You Gotta Love Them Western Democrats
In the end, the real impact of the Rocky Mountain Democrats on their party may be more spiritual than electoral. Their informality and egalitarianism, their lack of bile, their can-do optimism stand in refreshing contrast to politics as it is practiced in our nation's capital. One night last autumn, Schweitzer took me to Jake's Restaurant in Billings, one of the better steak houses in his state. "Oh, hi, Governor," the hostess beamed. Schweitzer asked her if she had a table available. She frowned over her reservation list. "Sorry, Governor, we're full up," she said. "You want to sit in the bar?"My favorite Western Democratic stars are Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Wyoming's "Gov Dave" Freudenthal. In Wyoming, former Gov. Jim Geringer, a Republican, was caught pressing to the front of the line at a Sunday buffet at Little America, and the story symbolized an imperial way of being governor that paved the way for Freudenthal's two wins, the latest with a plurality of 70 percent of the vote in the heavily Republican Cowboy State.
"Sure!" Schweitzer said, without blinking an eye. I daresay that no Governor of an East or West Coast ... or Southern state would ever get stiffed like that or take it with such equanimity. But it sure felt bracing, like a fresh wind off the prairie, like America is supposed to be.
Hickenlooper, an Easterner who has learned Western ways, was photographed in the local paper shoveling snow for the elderly during one of our recent blizzards. In another city, this might have been seen as a mere publicity stunt. But we know John here, and we know that's just the kind of guy he is. And that's why his approval rating is over 90 percent and his reelection campaign in May is going to be more of a citywide party and pep rally than a bruising battle with a serious opponent.