Tester stops to visit with FHS students

Lewistown News-Argus

by David Murray

Most high school students don't get many opportunities to visit one-on-one with their Congressional representatives – rarer still is the chance to discuss politics with a U.S Senator over an iced latte. But that was exactly the uncommon experience six Fergus High School students had last Thursday when they sat down with Senator Jon Tester at the Rising Trout Café in Lewistown.

Montana’s junior Senator stopped in Lewistown on his way home to Big Sandy for the U.S. Senate’s spring recess. In doing so, Tester made good on his pledge to reschedule a meeting with the Fergus High students he missed in Washington, D.C., last month.

“We have a lot of students who come to D.C. each spring, and I always do my best to meet with as many of them as I can,” Tester said Thursday. “Unfortunately, I was in Montana when the students from Lewistown were in D.C., so I missed them. I had talked to Mr. Wright about making it up to his class, and I was already coming out to Billings and going up to Great Falls, so I thought, ‘What the heck – we’ll just carve out some time and visit with them.' ”

Tester spent roughly 45 minutes with the Lewistown students before stopping by Big Spring Market and the Fergus County Sheriff’s complex. Seated casually around a window-side table, the six students from Mr. Wright’s AP Government class didn’t throw softball questions to the Senator, as they quizzed him about everything from the conflict in Libya to his re-election campaign.

Question: Do you think President Obama properly consulted with Congress before involving our military forces in the conflict in Libya?

“No,” replied Tester. “He did not consult us properly at all. I understand why the President did what he did, and he did discuss his intentions with the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the whole Congress should have been consulted before our military forces were engaged in Libya.”

“What things can we do to pay for things like Medicare and Social Security without raising taxes or totally debasing our currency?” one student asked Tester. “The way thing are going with our national debt, I don’t think we can really afford to pay for things like that any more.”

“Keep in mind – when you’re young those programs aren’t that important to you,” Tester replied. “But there are a lot of older folks who depend on Medicare to pay for their healthcare, so it’s really important to them.

“There are things we can do – means testing to receive entitlement payments is one option – but I think one of the main things we have to look at is closing tax loopholes for corporations and those individuals who receive large percentages of un-earned income. Many of these people pay very little in federal income tax but are still entitled to the same benefits that wage earners receive.”

“What was your motivation for delisting wolves as an endangered species?” another asked the Senator.

“They were recovered,” he replied. “There are already a lot of wolves out there, and they were playing havoc with both domestic livestock and wildlife.”

“In 2006, you kind of won by the seat of your pants,” one student observed pointedly about Tester’s victory over Senator Conrad Burns. “That was with Bush as President, and he wasn’t very popular at that point. Now you’re going up against Rehberg, who’s pretty popular, and the current President is an unpopular Democrat. How do you feel you stack up to Rehberg in the upcoming election?

“Rehberg has been in office for 10 years now and I’ve been in office for 4, and it’s basically a dead heat up to this point,” was Tester’s response. “I think that bodes pretty well for me. What has to happen over the next 19 months is – I have to make sure people know what I’ve accomplished as Senator, and then let folks compare our records.”

Throughout their conversations with Tester, the students made repeated reference to the social media that has become such an important part of modern communication. They referred to reading the Senator’s Facebook page and to catching up on action on the floor of the U.S. Senate through Twitter accounts. Afterwards, Tester observed that he had embraced the new social media, in part, so he could remain connected to young people.

“For a lot of people – especially young people – Facebook and Twitter are now two of their most important information sources,” he said. “I think the great opportunity of these new forms of social media is to get information out to everybody you can. It’s going to play a bigger role in the next election than it did in the last, and it’s going to play an even bigger role in 2014 than it will in 2012.”

Tester also said that visiting with young people was one of the most enjoyable parts of his job – and a responsibility he takes very seriously.

“We do as many teleconferences and calls with classes as we have time for,” he said. “Its important that the next generation of leaders understands how government works and how important it is to serve. It’s important to get the kids jazzed up about government, and hopefully they’ll vote and be participants in the democracy we have.