MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
The president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association apologized Thursday to Gov. Brian Schweitzer for a "distressed relationship" as the conservative-leaning group said it wants to stop quarreling with the Democrat. "I am deeply pained by the distressed relationship that our organization has chosen to maintain with you throughout your term of office," group president Tom Hougen wrote in a letter that he handed to Schweitzer. "I am not excusing our errors of the past, but I am asking you to consider our apology and to consider making amends." "We agree and we disagree, you know that," Hougen told Schweitzer in a meeting. "We like the debate, but we do want to do what we can to work with you." Hougen asked Schweitzer to be the keynote speaker at the ranching group's upcoming convention in Billings. Schweitzer did not immediately accept the invitation to the group's 125th annual meeting, saying he would have to check with his scheduler. The governor told Hougen and vice president Watty Taylor, of Kirby, that he is the first cattleman to serve as governor in 90 years. He said disputes with lobbyists and staff for the Stockgrowers have left him mystified. The Stockgrowers took issue with Schweitzer's plan for dealing with bison in Yellowstone Park when the governor proposed a special management area for the infectious disease brucellosis. The group was also blamed by Democrats when a Schweitzer nominee to the Board of Livestock ran into trouble in the state Senate confirmation process. But Hougen said it is time to move on. Hougen said the diverse organization often quarrels internally, and that such disagreements are part of the deliberation process on issues facing the industry. He also thanked Schweitzer for his stance on wolves that helped put them back under state management and allowed The start of wolf hunts that ranchers hope will both trim their numbers and drive the animals away from ranching areas. "I believe there is a place in the ecosystem for wolves, but that's not in our calving pens," Schweitzer, who has been in the ranching business, told Hougen. After the meeting, Hougen said he thought the governor took the apology well and believes the direct meeting "leader to leader" was the start of a good relationship. "I think we represent the cattle industry, and I think the governor represents the cattle industry," Hougen said. "We, at the least, need to sit at the table and have a dialogue."