appears to be a criticism of Adams’ story, it’s not. Adams’ story was spot-on in identifying possible ethical improprieties. And he’s obviously very fair in who he “targets” for stories. No one can accuse him of laying off a story because of the potential damage it might do to his access or his paper’s bottom line.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!:

But let me suggest something here. Run adams’ piece [on Walter Schweitzer] by Ochenski and see what he says about it. If George says it’s a good story, I’ll accept it.

Ochenski:

If anything is evident from Adams’ story, the blog comments, and the e-mails flying around the capital that the public will never see, it is the need for, at a minimum, full disclosure and clarification of Walter’s role. Without that, the climate of fear that permeates the issue will continue—and Montanans deserve better than to be afraid of their own government.

Now you know where I stand on Adams’ accusations. I don’t have a problem with Walter Schweitzer, I don’t have a problem with a strong arm in the Governor’s office, and I think that maybe the problem here is Montana’s nepotism law that forces Walter to stay off the official record.

I also think — judging by the comments on my and Ed Kemmick’s blog — that most people had no problem with Walter Schweitzer participating in policy or “bullying”; but that they did have a problem with accountability and oversight, as did Ochenski. I’d have to agree.

As for why Montana’s other papers didn’t run with this story — other than an apparent policy to never touch anything the Independent or a blog touches first (kind of like Ms. Marvelous and food) — there’s really not much substance to the article other than a couple of complaints from disgruntled party members and activists and an possible opposition candidate. There are a lot of questions, yes.

Ultimately Adams’ story and the outpouring here and at Ed’s is a gift, an opportunity for the Governor to do a little self-correcting. Keep Walter, just make him transparent. As Keenan demonstrated, the GOP is ready to play ball with this issue in the 2008 elections. Let’s not give ’em anything they can sink their claws into.

Posted by touchstone

Links…

Ed Kemmick weighs in on Walter Schweitzer.

Speaking of Schweitzer, the Cato Institute gives him an “F” — after having given Judy Martz an “A.” The lesson? Steer away from Cato-backed candidates.

Matt on the latest Rasmussen Senate poll numbers.

Jaime sums up Not in Montana’s argument against CI-97 in the Montana Supreme Court.

Nicole reflects on the 2006 political landscape…and feels hope, d*mn it to h*ll!

On the outing of Idaho Republican Senator, Larry Craig.

Glenn Greenwald posts on McCain’s plan for victory in Iraq, which relies on 100,000 spontaneous volunteers to beef up the military.

Former Army Ranger Kevin Tillman speaks out against the Iraq war.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a story on the bread lines for military families. Had enough?

Steve Benen thinks the latest GOP scare tactics won’t work.

More news on the shady dealings of corrupt Republicans.

More news on the Republican sex scandals: this time, sexual assault. Good news for the GOP is that the victim wasn’t a child.

New York Times on the rats turning on themselves.

Is Karl Rove a genius or a fraud?

Here’s the free market in action: big corporations patenting their tax-evasion techniques. Classy.

Check out Der Spiegel’s “War for Wealth” special series for a look into debates on globalization, capitalism, etc & co.

Christianity Today: “Islam in American Protestant Thought.” Not much of a surprise that there’s great misunderstanding and hostility.

Colbert interviews NY 19 Democratic candidate and former lead singer of Orleans, John Hall. Must see! Watch his Republican opponent run…away from television cameras. Somehow an apt metaphor for the GOP…

Colbert on Santorum’s analogy comparing Iraq to the Lord of the Rings: “…in this analogy, the United States is Mordor, and Mount Doom, the midterm elections…”

I’ve had my say about John Adams’ article on the possible influence of Governor Schweitzer’s brother on state policy. But I don’t work in government, I don’t run think in political circles, I’m not familiar with Helena dealings.

This is your turn. It’s your chance to leave your opinion, in anonymity if need be. What do you think? Is Walt a pain? Is he unethical? Is this a real problem?

Let’s air this issue out; I want to hear what you’re thinking. I’m betting other people do, too.

For a little inspiration, here’s what commenter Reader had to say:

I don’t really care so much about the nepotism law’s letter as its intent, which I read to be ensuring that there are not special channels to people with power. That’s well-intentioned but it has had the effect of forcing Walt into an ill-defined, unofficial role without any check of public accountability.

Keenan has Walt’s e-mail records because Walt was doing it on the state’s dime when Keenan raised a stink about his work during the transition. It’s perfectly possible to see what he was up to at that time. That’s how it should be. Keenan used the nepotism law to score political points and sent Walt to the shadows but that’s not going to diminish his influence, just make it tough to find out what he’s up to. So, in a sense, Bob created the shadow creature he wants to slay.

That said, the governor and his brother need to smarten up about this. There is a strong tradition of disclosure in Montana and, if there’s nothing to hide, then Walt ought not act so combatively toward people asking questions. This might well have been a neutral to favorable profile with a big picture of him and the guv in brotherly arms on the cover and not just a forum for critics–many of whom (including the PSC commissioner Raney who was a big source) seem to think of themselves as allies of the governor though certainly a few wouldn’t look at themselves that way.

