MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA Tense negotiations over spending and taxes fell apart Wednesday morning as the Montana House majority leader aimed an expletive-laced tirade at Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Rep. Michael Lange, R-Billings, told a meeting of fellow Republicans that the Democrats negotiate like “Communist Russia” and “Red China,” and that talks had reached an impasse. Then Lange launched into an attack on the Democratic governor, calling Schweitzer an “S.O.B.” Later, on the House floor, Lange apologized for his language, saying that “my frustration got the better part of me.” “Members of the House, I wish to beg your forgiveness,” he said. Lange did not ask for Schweitzer’s forgiveness. “I have the utmost respect for the office of the governor, but I have the utmost contempt for the governor’s” negotiation methods, Lange said afterward in an interview. “I’m not apologizing for my frustration at him directly. I’m apologizing to the whole darn world for my profanity.” Rep. Bill Wilson, D-Great Falls, stood up afterward and said an apology might not be enough. He noted that teenage volunteers had been in the room where Lange spoke earlier, and they heard his attack. Lange went “way over the top,” Wilson said. “Mark my word, this is a very low point in the history of this body for that to happen publicly,” he said. “Communists? My father landed at Normandy. To group me in with a group like that is about as offensive as anything I can imagine.” The governor, not present for the morning tirade, was diplomatic in responding, saying he still respects Lange and plans to continue working with him. Schweitzer said Lange was “a perfect gentleman” during an early morning meeting in which tax legislation was discussed. Schweitzer said he even thought they were close to an agreement that combined elements of Democratic and Republican ideas on tax reductions. But Lange told Republicans shortly afterward that the governor had tried to bribe him by offering Lange credit for tax cuts largely based on Democratic ideas. Lange said the governor offered him “personal credit,” for some of the tax package, which Lange said he believes is like a bribe. “The governor can go straight to hell as far as I am concerned for trying to do that,” Lange told Republicans at a caucus meeting. “I’m pissed off at that S.O.B. on the second floor that thinks he is going to run this state like a dictator.” Lange continued, imploring fellow Republicans to become angry and stick together to fight what he predicted would be Democratic attempts at deals. “I will never be offered a bribe,” Lange said. “My message to the governor is stick it up your a.” “He can table every bill I have,” Lange continued. “I will not be offered a bribe.” Republicans clapped, then later chanted “stay till May.” The legislative session is scheduled to end on Friday, but a special session looms if a deal can’t be worked out between the House controlled by Republicans and the Senate controlled by Democrats. The top Republican in the House, Speaker Scott Sales of Bozeman, said he would have chosen different words. “I loved his passion,” Sales said of Lange. “I would have chosen some different adjectives.” A leading Democrat who listened from the hallway as Lange attacked the governor was surprised, saying she thought both sides were close to a compromise “Clearly, I’d say we don’t have a deal,” said Senate Majority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula. “That was very hostile.” “Instead of making partisan speeches, we should be acting as statesmen.” The governor said he was brought up to “respond to attack with kindness.” Schweitzer said Lange left his office, after a 7:30 a.m. meeting, with a “handshake” indication that Lange would look for Republican votes for the compromise they discussed. “I thought we were within 24 hours of closing this session out,” Schweitzer said. “I thought we had a very good meeting.” Schweitzer said he still thinks an agreement can be reached: “We’ll continue to leave the door open.” “I believe the caucuses can find a way of ending this session,” he said after learning of Lange’s comments. “I think in the waning moments of this legislative session, the tempers can get hot.” Schweitzer dismissed the notion that he offered Lange a “bribe” simply by discussing which elements of the partisan tax cuts could be up for compromise. “I didn’t even offer him a cup of coffee,” Schweitzer said. Senate President Mike Cooney said that Lange’s angry words may serve to clear the air, and that he hopes Lange “has it out of his system.” Cooney said he still will try to negotiate with Lange. “He’s their (Republicans’) leader, and I have to respect that,” Cooney said. In a telephone interview later, Schweitzer sounded less certain. “I don’t know who to negotiate with now,” he said.