What I've Learned: Senator Jon Tester (D, Mont.)


by Cal Fussman

I was helping my mom grind meat at our butcher shop, and it just hypnotized me. I don't remember sticking my hand in, but it sheared off the three middle fingers and left me with a pinkie and a thumb. I was raised in a small school and graduated high school with the kids that I started first grade with. They never cut me a break, and thank God for that.

The hand is kind of a conversation piece at times. But it hasn't stopped me from doing mechanical work — or any other work. Well, it is a little inhibiting in basketball. I can go left, but not as good as if I had ten fingers.

I didn't waste a lot of time
feeling sorry for nothing. I put my energy into getting things done.

I play trumpet. And I took all the music courses in college, so I can also play the string instruments, keyboard, the brass and woodwinds — but only well enough to teach them. If you put a violin in front of me, you wouldn't say, "My God, that guy can play." It'd probably sound more like Jack Benny.

It's an interesting analogy. I think if you're going to get anything done in the Senate, you have to be on the same sheet of music. If you don't get people on the same sheet of music it comes out pretty horrible.

I don't know how
the other senators see me. I hope they see me as a farmer. That's really what I am. But I don't think they see me on a tractor or fixing equipment. I hope they see me grounded, as somebody who has common sense.

The best perk to being a senator is you get to meet people you wouldn't normally meet.

There are a lot of pressures on family-farm agriculture. But I'll say this: I don't know that it's a greater struggle than any other small business out there. You've got to watch what you spend and how you spend it or you could be taken under.

Some of the pressures on the family farm are from corporate America, but there are some from other entities, too — like peer pressure. It's silly, and it used to be more common than it is now, but somebody gets a new tractor and, gosh, maybe I need to get a new tractor.

The system we have is the best in the world. A lot of people criticize it, but it's still the best in the world.

I watched neighbor after neighbor sell out, and a fair number of them were bigger than we were. In the eighties, we realized we had to do something to add value to our product, to make it more marketable, to get a better price for it. That's when we made the conversion to organic. It's been a blessing for us. Before we converted, when we sprayed weeds, I just planned on being sick for about a week.

A friend is the hardest thing to come by and the easiest thing to lose.

Things are polarized for
political reasons only. At some point in time, the political divisiveness of the Senate and the House will pass — and the country will be better off for it.

My connection to Pearl Jam is through the bass player, Jeff Ament. We graduated from the same high school about five or six years apart. This is a high school of about 150 kids. I saw Jeff last summer, at one of the five-year homecomings. He isn't hopped up on drugs and he doesn't think he's better than anybody else. He's just a good guy. That speaks well for his parents.

If I could talk with anyone? I'd like to sit down with my Grandfather Pearson over a good ol' T-bone steak and ask him why he decided to settle and farm twelve miles west of Big Sandy.

Those guys had to be tougher than nails.
They came out here and there was grass — and that was it. They didn't know if it was gonna rain. They didn't know if they could raise wheat. They didn't know how deep their topsoil was. They didn't know anything. But they did know something — and I'd like to find out what that was. Because, by working together and using the knowledge that they had, by being positive about the future, they were able to settle an area that probably had a hard time supporting buffalo in its day. And it's supported us very, very well for nearly a hundred years. I'm here because they knew how to work hard, because they worked together, because they believed in themselves. That's Montana.