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The West Leans Left | The Nation

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The West Leans Left

Is a red state Governor who wears cowboy hats, embroidered denim jackets and bolo ties, drives a Volkswagen Jetta powered by biodiesel, ran with a Republican Lt. Gov on his ticket, loves hunting, strives for energy independence and refuses to accept special interest money or hold closed-door meetings the new face progressives should be talking about?

If his name's Brian Schweitzer, many already are. In the last four presidential elections Democrats took 41, 38, 33 and 38 percent of the vote in Montana. By comparison, Schweitzer engineered a four point win in 2004. Since then he's become one of the most popular Governors in the country.

This week Schweitzer took his show on the road, attending a meeting of Governors in Washington, appearing on 60 Minutes (be sure to check out his reference to "sheiks and dictators and rats and crooks") and speaking before the Center for American Progress--an event I attended yesterday.

Schweitzer called his recent session with the Montana state legislature "the most progressive in the country." The Missoulian offers a recap:

His initiatives include the largest two-year increase in state funding for schools since 1991, a new college scholarship program for Montana students, a good raise in pay for state employees, eliminating the business equipment tax for 13,000 small businesses, requiring more wind power and other alternative energy development, beefing up health care and other programs for the needy and improving relationships with Montana's Indian tribes and nations.

Schweitzer's made energy independence the centerpiece of his governing agenda, advocating wind, ethanol, biodiesel and new coal-to-fuel technologies. He even carried little vials of various farm oils and a rock of coal to the CAP event. "The next generation will not be sent to a foreign land to protect an oil field," he says.

Schweitzer for President websites are already launching. The current hype may prove to be just that--hype. But Republicans are beginning to watch closely. At a White House dinner on Sunday, Schweitzer's wife, Nancy, sat between "the straight shooter himself," Dick Cheney, and "the Architect," Karl Rove.

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