Since adoption of Montana’s 1972 constitution our governors have vetoed 293 bills in 21 legislative sessions. More than half the vetoes — 149 — have been cast in just the last two sessions.

What’s going on?

Well, Democrats say the Tea Party takeover of the Republicans has resulted in passage of a tidal wave of extremist legislation that mainstream Govs. Schweitzer and Bullock have had to veto to protect the public interest. Republicans will tell you the vetoes have more to do with grandstanding and crass political positioning than policy differences.

Both sets of finger pointers probably have a point. But there’s more to the story.

Back in 1980 the huge Reagan landslide brought Republican majorities to both houses of the Montana Legislature for the first time in over a quarter of a century. These Republicans clearly saw themselves as conservatives, proud to be a part of the “Reagan Revolution.”

Schwinden and Turnage

Typical of their contrarian nature, though, Montana voters, in step with Reagan, also elected tough, Trumanesque, prairie-populist Democrat Ted Schwinden to be their governor. The stage was set for a head-on collision between Montana’s most conservative Legislature in a generation, and its partisan Democratic governor.

No collision happened. I mentioned this to a Democratic colleague with whom I served at that time in the state Senate.

“Well, you know why that was don’t you?,” the Democrat replied. “It happened because Ted Schwinden paid as much attention to Jean Turnage as he did to us.”

I have enormous respect for Turnage. After serving as a Republican state senate leader for many years, he was chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court for many more. Now well in his 80s and as deeply wise as ever, he is back in the practice of law in his old firm in Polson. I recently told him about our Democratic friend’s comment.

Typical of Turnage, he chuckled and said he was sure the comment was an “exaggeration.” He freely acknowledged, though, that Schwinden, was “very open and easy to work with,” and “reasonable, knowledgeable and honorable.” He modestly credited Schwinden revenue director and Turnage friend former Democratic state Sen. Bill Groff for facilitating good communications.

‘A far different period’

Turnage commented that his legislative years, from the 1960s into the 1980s, were “a far different period.” He said that while Democrats and Republicans “had our differences,” they “weren’t constantly trying to upstage and embarrass each other.”

“Just getting the job done for the state and the people was the top priority for Schwinden, I think, as well as for us on the Republican side,” Turnage said.

Sadly, by overwhelmingly voting to sustain Gov. Bullock’s vetoes of bills they had overwhelmingly voted to pass just weeks ago, Montana Democrats have shown a priority for party over principle.

They have made a sharp pragmatic transition from the disastrous year of 1972 when rigid ideologues dominating their party even refused to send their own U.S. Sen. Lee Metcalf as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention because he wasn’t pure enough.

Political puritans, now unquestionably dominate Montana’s Republican legislators. President Reagan’s observation that “there is room in our tent for many views; indeed the divergence of views is one of our strengths” would not go over well with the party hardliners today.

Maybe today’s Democrats need to be a little more principled, and our Republicans a little less puritanical. If so, both would find it easier to get the job done for the people they both represent. Vetoes would be rare — as in the time of Schwinden and Turnage.

Republican Bob Brown of Whitefish is a former Montana Senate president and secretary of state.


More from

(8) comments


"Since adoption of Montana’s 1972 constitution our governors have vetoed 293 bills" Since 1972 the State has seen an ever growing number of radical right wing factions i.e. fundamentalist churches, white supremastists, militia groups, and other backwoods whacko groups, and the pity is these people are being elected to office, hence whacko laws being passed with little thought to their overall impact, hence the need for someone rational to veto same.

Jus Wundrin
Jus Wundrin

Not to mention all the progressive kalifornia 60's transplants in our legislature, who left their state in ruin, and now have come here to start anew.

Next to them a moderate repub seems radical.


That's all true too, but isn't the hippy faction part of the whacko movement in Sanders County. How about the enclaves up around Libby, do believe they are hippy transplants from California. Be glad when all you political conservative and liberal wannabes move on, can remember the good ole days when our bumper stickers said "MOINTANA NATIVE, GLAD YOUR PASSING THROUGH."


Contrary to popular belief, I am not a dye in the wool liberal, I am just anit-tea party.

right is right
right is right

"Contrary to popular belief, I am not a dye in the wool liberal, I am just anit-tea party."

That's like saying Obama doesn't lie, he just doesn't tell the truth.

Sarah Baraccuda
Sarah Baraccuda

LOL!!! Funny analogy coming from ye WRIGHT is RIGHT since you are a deliberate birther! Republicans favorite game to play is using Hitler/Nazianalogies in association with President Obama.

Fat Life

Very thoughtful article; very apt. Also liked "Our Culture Lives Against the Environment, not with it." Wonder how long it will take for man to kill off every living thing on Earth and the sea and then himself.


Aptly stated, they have no shame other than a small bottom line.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.