BILLINGS — Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer told a gathering of union leaders Friday that he has not decided on a possible run for U.S. Senate in 2014, but indicated he would need their support if he does.
The two-term governor is considering a bid to replace fellow Democrat U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who is stepping down after six terms.
Addressing the Montana AFL-CIO annual convention in Billings, Schweitzer said he has been receiving lots of calls from people urging him to run. He said it would be a family decision involving his wife, Nancy, and their three children.
"But if we decide to do this...we need to do it together," he said at the end of a wide-ranging speech that touched on his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the high costs of health care, and the need for organized labor to stand up against corporate interests.
"If we don't stand together, they'll pick us off one by one," he said. "We've got dirty, dark money flowing around. The most powerful are getting their way. They have the money and they're going to spend that money."
Schweitzer was endorsed by the AFL-CIO during his last run, in 2008, when union leaders cited his support for worker health insurance and retirement benefits and a higher minimum wage. He was also endorsed by the labor group in 2004.
But the former governor in recent months found himself at odds with the United Steelworkers union over an attempt by Schweitzer and a New York hedge fund attempt to oust the board at Stillwater Mining, Co. for alleged mismanagement.
Stillwater's unionized mine workers backed the incumbent directors, and shareholders in a May 2 vote ended up splitting control by awarding four seats to Schweitzer and his allies and four to the incumbents.
Montana AFL-CIO executive secretary Al Ekblad declined to address the issue directly Friday, but made clear that Schweitzer's standing with organized labor remains secure.
"We support our friends," Ekblad said, later adding, "I don't think there's any question that you would put Brian Schweitzer on the list of friends of labor."
Representatives of the steelworkers' union said they had lined up behind the company's management and against Schweitzer's side because of worries that safety improvements and other changes made at the mine in recent years could have been lost under a new board. They said they had no quarrel with Schweitzer himself.
Scott McGinnis, president of the Steelworkers' local chapter at Stillwater, said he'll support Schweitzer if he runs.
Schweitzer told The Associated Press that he bears no hard feelings over the dispute.
"There's no friction at all. None whatsoever. Those folks that draw paychecks with Stillwater felt the obligation to stand with the people writing the checks. Now I'm one of the guys writing the checks," he said.
Schweitzer was among a parade of Montana elected officials — most of them Democrats — speaking at the annual three day gathering of the state labor federation, which boasts 44,000 members from more than 100 different labor organizations. Also speaking were U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Gov. Steve Bullock, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen was scheduled to speak Saturday. Lindeen has said she, too, would consider running for Baucus' seat, but only if Schweitzer decides not to.