Straight talk with Sen. Tester

Montana Standard

by Editorial

One thing The Standard’s editorial board has always appreciated about U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is his down-to-earth, matter-of-fact style, and that hasn’t changed a bit since he left Big Sandy for Washington.

He never comes in with a preset agenda to lecture at length about. Rather, he stops by for a visit, opens himself up to whatever questions we’d care to ask, and keeps his answers short and sweet to make sure there’s time to cover all the topics.

We like the access and the openness. A case in point was when we asked about the senator’s plans for the future during our latest visit Tuesday afternoon. Without hesitation or qualifiers, Tester said he’ll seek a second term in 2012. He said he doesn’t plan to keep at it till he’s 80 but considers the job “an incredible honor” and would like to stay with it for at least one more six-year term.

No fanfare on the courthouse steps; no major press conference to announce his intentions; just a simple answer to a direct question at an editorial board meeting — that’s Tester’s style.

“A very challenging job at a very challenging time,” he called his Senate post, adding that for as long as he serves, his focus will be on creating jobs and reducing the national debt.

These days, those goals often clash, he admitted, with the government investing in jobs at the same time as it needs to reduce spending. But long term, the clash will fade, he predicts, as the economy strengthens and private-sector jobs rebound.

Until such time, the difficult decisions will continue. As the senator pointed out, it’s easy to talk of program reductions and eliminations, but “every one of those programs has a constituency behind it.”

A local example is Butte’s MSE Technology Applications, Inc., which relies heavily on federal appropriations to keep its workforce busy. As an appropriations committee member, Tester has requested nearly $9 million for three major R&D projects for MSE and expects to learn in mid-September whether they’ll make it into the final bill.

The senator pledged to help as much as he can, but he also stressed the need for MSE to diversify so that it’s not so dependent on federal contacts in the future.

Space prohibits giving a blow-by-blow account of the rest of our meeting, but here are a few highlights:
* Tester has also reached out to Joachim Fuhrlander, who intends to bring a wind turbine manufacturing plant to Butte. “Tell us what you need,” Tester has said. So far, he hasn’t received a response.

* The senator believes his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is “95 percent there” and intends to “push hard” when he returns to Washington to get the bill out of committee and up for a vote. You can find the latest version of the proposed bill at After driving throughout western Montana these past few weeks, Tester said he’s more convinced than ever of the need for action on the beetle-killed forests.

* Tester also wishes he could order Wyoming to adopt a wolf management plan and shares fellow Montanans’ frustrations with the stalemate. “I think the state had a decent plan,” he said. “We need to allow them to implement it so we can see if it’s working.”

* And as for the working climate in Washington, Tester, ever the optimist, said his hope is that Democrats and Republicans “start working together more.” The Democrat said he and Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg work together on issues they both recognize as very important to Montana such as Malmstrom Air Force Base, but they don’t see eye to eye on other issues such as the forest jobs bill, for example.

We, too, hope for more cooperation in Washington from both sides of the aisle, and we wish the best of luck to our entire Montana delegation — Tester, Rehberg, and Sen. Max Baucus — on advancing initiatives this fall to benefit our great state. In this challenging era, they’re going to need all the luck they can get.

Meeting video online

To see highlights of The Standard Editorial Board’s Tuesday afternoon visit with Sen.Tester, be sure to check out the video at