U.S. Sen. Jon Tester believes most people in rural Montana will vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump – and be worse off for it if the billionaire businessman wins.
"I honest to God don't think he knows agriculture from a stick horse, and that becomes a problem if you're in rural America," said Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy and Democrat in his second term in the U.S. Senate.
Trump was a reality TV star and real estate mogul who is running an unconventional and tempestuous campaign, and he is disliked by many in his own party. His nomination surprised political pundits, but he has tapped into wide dissatisfaction among voters with the status quo in Washington, D.C.
Tuesday at an editorial board meeting at the Missoulian, Tester said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has serious flaws as well, but he is concerned Trump may win the election in November.
"If he gets elected, after everything he's said, it's a different country than I thought," Tester said.
For example, Trump condemned a Muslim couple who lost their son in war and who shared their story at the Democratic National Convention. The father spoke with his wife at his side about the family's love for their country and the sacrifice their son, a U.S. Army captain, made while trying to save others in Iraq.
Khizr Khan, the father, said his son, Humayun Khan, would never have been allowed in the country had it been up to Trump, and said the presidential candidate has not sacrificed for the U.S.
Trump has implied people who are Muslim sympathize with terrorists and once suggested banning all Muslims from entering the United States. After the address, he sniped at the couple while touting his own accomplishments, and he questioned the reason the mother, Ghazala Khan, didn't speak.
His remarks caused a backlash even among members of his own party, and Tester said Tuesday the comments were "unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Just unbelievable." The Khan family made the ultimate sacrifice, he said, and Trump "unloads on them."
On the other hand, Tester also said Trump is correct in noting the United States could do better on trade deals – "He's not wrong on everything" – and cited Brazilian beef being allowed into the country as a prime example.
The senator also said Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have their own shortcomings and often do business in questionable ways.
"They play pretty close to the edge on a lot of stuff, which is not healthy for her or the country," Tester said.
For instance, the FBI investigated Clinton's use of her personal email and server for state business while she served as Secretary of State.
Last month, FBI director James Comey said the agency would not recommend criminal charges against her, but he said Clinton's actions were "extremely careless," and he showed that Clinton had misinformed the public when she said she had not handled classified emails on her personal account.
Polls have shown that even people who plan to vote for Clinton question her trustworthiness.
At the board meeting, Tester touched on a variety of other topics, including skyrocketing health care costs.
Just a couple of days ago on his farm, he visited with his best friend from high school, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 1971, and later with multiple sclerosis.
The vial of medicine his friend needs for diabetes used to cost $2, and now, the same formula runs $175, he said: "I'm telling ya', that's a little higher than the price of inflation."
Some 12 years ago, the drug his friend needs for MS cost $1,400 or $1,500 a month, and now, the same medicine runs $7,500 a month, he said.
Tester said he understands that companies putting money into cutting edge research deserve to recover their investments. However, he said, pharmaceutical companies should not be artificially pumping up the costs of drugs developed 40 or 50 years ago.
"That's scalping. That's taking advantage of the marketplace," Tester said.
Companies that do so should testify in hearings before the U.S. Senate and be held accountable, he said. Tester is among some 20 senators who this week blasted Mylan Pharmaceutical Company for raising the price of the EpiPen, for allergy shots, more than 480 percent since 2009.
"Hopefully, (when) people know they're being watched, they'll act more appropriately," Tester said.
Tester also commented on these topics, among others:
- Climate change: He said fire season is growing longer and getting more intense, and also referenced fish kills in the Yellowstone River and hurricanes in the South. "We need to start figuring out a plan to deal with climate change and not just deny it. The money going out the door is pretty damn significant, and if in fact you truly are a fiscal conservative, we've got to figure out ways to move this ball down the field."
- Composition of U.S. Senate, which currently has 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and two independents: "I think that if we [Democrats] don't take a majority in the Senate, it doesn't speak well for us at all this cycle. I do think there's a possibility we won't, but I think there's a much greater possibility we will." On the races: "We've got some ripping good candidates. They've got some good candidates, too, by the way, which makes it interesting."
- Paying for firefighting outside the U.S. Forest Service budget: Tester is co-sponsoring a bill with U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, to treat wildfires like natural disasters. "I think the reason it has not passed is because people see it as spending more money, which initially, it will happen." But he believes the initial upward trend will not last. "I think, over 10 years, that management that's being done by the (U.S.) Forest Service will help drive those firefighting costs down." He also said all the senators from western states need to be on board, and so far, some have not been, namely because of their reluctance to spend money.