Daily Montanan: Tester: Focused on veterans’ issues, energy costs and workforce development
LOCKWOOD – Next year, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester believes he’ll still be leading the Senate’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee, as he does now.
Though that means several unknowns must be decided in the Democrats’ favor, namely that the party will retain control of the U.S. Senate, Tester acknowledges that as another term comes to a close, he will continue to move higher in the ranks of seniority, which is key in the Senate.
He’s uncertain if he’ll run for another term in 2024. Montana’s senior senator told a group of reporters at a Veterans Day event that decision will be made next year, in consultation with his family. For now, he’s focused on what comes next during a lame-duck legislative session that includes the National Defense Authorization Act as well as questions about the budget, the electoral process and same-sex marriage.
While the results of the 2022 midterm election gave Democrats an unexpected surprise by keeping the margins of power close in Washington, D.C., he acknowledged the outcome was much different in Montana for the political party.
He said he plans to continue to stake out a moderate position within the party, breaking with them on such issues as Second Amendment rights as well as encouraging Democrats to do more to reach voters in rural areas and rural states.
“We had the better candidates,” he said of the national elections. And he said that’s the first takeaway from the election is finding those candidates who resonate with voters.
Republicans Rep. Matt Rosendale and Ryan Zinke both won their elections handily to represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives. The most recent census gave Montana a second district.
But Tester said the weather may have played a factor in Montana’s election, although it’s unclear who may have had the advantage in that case. Tester said the heavy snow, icy roads and near-zero weather may have kept some people in.
“I have said to my colleagues that the default vote in Montana is Republican, so you have to give voters a reason to switch and vote for you,” he said. “The national Democrats are not where I want them to be, but I am not a national Democrat. At the end of the day, you have to tell people what you are for and you have to go to them.”
The Daily Montanan asked about the effect of former President Donald J. Trump on the midterm election and what his colleagues across the aisle may do in the new year.
“So everyone is going to read this differently,” Tester said, “but my read is that they’re sick and tired of division and sick and tired of people who divide. They’re sick and tired of misinformation and disinformation and those who use it to spread lies and confusion. And they want government to work. They want us to work together. No bombs. No making stuff up.”
He said that Congress will continue to work on pocketbook issues, and he said inflation will continue to ease when the supply chain becomes more stable. He said that’s why he’s supporting more efforts to increase domestic manufacturing and move away from OPEC.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get off OPEC,” he said. “They dictate the prices. We have to do our own thing, and that comes down to research and development. We need battery technology that is affordable and predictable.”
Tester said that more effort needs to be made to invest in carbon-capture technology and battery storage. He gave the example of the tractor on his Big Sandy farm.
“It runs on diesel, and right now, diesel is pretty darn expensive,” he said. “But, if you give farmers the right financial incentives, and we develop the right technology, I wouldn’t care if my tractor was electric.”
Tester also said that worker shortages can be overcome by more investment in workforce training and childcare, which are stopping some from getting higher-paid jobs or getting into the workforce.
“I hear it all the time: I need workers,” Tester said.