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Kerry says howdy

Kerry says howdy

Jon Ebelt IR Staff Photographer

By CHARLES S. JOHNSON – IR State Bureau – 08/12/05

HELENA — U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, stopped by the Capitol on Thursday to visit with Gov. Brian Schweitzer as part of a national “listening tour,” but deflected any questions about running for president in 2008.

A relaxed Kerry, wearing a striped blue shirt, blue jeans and hiking boots, was on his way to his vacation home in Ketchum, Idaho, during the congressional recess. The Massachusetts senator entered the Capitol rotunda to the warm applause of Schweitzer’s staff as the governor walked down the hall to welcome him. Then the two men greeted some surprised people touring the Capitol.

Kerry peppered Schweitzer, his staff and state Sen. Mike Cooney, D-Helena, who had stopped by the Capitol to pick something up, with questions on state and national issues. He asked Schweitzer how the state would deal with the Bush administration’s proposed Medicaid cuts.

“This administration, while they talk the talk, there’s no walking the walk,” Schweitzer said. “They put additional demands on the states with no new money.”

Added Schweitzer: “I think we’re probably going to need a new president.”

Kerry, 61, grinned broadly.

“Any suggestions?” Cooney asked with a smile.

“I’m staying away from that one,” Kerry said with a laugh.

President Bush defeated Kerry, 59 to 39 percent, in Montana last year, with other candidates dividing the remaining votes.

Kerry and Schweitzer and others talked about the Iraq war, National Guard, health care, energy, American Indian issues, education, highways, tourism and fires, with Kerry sometimes asking questions and then talking in great detail about issues such as global warming.

Schweitzer, meanwhile, put in a pitch for his proposal to convert Montana coal into liquid fuel through a process known as Fischer-Tropsch to reduce, if not end, U.S. dependence on foreign oil. U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., put some tax incentives for the process in the recently enacted energy and highway bills.

Kerry was intrigued when he learned that Schweitzer had met with the chief executive of Shell Oil, which is building 12 such plants in China, and had talked with a top South African official about that country’s use of the process.

After Kerry asked about Montana’s budget situation, Schweitzer said Montana has a $300 million surplus, thanks in part to high energy prices.

“I think I put a few bucks in your coffers,” Kerry said. “I filled up four times between Casper, Wyoming, and here.”

The Massachusetts senator, who never campaigned in Montana during his presidential bid, raved about Montana’s splendor.

“It doesn’t get any more beautiful than this,” Kerry said.

Kerry visited Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Hardin on Wednesday night on the way to Bozeman.

“Every moment just grabs you,” he said.

Kerry was following the Lewis and Clark trail through the state as he and an aide listened on tape in their car to Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Undaunted Courage.” They stopped to see the convergence of the Madison, Jefferson and Gallatin rivers near Three Forks. Kerry said he had been interested in Lewis and Clark for years.

As Schweitzer gave Kerry a tour of the Capitol, they stopped in front of the bronze sculpture of the late Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and his wife, Maureen. Kerry called Mansfield “a great man” whom he had always admired. In checking out the sculpture, Kerry saw it depicted Mansfield with a PT-109 tie clasp like those the late President John F. Kennedy, a former Massachusetts senator, handed out to commemorate the torpedo boat he commanded during World War II.

“Great, I can’t wait to tell Teddy,” Kerry said, referring to the late president’s brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Later, Schweitzer took off his “It’s a new day in Montana” bolo tie and gave it to Kerry, who immediately put it on. Schweitzer’s only condition was that Kerry had to wear it on the Senate floor, which Kerry happily agreed to do.


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