Tester at Legislature urges bipartisanship

Lee State Bureau

by Charles S. Johnson

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., urged state legislators Monday to work across party lines to pass laws to create jobs and expand the economy.

“Focusing on issues that divide us will only send a message that creating Montana jobs is not a priority,” Tester said.

Tester, who was president of the Montana Senate in 2005, passed on this advice to lawmakers:

“The election is over. And now as legislators – as Montana leaders – you have the opportunity to be advocates for Montana. Work together. Don’t focus on division and distraction. Rather focus on the ideas that move Montana forward.

“If anyone needs a reminder about our responsibility to work together, it’s Washington, D.C.”

Tester called fiscal problems the biggest challenge facing the federal government.

“You saw Congress – yet again – flirt with disaster right up until the play clock ran out on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “You saw both sides of the aisle draw lines in the sand because they insist on idealism, not realism. You saw our entire Montana economy on the brink of the cliff, on the brink of the cliff simply because a handful of people refused to work together.”

Reducing spending and increasing revenue are necessary to solve the federal budget problems, Tester said. Every program needs to be on the table, along with closing loopholes in the tax code.

Tester, who won a narrow, hard-fought re-election victory in November over Republican then-Rep. Denny Rehberg, said outside groups on both sides spent tens of millions of dollars with “little transparency and no accountability.”

“That is not the way we do business in Montana,” he said.

He cited Montanans’ overwhelming vote in November for Initiative 166, which directs Montana’s congressional delegation to pass a constitutional amendment stating that corporations aren’t people and money isn’t free speech.

“Montanans sent a loud and clear message to all of us serving in public office,” he said.

Tester blasted the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that removed restrictions on corporate political spending. The U.S. Supreme Court used that as the basis last year for striking down Montana’s voter-passed 1912 law that banned corporations from making independent expenditures for or against candidates.

“Like many Montanans, I see that ruling as a kick in the teeth to our democracy,” Tester said.

Democratic lawmakers cheered those comments loudly, while Republicans sat silent.

Tester said he supports federal legislation requiring all campaign spending to be disclosed, including corporations and unions.

He said he hopes the Montana Legislature will address the issues of campaign spending and disclosure and transparency during the session.

As for the federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, Tester told legislators: “Whether you love it or hate it – and I love some of it and hate some of it – it’s now your responsibility to decide this state’s role in putting health reform to work.”

The 2011 Legislature rejected a bill for the state of Montana to set up a health care exchange that he said would have made insurance more affordable in the long run. As a result, the federal government will do it for Montana.

“There will be other ways Montana can put its fingerprints on more affordable health care this session,” he said. “I encourage you all to do your best in achieving this goal to not only make health care more affordable, but in that process improve our economy.”

Tester closed with a quote from the late U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., who reminded people there are always two sides to an issue.

“Sometimes the other side is right,” Mansfield said. “It doesn’t do any harm to listen.”