Montana’s Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that President Barack Obama has the advantage for re-election and should campaign on his economic record, not as a populist.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Thank you for being here, Governor. I’m envious of your tie. We’ll get to Montana specifics in a minute, but, first, let me ask you this. Presidential race this year: Who has the upper hand, Obama or Romney?
GOVERNOR BRIAN SCHWEITZER: If you went to Vegas today, it’d be 60-40 for Obama. The economy’s on the mend. That’s the - that’s probably the most important thing. It’s 25 consecutive months of positive job increases. And energy, my gosh, you know, we’ve gone from 60 percent of our energy being imported back down to 45 percent. People are feeling more confident. A lot of the polls are showing that. So -
HUNT: Suppose you asked that fundamental question that Reagan once asked, are you better off than you were four years ago, what would Montanans say?
SCHWEITZER: They’d say yes. I think it’s been pretty -
HUNT: Even though unemployment’s not quite what it was four years - employment, rather, is not quite what it was four years ago?
SCHWEITZER: We’re at 6.2 percent unemployment. You know, our - our tax revenues are up. People are doing OK in Montana.
HUNT: OK. The - the Obama camp vacillates between saying Romney is a chameleon and a flip-flopper with no core principles and then they say he’s a right-wing ideologue. Now, it can’t be both. He’s got to be one or the other. Which would you advise them? Which tack do you think is the more effective and more credible?
SCHWEITZER: Well, it’s above my pay grade. It’s above my pay grade. But let’s just talk about the Mitt Romney who has been running in this Republican primary. That’s a Mitt Romney that is pretty far to the right, I mean, well far right of center, further right on immigration than Newt Gingrich. On almost all the issues with his competitors, he was on the far- right side of it. So I guess you would take Mitt Romney at his word.
HUNT: But you’ve known him for a long time. Do you think that’s the real Mitt? Do you really think he’s a right-wing ideologue?
SCHWEITZER: I don’t know what he is. I can tell you he’s a nice man. And we traveled together for a week in Iraq and Afghanistan while the war was going on, and we talked about family, we talked about business, we talked about energy, we talk about a lot of things. I like him. I think he’s a good man. I think he’s an honest man.
But, of course, he’s a leader of a party. And the Republican Party is far right of the Reagan Republican Party. And I don’t think Goldwater would even recognize this Republican Party.
HUNT: Can Obama run as an economic populist - you know economic populism - given his record and relative friendliness with the financial industry?
SCHWEITZER: Probably not. But, you know, there’s a heck of a lot more people living in the big cities and - than there is out in farm country. And so he knows - he knows his base. And I think that he has demonstrated that he can work with banks. And, frankly, without the actions of Obama, we wouldn’t be making cars, and now General Motors is the No. 1 car manufacturer.
HUNT: So that should be his stress, rather than, you know, I’m a populist who -
SCHWEITZER: I think so, yeah, absolutely. You shouldn’t run from that kind of a record.
SCHWEITZER: If he wouldn’t have taken that risk - and it wasn’t popular. It was about as popular as a toothache.
HUNT: You’re talking about the banks and cars?
SCHWEITZER: Cars especially.
SCHWEITZER: General Motors, people said, look, if they’re - if they can’t make a car that sells in the market - remember those days - they ought to go out of business. He said, no, wait a minute here. We’ve got to make cars in this country. And now General Motors is back.
HUNT: Do you think they made a mistake with the health-care law? Should they not have pushed that as a priority?
SCHWEITZER: I probably would have pushed a little harder.
HUNT: You would have?
SCHWEITZER: Well, look, here’s - here’s what I believe. The problem we have with health care in this country is we pay too much and we - we do too many procedures, because it’s fee for profit. And so if you’re a provider, and somebody walks in, you want to make sure you give them all the tests that you can possibly sell. And so you give them a lot of tests, and you charge them a lot of money.
Well, this bill didn’t really challenge the costs. I guess we can do that down the road, but it did a couple of things. Folks that had pre-existing conditions, no fault of their own - my gosh, they lost the genetic -
HUNT: That’s the good part of the bill.
SCHWEITZER: - yeah, and you can stay on your parents’ health insurance until you’re 26. Those are two good parts of the bill.
HUNT: Right. But you don’t think it goes far enough. Does it - suppose the court overturns it.
