Delegation ready to hear from you

Helena Independent Record

by Editorial

A recent New York Times editorial labeled Sen. Jon Tester as a throwback to a bygone era. One of just two farmers in the U.S. Senate (Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley is the other), a body that used to be overrun by them, Tester is a bit of an outsider in an arena now dominated by career elected officials and shrewd politics.

He sports a flat top. He’s missing fingers on his left hand. He returns each weekend from the bustle of the nation’s capital to tend his Big Sandy organic wheat farm.

Indeed, he’s not what you picture when envisioning Washington, D.C.

Sometimes, though, it’s what a person isn’t that makes him what he is. And in an hourlong editorial board visit with Senator Tester Tuesday, it’s refreshing to see an honest, forthright and jovial elected official who’s as open as the expansive Montana prairie.

It’s not the first time a delegation member has visited our editorial board, of course, and not the first time Tester has weighed in here on topics from appropriations, to the northern border, to the economy, to war, to life back on the farm.

What’s striking, though, is Tester’s lack of agenda. Many politicians take over the meeting from the outset, guiding the discussion in whichever way they want, barely pausing for a darn irritating question from the darn nagging board.

On this day, when asked, Tester decries the misinformation being dished out on a wide variety of topics. It’s hard to know who to trust these days, he says, when scare tactics intentionally derail meaningful discussion on a topic. There is no real estate tax in the recently passed health care bill, for instance, or no guy who lost it all because he couldn’t get a loan due to tighter banking regulations — notions that more than one Montanan has shaken a finger at him about.

It’s a partisan world, indeed.

But one way citizens can sift through the misinformation and get the answers to their questions from the horses’ mouths, is by attending one of the many listening sessions our delegation members are hosting across this great state.

Tester held one in Helena and one in Anaconda Tuesday. Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana’s only House member who’s in a re-election year, has had more than 70 such listening sessions this year. Sen. Max Baucus recently toured Missoula, Libby and the northern border to listen to constituents.

One could lodge accusations against any of our delegation members for “stacking the deck” with party affiliates, but they’re open to anyone and generally broadcast to the public in advance.

So often voters — often due to apathy — fail to look deeper than what some “news” pundit tells them. That’s when the rumor mill reigns supreme, and the mission of truth falls short of its mark.

By taking the time to listen to us often, on our home turf, our delegation members are doing their part to dispel those rumors. Now it’s up to constituents to care enough to attend and engage our elected officials. That’s a civic responsibility we all shoulder in order to become informed voters, but a trait that — like the number of farmers in the Senate — appears to be waning.