Tester launches "#Montennial" tour

by Keila Szpaller

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester wants to help Montana Millennials — “Montennials” — work on serious problems, such as climate change and the cost of higher education.

Wednesday, though, University of Montana junior Tristen Hollist requested permission to ask the Democrat visiting the Missoula campus a question about a “non-serious” matter.

“When are you going on tour with Pearl Jam again?” said Hollist, who posed the only question at the event.

In fact, Tester considered the question legitimate, and he may very well consider time backstage with bassist and Montana native Jeff Ament more fun than time in Washington, D.C.

“Hopefully sooner rather than later,” said Tester, a Big Sandy farmer.

Congress is “pretty damn dysfunctional,” he told some 20 people outside the University Center, and he’s ready for college students to take the helm. This week, the senator launched his #Montennial Tour to connect with youth on the cool wet morning.

“Hanging out with Montana millennials is certainly better than Washington, D.C., any day of the week,” Tester said.

Although lawmakers are constantly campaigning, Tester isn’t on the ballot in November. His angst about dysfunction among political leadership and desire to pass the baton to the next generation mirrors similar calls from other high- profile politicians and activists during a presidential campaign that’s often been reprehensible.

In a letter to young people this week projecting a loss for Republican candidate Donald Trump, actor and activist George Takei said he’s seen worse in his “eight decades,” but he’s pleased that “in 20 years, you will all be in charge.”

“You give me much cherished hope, through your heart and your passion and your commitment to the future, to this nation, to this planet,” said his letter published in The Daily Beast.

On campus Wednesday, Tester said he planned to travel across Montana to hear from “Montennials” about everything from campaign finance reform to climate change. He holds an online town hall meeting from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 30, at tester.senate.gov/montennial.

At the Wednesday event, Sam Forstag, president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana, lauded Tester for his support of making college more affordable and making sure students who are parents with young children can get an education, too.

The cost of education is increasing, and federal and state support is low, he said.

“At a time like this, it’s more important than ever,” Forstag said.

Tester has supported the extension of Perkins loans for low-income college students and he also co-sponsored a resolution that urged Congress “to recognize the importance of Perkins in reducing the cost of higher education,” according to his office.

Hollist, the lone student asking a question, said he believes higher education is still key to the American dream and to tackling something “bigger than yourself.” As for Pearl Jam, he once bought fan apparel at a concert.