If everything is kosher here then the way this has been handled so far does not demonstrate the best political sense.

So…out with it!

Anybody see John Adams’ piece in the Missoula Independent today, on Governor Schweitzer’s brother’s influence in his administration? At risk of sounding like a partisan hack, it doesn’t seem terribly…controversial?

Let’s catalogue the accusations and examine them, one by one:

“Montana’s nepotism laws make it illegal for the governor to hire his brother as an official policy adviser or member of his cabinet, but the fact that Walter’s not on the state payroll doesn’t deter him from playing a key role in the administration. That same fact leaves him exempt from what politicians like to call the sunshine of public scrutiny, or the press. But multiple elected officials, lobbyists and bureaucratic staffers confirm that Walter is Brian’s front man on many policy and political matters.”

I’m not sure how Walter Schweitzer is different than any other lawmaker’s staffer or policy advisor, other than the fact that he’s not on the state payroll. Are other policy-makers or staffers held accountable for policy? No. The ultimate responsibility for policy lies with the boss, and that’s Brian Schweitzer.

Remember, just because he’s the governor’s brother doesn’t mean he’s not qualified to advise Schweitzer. The opposite may be true, if you think Walter Schweitzer has had a hand in his brother’s political and policy successes.

“The overall concern of Democrats is that there’s going to be a scandal that’s going to hurt Brian,” one Democratic lawmaker told the Independent. “There’s a lot of people who have a lot of hope for this administration, and this relationship Brian has with his brother is the one thing that is just weird. If Brian Schweitzer is going to have a problem, it’s going to be around Walt: Who’s paying him and what’s his accountability?”

Accountability lies with the governor, of course. As for paying…well…that is a good question. One that should be answered. How is the governor funding his brother’s non-state position? Is he using government funds?

Walter is known, in Helena if not beyond, as the governor’s enforcer, firewall and political bully. Most of the lobbyists contacted by the Independent told the paper they’re afraid to talk about him for fear of political retribution. Lawmakers refused to go on the record about Walt for fear that he and the governor would make it impossible to pass their bills in the upcoming legislative session.

As distasteful as this may seem, is this uncommon? Don’t most administrations have the “good cop/bad cop” staffers? One guy to chase away the problems and keep the wayward in line, the other to mend fences and forge alliances? One the governor’s accomplishments is his penchant for budget surpluses. If Walter’s bullying chases away legislators with pie-in-the-sky and expensive bills…that’s a good thing.

The main question asked by the people I talked to is this: Given that he seems to spend most of his time at the capitol, and given that he isn’t employed by the state, how does Walter make his living in Helena?

Now this is an important question. That should be answered.

There were also some remarks on Walter Schweitzer’s background and whether he was “qualified” to be an advisor of the governor’s, but Walter’s background – a rancher – seems to make him as qualified for a government position as Conrad Burns, Jon Tester, or Brian Schweitzer himself.

Ultimately my feelings on the issue are mirrored in the following quote:

“I will tell you there’s an upside and a downside to Walter’s presence in Helena,” one high-ranking Democrat told me. “The upside is…that there’s value in having somebody there that the governor absolutely trusts in an unvarnished way.”

The downside, the source said, is that the presence of the governor’s brother at high-level policy meetings raises concerns for some about his influence on policy decisions.

“I think it’s perfectly fine if the governor wants his brother to be involved…but then I think that his portfolio and job description, and what he does and doesn’t do, ought to be defined. I think that would be good for the governor and good for the Democratic Party.”

One of Adams’ biggest sources in this story is – surprise! – Bob Keenan. Keenan has been trying to make this an issue for quite some time, and even gave Adams “hundreds of pages from Walter’s state-owned electronic mail account from 2004 and 2005.” (How and why Keenan spent so much time acquiring the correspondence is a mystery.)

Keenan has been rumored to be interested in – guess what – running for governor! That’s right! One of the folks who’s “concerned” about Walter’s influence in Helena has a vested interest in seeing the governor embroiled in scandal. And the timing for this piece, scant days before the November election, also benefits Keenan’s pals, like Burns for whom Keenan recently stumped. If Burns’ camp wants to nullify the ethics scandal, he can point to this article and say “Schweitzer doed it, too!”

Of course, no way do I suspect that John Adams was played here. Nor do I think Adams wrote this story with the November elections in mind. I’ve met John a couple times – surrounding the blogger article he wrote – and I trust him completely. He’s a true investigative reporter, a man who’s keenly concerned with the integrity of our elected officials.

While I’m not overly concerned with Walter’s position, I do think Adams’ article – though at times substituting hyperbole for genuine ethical issues – has brought up some good questions that the governor should answer. Give Walter a portfolio, a job description, an official role. Make Walter’s funding transparent. Let us know what he does, exactly. Bring everything above board and have done with it.




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