Secretary of State Bob Brown is attacking Democratic governor candidate Brian Schweitzer for remarks he made about public access earlier this year at a Democratic Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Libby.
The inflammatory quote, as reported by the Western News: "We love access to our public lands. If we have leadership that takes access away from us, then what are we left with? Open the gates. Cut a padlock. We have a right to be there."
Says Brown: "That law has stood up over time, and if we need to fine tune it some, we can. But it serves no good purpose for Mr. Schweitzer to be throwing verbal bombs at Montana's private property owners. Both sides of the issue need to cooperate and compromise to make this law work. Telling recreational users to cut padlocks on private land is so over the top that it clears Granite Peak by a mile."
Why so lame an attack so early in the campaign? Maybe Brown heard the same rumor I did -- that both the AP and the Lee State Bureau are working on stories on Pat Davison's role with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represented landowners who sued the state of Montana over its stream access law. Davison is still listed as a board member on the Legal Foundation's website, and he has not, to my knowledge, repudiated the unsuccessful suit, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear on appeal.
Could Brown be a sneaky -- I mean, astute -- enough politician to take an easy shot at Schweitzer while establishing his public access credentials without directly attacking a Republican he hopes to defeat in the gubernatorial primary? Nah.
UPDATE: Maybe this is a repudiation.
SECOND UPDATE: Brian Schweitzer fires back: "Bob Brown’s recent press release sounds like nothing more than a professional politician’s attack. As a third generation Montana farmer who has owned land in Flathead, Sanders, Rosebud, and Judith Basin counties, I understand private property rights better than a lifetime lobbyist, bureaucrat and politician. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sportsmen have a right to access public land, and they have a responsibility to respect private property rights. This is exactly why Montana needs new leadership that draws people together for common sense solutions, instead of relying on the politics of personal attacks."