Angry Lange lashes out at Schweitzer
Rep. Mike Lange, R-Billings, far left, meets with Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel; Rep. Dennis Himmelberger, R-Billings; and Speaker of the House Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, far right, after the House adjourned for the morning. GEORGE LANE/Independent Record

HELENA - The House Republican majority leader, Michael Lange, unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at Gov. Brian Schweitzer Wednesday, saying the Democratic governor "can go straight to hell."

Lange, of Billings, exploded during a meeting of House Republicans Wednesday morning and repeatedly attacked Schweitzer, who was not present.

The GOP leader called Schweitzer an "SOB on the second floor that thinks he's going to run this state like a dictator."

He later apologized to fellow House members on the floor.

Rep. Bill Wilson, D-Great Falls, then rose on a "point of personal privilege" to respond, saying he had never heard anything as "vile and as insulting as I heard today."

"Mark my word," said Wilson, a 14-year veteran of the Legislature. "This is a very low point in the history of this body."

Lange's blow-up came about 90 minutes after he had met with Schweitzer to talk about an offer that Democrats considered a tax and budget compromise to end the session.

He told House Republicans he considered the offer a "bribe" and that he was standing up for his caucus and what it believes in.

"So my message to the governor is to stick it up your ass," Lange shouted angrily. "That's my message to him. Stick it up your ass."

Many of the House Republicans applauded this comment. Some, however, sat stone-faced listening to the ranting by Lange, who has expressed interest in challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus next year.

At one point, Lange accused Democrats of negotiating like "radical socialists" like those in the Soviet Union, North Korea and "Red China." They won't compromise or capitulate, he said.

The House Republican leader said doesn't care if Schweitzer arranges for every one of his bills to be killed.

"He can take every bill and I don't (care)," he told fellow Republicans and an audience that included a half-dozen high school students serving as House pages. "Every bill. But I will not be intimidated on your behalf. I will not be offered a bribe to turn you loose to go screw the state of Montana on any bill."

The caucus ended with some House Republicans chanting, "Stay till May! Stay till May!" That was a reference to their willingness to return for a special session next week rather than yield on principle.

What started out as a promising day for resolving the impasse ended in tatters a few hours later, with the specter of a special session appearing more likely.

Schweitzer administration officials said later Wednesday they thought Lange had agreed earlier in the day to support a compromise package that increased state funding for schools and upped a one-time rebate for homeowners from $400 to $600 this year.

But Lange blew whatever agreement existed out of the water with his tirade at a meeting of House Republicans Wednesday morning, shortly after 9 a.m.

Lange later apologized on the House floor for his outburst and begged for members' forgiveness.

"I used language that was inappropriate for this body and for this Legislature," he said.

"I certainly meant no offense," Lange said. "My frustration got the better of me."

Wilson, who rarely speaks on the House floor and isn't running again, took particular offense at Lange's comparing Democrats to communists and socialists.

"Communists?" Wilson said. "My father landed in Normandy. To group me in with a group like that is about as offensive as anything I can imagine."

Asked if he intended to apologize to Schweitzer, Lange told reporters later, "I respect the office of the governor. I'm not apologizing to him. As far as my frustration level with him and his tactics, I make no apologies to him."