SCHWEITZER: Well, we’ve already started in Montana.
HUNT: To do your own state?
SCHWEITZER: I - I signed a bill in Montana that says we wouldn’t enforce the mandate, because I don’t believe that it’s constitutional to have a mandate if you don’t have a public option.
HUNT: Well, you would have preferred him to go the public option route rather than the mandate.
SCHWEITZER: Give people a choice.
SCHWEITZER: And then it would have been - I don’t think there would have been a constitutional problem. Here’s the problem. When you say to a citizen, because you’re a citizen of the United States, you have to reach into your pocket, use your own money, and give it to a private insurance company, that’s where it gets unconstitutional. If they would have said you can give it to a private insurance company or to Medicare or Medicaid or whatever the public option is, then it would be constitutional.
HUNT: Governor, guns are sacred in Montana. But - and I understand that, and the right to have arms and to hunt and everything else. But you have a Stand Your Ground law like they had in Florida, with that terrible case, with Trayvon Martin. That’s not about gun rights. That’s not about hunters’ rights, is it?
SCHWEITZER: But standing your ground is not chasing somebody down the street and shooting them.
HUNT: But that’s the way it’s used in some defenses.
SCHWEITZER: Well, Stand Your Ground is if somebody threatens you, then you can defend yourself. Listen, you know, guns - guns is not just about hunting. The framers of our Constitution understood that every individual ought to have a right to - to carry a weapon, to defend themselves, not just from some other individual, but against tyranny.
HUNT: Keystone pipeline. Republicans say it’s going to hurt Obama because he vacillated. Is that right? And is there anything he can do over the next six months that you think would be helpful on that?
SCHWEITZER: Let’s just clear the air on it. Pipelines are permitted state by state by state. It’s not the federal government that permits them. The only reason there would be even any involvement of the federal government is because it crosses the border from - from Alberta into Montana.
SCHWEITZER: So it becomes an international pipeline. Well, Montana’s given them a permit. I negotiated with TransCanada over the last three years, and I am the biggest supporter in all of America for this conflict-free oil. Plus, they’re going to build $100 million onramp in Montana and put Montana oil on that pipeline, as well. A lot of people don’t know that.
South Dakota’s given the permit, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas -
HUNT: Everywhere but Nebraska.
SCHWEITZER: Nebraska - Nebraska didn’t give them a permit. As soon as there’s an actual route, then TransCanada is going to be able to apply to the State Department, and then they can -
HUNT: Is there anything Obama can do in the next six months?
SCHWEITZER: Well, he could talk about it like Congress does, but -
HUNT: But - but - but you don’t see it as an issue that’s going to hurt him?
SCHWEITZER: No, because what they’ve made up here - they’ve fabricated an issue in Washington, D.C., because Congress has nothing to do with this, and TransCanada doesn’t even have an active application before the State Department until they have a route across Kansas - across Nebraska.
HUNT: Chinese companies have started joint ventures with some oil companies in Canada. If they wanted to buy U.S. companies that are drilling in Montana, is that OK with you?
SCHWEITZER: If - we have a Russian company that’s the owned the only platinum and palladium in the Western Hemisphere working in Montana, and they employ Montanans. If - if foreign companies want to invest their money in Montana and hire Montanans to work there, I’m all - I’m good with it.
HUNT: OK. Obama lost Montana by 11,000 votes last time. No Democrat has carried it since Bill Clinton, and no Democrat’s gotten 50 percent - you told me earlier - since Lyndon Johnson. Does Obama have any shot in Big Sky Country? And if he loses, will he take Jon Tester down with him?
SCHWEITZER: Here’s the deal. You tell me. If he wins 46 states, Montana will be one of them. If he - if he only wins 42 states, then Montana won’t be one of them. And Jon Tester will run on his own merits. People in Montana are vote-splitters. We got more independents than we do either Republicans or Democrats. They’re very likely - I mean, my gosh, when I got elected, George Bush won by 22 points and I won the election. So -
HUNT: You’re basically predicting that it’s going to be very hard for Obama to win. Do you think Tester will win?
SCHWEITZER: Tester will win. It’s a flip of the coin right now. It’s - all the polls show it’s tied. But people like Jon Tester.
HUNT: Right, OK. Governor Schweitzer, thank you so much for being with us. I hope we can visit with you again.
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