Sen. Tester talks tough topics

Havre Daily News

by Zach White

Wrapping up the first, and eventful, month in another election year, Sen. Jon Tester spent Thursday morning on the horn with reporters back in Big Sky Country, to talk about Keystone XL Pipeline, recent Citizens United-related talks, the State of the Union address, and many other topics on his mind and voters’ minds back home.

Keystone XL Pipeline

Tester expressed once again his disappointment in President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the most recent bid to construct a 2,000-mile oil pipe from Canada to Texas.

“I’ve long supported building this pipeline as long as private property rights and safety measures are in place, ” Tester said.

He refuted a claim that the denial was ideological and added that he feels confident that it will be approved eventually, once certain issues, such as avoiding the Nebraska aquifer, are resolved. The jobs, he said, are just too important.

“I think it’s better to do business with Canada than the Middle East, and we’re going to do business with one of them, ” Tester said. “I think this is going to be built, and I think the sooner the better. ”

Environmental concerns about the pipeline, according to Tester, are understandable but unrealistic.

“Getting off fossil fuels would be great, but that won’t happen for a long, long time, ” Tester said. “Whether you like it or not, it’s a fact. ”
Citizen’s United

The Montana Supreme Court won Tester’s support with its decision to overturn the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations unprecedented influence in elections by opening unrestricted donations.

“The bottom line is if you think a corporation should get the same rights as a person or more rights, you’ll be happy with (the U. S. Supreme Court decision), ” Tester said. “On the other hand, if you think corporations are corporations and not people, then we need to get the power back into the hands of the people.

“The Supreme Court overturned 100 years of precedent here. ”

As far as the ability to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision nation-wide, Tester was skeptical that such a change is possible right now.

“I don’t think we’ll get to the point where we get two-thirds of the House and Senate to agree and then three-quarters of the state legislatures to agree, ” Tester said. “We couldn’t even get the full disclosure (of financial contributions) passed and that was an obvious slam dunk, I thought. ”

He added that he’s already seen some effects of the Citizens United ruling in his own campaign.

“They’ve already dropped in one million bucks, ” Tester said. “It’s not about how good I am or my opponent is.

“It’s been about what a bad guy I am and, in fact, we’ve had one (ad funded by corporate contributions) pulled off TV because it was a blatant lie. ”

Looking on the bright side of free-flowing campaign funds, Tester added, “it’s going to create some jobs in Montana or at least make some TV stations rich. ”
Internet freedom vs. Piracy

While much of the Internet and many cable news networks spent last week talking about the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House of Representatives and its Senate companion, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, Montana’s legislators have been quiet, far from the competing lobbies of Hollywood and Silicon Valley that fund each side.

On the surface the bills claimed to be adding powers to the federal government to shut down and prosecute foreign websites that carry out piracy and distribute counterfeit goods. But many opponents were worried about the possibility of abuse.

The attorney general would have had the power to remove websites from the internet, based on a simple complaint as unauthorized use of copyrighted material.

Critics said this could effectively lead to serious repercussions for, or the end of, websites such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia, many of whom changed their websites on the day of a congressional committee hearing of the bills to raise awareness.

When Wikipedia shut down, the replacement site told people about the bill and how to contact their local legislators to voice their complaints.

Tester said on Thursday morning that his office had heard complaints quite clearly.

“We got a lot of input in our offices, ” Tester said. “I thought those bills were poorly designed, and they needed to be fixed. I heard there is a new proposal. When that proposal comes, we’ll take a look at it and analyze it. ”

Military spending

With the war in Iraq already ended and the other one in Afghanistan winding down, the U. S. military is in for some changes.

Many Republicans are decrying these changes, claiming that anything less than more spending and more aggressive action — Rick Perry saying in a debate that we need to return to Iraq — is dangerous to the U. S.

Others, including Tester, believe that the past 10 years of massive spending increases have been the exception and should not be the rule, especially in the current fiscal environment.

“I think you’ve got to take a look and move into the 21st century, ” Tester said. “I think it’s a debate we ought to have. We spend more on military than the next five countries combined. ”

A vocal supporter of many veterans programs, even in the same phone call, Tester wanted to make clear that it is possible to, in fact necessary to, both support the troops and take a thorough look at runaway defense spending.

“Are we wasting money? You look at those men and women in the field, and we are not wasting that money, ” Tester said. “But we can’t continue to be world’s police.

“I don’t think we can afford to have the same kind of military spending we’ve seen over the last ten years. It’s been eating us alive.”