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U.S. Sen. Jon Tester smiling

TESTER

A lot of political advertising has been swirling around this election season, trying to convince Montanans that we don’t really know U.S. Sen. Jon Tester. Candidates and outside groups have spent more than $45 million so far trying to influence Montana voters in the U.S. Senate race. At least $10 million of this spending has been aimed at unseating Tester.

But all this hype can’t change the simple fact that Tester, the longest-serving of Montana’s current congressional delegation, has more than a decade’s worth of votes, legislation and actions demonstrating precisely what kind of representation he provides for Montanans. We know exactly what kind of senator Tester is.

First elected to the Senate in 2006, Tester has built up solid bipartisan relationships and gained increasingly influential committee positions. In fact, just last month the Center for Effective Lawmaking named Tester the fourth-most effective legislator in the minority party. Not at all bad considering he represents one of the nation’s least-populated states.

Currently, Tester is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. He is also, notably, the ranking member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, a position he has leveraged to help push an impressive number of veterans’ bills forward for President Trump’s signature. Trump has signed 20 Tester-backed bills into law thus far, on veterans’ issues but also on campaign disclosure, government accountability and assistance for firefighters and emergency responders, among others.

But it was Tester’s hesitation to support one of Trump’s nominees to head the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that earned the president’s ire. Shortly after Trump recommended his White House physician, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, for the post, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee received information raising serious concerns about his fitness for that office. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, chair of the committee, was among the many Republicans calling to postpone the confirmation hearing, and he and Tester both signed a letter to the president requesting that they be given any official documents “regarding allegations or incidents” involving Jackson. Tester released a summary of the allegations that had been made against Jackson, something Isaakson told CNN he didn't "have a problem with.'' Instead of proceeding with the vetting process, Jackson withdrew his name from consideration and is now facing an investigation by the Pentagon's Inspector General.

Tester may have had reservations about Jackson, but he voted in support of Trump nominee and current VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. He also voted for Montana Republican Ryan Zinke to become secretary of the Interior, and for Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Christopher Wray — all Trump appointees.

Montana needs a senator who will pause and consider the impacts of potential congressional actions, including presidential appointments to important offices, before casting a vote — not an automatic rubber stamp for the Trump administration.

Challenger Matt Rosendale, a Republican and Montana’s current state auditor and insurance commissioner, is a full-steam-ahead supporter of President Trump. In an editorial board meeting with the Missoulian earlier this month, he could not name a single point of disagreement with President Trump. Pressed further, Rosendale said he was not a fan of the omnibus budget bill — but understood why Trump signed it and supported his doing so.

Rosendale also has a troubling history of favoring policy positions far out of touch with Montana values. As a U.S. House candidate in 2014, he stated that “there is no call in the Constitution for the federal government to own national forests” and said he would push to transfer lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management from federal to state control. In his run for the Senate, Rosendale has reversed his position and now says he will oppose any transfer proposals.

It is also troubling that Rosendale has vague ideas at best about how to provide effective, affordable health insurance if, as he advocates, the Affordable Care Act is repealed. He has pushed for more short-term plans and association health plans, which may offer some benefits but come with their own problems and risks. Short-term plans, for instance, are infamously called “junk plans” because, while they don’t cost as much, they also don’t cover as much and aren’t regulated like traditional insurance.

As insurance commissioner, Rosendale already allowed a health ministry called Medi-Share to resume operations in Montana. This is the outfit that was banned from the state in 2007 for failing to make good on a claim for a Montanan with cancer. Montana doesn’t need more health insurance “options” that put consumers at a blatant disadvantage.

It’s true Tester voted for the imperfect Affordable Care Act, which has arguably slowed but not stopped the steep increases in health care costs and insurance prices. But it has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Montanans covered by health insurance, and it does hold insurance companies accountable for providing actual coverage, such as for those with pre-existing conditions. Tester has admitted from the start that the ACA could stand improvement, and remains committed to finding ways to make it work better for more Montanans.

The evidence shows that Tester is a true moderate. He works with other senators to move legislation, but he doesn’t go along to get along. He’s willing to buck party lines — both Democrat and Republican — when party interests don’t match Montana interests.

And he knows what Montanans want because they can tell him, in person, at any number of open public hearings he regularly holds on a wide array of issues. At these events and others, we have witnessed him carefully listen to heated criticism, and calmly respond with a straightforward answer. People might not always like his answer, but they can count on Tester's sincere, tell-it-like-it is honesty. It's an attribute that's all too rare in Congress. 

Tester is the kind of senator who has shown, repeatedly, that he puts Montana first, and that he represents all Montanans, not just Democrats and not just campaign supporters. His loyalty to this state comes before any particular politician or political party. And given today’s hyper-partisan climate and tit-for-tat leadership in Washington, D.C., he’s exactly the kind of independent-minded senator Montana needs right now.

Voters should keep Senator Tester working for Montana.

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