Montana's Advocate for Accountability

The Missoulian

by Editorial

It was a little more than two years ago that Jon Tester won the opportunity to represent Montana in the U.S. Senate by a margin of fewer than 3,000 votes. At the time, incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns made a point of reminding Montanans of his influence on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. At the same time, then-Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid, now the Senate Majority Leader, made a point of promising to seat Tester on that same committee "as soon as possible."

"As soon as possible" turned out to be this past week, when partway through Tester's first term he was finally given that promised seat. If his past performance is any indication, Tester will be a fine addition to the Appropriations Committee. However, even as we congratulate Tester and wish him well in his new duties, we have to note that he hasn't exactly spent the past two years sitting on his hands. In fact, while we might quibble with a few of his decisions, his overall performance on the Veteran's Affairs, Indian Affairs and Banking committees has been downright impressive.

As a member of the Veteran's Affairs Committee, Tester has consistently pushed for increases in the mileage reimbursement rate that helps many Montana veterans in rural communities get to their appointments. Most recently, he and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg both succeeded in pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs to pick up the $300 tab for families of deceased veterans who wished to be buried in the new veterans cemetery in Missoula.

Although Tester is a member of the Democratic Party, he often seems more than willing to cross party lines in the interests of doing what's right for all Montanans. Thus he was the lone Democrat to vote against giving $15 billion in emergency loans to the auto industry, on top of his earlier vote against the $700 billion bailout for the financial industry.

We had the opportunity to discuss Tester's opposition to the bailouts when he dropped by the Missoulian to meet with the editorial board about a month ago. He explained that he was not opposed to using federal money to prop up the economy, but that he had grave – and unanswered – questions about the apparent lack of accountability.

Tester's concerns were echoed last Friday in a scathing report from the congressional panel charged with overseeing the
$700 billion bailout. Unbelievably, the panel said it could not complete its investigation into how the funds are being used because the Treasury Department is flat-out refusing to answer questions.

And now that President George Bush and President-elect Barack Obama are teaming up to push hundreds of billions in economic stimulus funds forward, we can only be grateful to have someone like Tester pushing back, calling for meaningful investments that come with plenty of scrutiny, transparency and accountability.

But this certainly isn't the first time we've heard Tester talk about the importance of public transparency. Just last week, Plum Creek Timber Co. opted to drop a controversial road easement deal it had been working on with the U.S. Forest Service – in secret – for months, citing strong public opposition. The public might never have had the opportunity to express its opposition if not for Tester, who was instrumental in calling for public involvement in the easement amendment process.

These are the sort of actions that show us Tester has made it his mission to represent all Montanans, not just Democrats. And that's the sort of spirit we believe truly represents Montana.