Tester’s address to Montana State Legislature

Senator: ‘I’m bullish on Montana.  In fact, I can’t think of a single reason not to be.’

(HELENA, Mont.) – Below is the text of Senator Jon Tester’s address to the 62nd Montana State Legislature today, as prepared for delivery:

President Peterson, Speaker Milburn, legislators, honored guests, people of Montana: It’s great to be here.  It’s great to be back in Montana’s “Peoples’ House” to share a few words with you.

Usually when I recognize folks, I like to have them stand.  This time, I’d like to do something a little different.  I’m going to ask that if you are a veteran, please remain seated.  Everyone else, please rise if you can.  Let US stand and honor Montana’s veterans.

I also want to acknowledge my friend, Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger—here today.

John, now I’m going to ask you to stand.  Thanks not only for your service as a Marine, but also for your service to the state of Montana.  Every day you remind us that it’s possible to reach across party lines, find common ground, and work together.  You are a statesman.  Thank you.

Last week, a reporter asked me an interesting question.  He asked who my best friend in Congress is.   I thought about it for a bit…

My best friend in Congress is my best friend in life.  Sharla Tester.  She is my partner in serving Montana, in running our family farm, in raising our children, and in loving our grandchildren.

Sharla can’t be here today, but a lot of my family is.  My daughter Christine and her husband James are here.

Melodie and her husband, Glenn.  And our grandkids: Kilikina, Brayden and Tucker.

Senator Keane, where are you?  I was sorry to hear Senate Bill 6 got tabled in committee.  Under Senator Keane’s bill, anyone who uses PowerPoint in committee would have had to fork over fifty to a hundred bucks into a special fund—depending on the length.

I’d love to see the fiscal note on that one.

There are very serious challenges ahead: Passing a budget that works for Montana, its small businesses, its working families, its family farms and ranches. A budget that creates jobs.  A budget that creates an environment that allows our kids and grandkids to be competitive and successful.

Every decision you make has an impact on your neighbors.  My neighbors.  Your communities.  And all communities across Montana.

You know what?  Montana is blessed with our citizen legislature.  It’s one of the many things that make Montana the best state in the best nation in the world.

I was proud and honored to serve here.  And I thank you for being part of it, too.

Montana is also blessed with an strong small business spirit.  I’ve seen it firsthand as I travel back to this state every weekend, visiting every county.

I see that spirit in folks like Kim Ormsby—founder of the Natural Baby Company in Bozeman.  What started as a great idea – selling cheaper, environmentally friendly baby products online – has turned into a booming brick-and-mortar business.  Kim Ormsby is a Montana success story.  And she’s creating jobs.

In Red Lodge, Keith Lauver is just starting a business called The Healthy Pantry.  He takes Montana ag commodities.

And, on a stove in a building on Main Street, he turns them into meals that are easy to prepare at home.  The Healthy Pantry isn’t just making good food.  It’s putting folks back to work.

And there’s the Stillwater Mining Company, where hundreds of Montanans work together – union labor and management – to get platinum and palladium to the market.

Stillwater is “Made in America.”  It’s a gem in our Treasure State that we can all be proud of.

From metals and minerals to coal and oil and natural gas, Montana is rich in natural resources.  We’ve got trees and biomass.  Wind and solar and geothermal energy.

Our resources include the animals we raise and eat.  And the ground where we raise our crops.

Ladies and gentlemen, in Montana, we’ve got the lumber. We’ve got the hardware.

What we need from you is a smart – and I emphasize smart – budget plan to create jobs and keep our Montana economy strong.

A plan that strengthens and maintains a business-friendly environment.  One that invests in our workers.  And our kids.  And their education.  And allows them to do whatever they dream to do.

A budget plan that maintains the physical infrastructure we need to keep our rural state in fighting shape.

With our national economy on the rebound, we can’t afford to go backwards.  Montana has handled this recession better than any state.  And we need to make sure we continue the trend.

Montanans sent me to the United States Senate to work hard.  They sent you to Helena to work hard.  To make Montana and America better for our kids and grandkids.  Not to sit around complaining.  Not to re-hash old problems or create new ones.

It’s our job to do our work with respect for one another, finding the common ground that unites us.  And working from that common ground.

We may be Democrats.  And we may be Republicans.  But we’re Americans and Montanans first.

We all have a unique challenge.  Because whether home is Billings or Big Sandy, we have this in common: all of us live in rural America.

One of my biggest challenges back in the Senate is getting folks to understand what rural America really means.

To them, rural America is the area between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.  For us, it’s a way of life.

We share a heritage rich in agriculture.  I’m proud of the fact I’m the only member of the U-S Senate and the only member of Montana’s delegation who still runs a family farm.  It’s an important perspective to bring to the table.

In rural America, we have a rich outdoor heritage.  For the next two years, I have the honor of serving as chairman of Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus.  My role: to keep fighting for – and strengthening – our gun rights.

Standing up for access to public lands.  And public water.

Of course, getting wolves back off the Endangered Species List.  And returning their management to the State of Montana—to the professionals who know how to do it best.

I’m doing everything I can to pass wolf legislation through Congress.  Because we need a solution for wolves.  And we need it now.

I introduced a bill yesterday that delists wolves.  It returns us back to Montana’s management plan, which was working just fine.

The bottom line is, we need to start hunting – and managing – wolves now.

That’s why last week, I called for a controlled wolf hunt in Montana.

The Interior Department is expediting that request.  And I will keep their feet to the fire until they approve that hunt.

It’s a good step.  But it’s exactly the reason we need to delist wolves.  Montana has responsibly managed wolves.  And we shouldn’t have to ask the federal government for a hunt.

Until wolves are delisted – and Montana is back in charge – I’ll do everything I can to push the feds to work with us.  To let Montana aggressively manage wolves.

In addition to our outdoor heritage, Montana and rural America have a proud tradition of military service.

Our state is home to 103,000 veterans.  More are coming home every day.  Many with injuries seen… and unseen.

In December, I had the honor of visiting Lance Corporal Tomy Parker in his hospital room in Bethesda.  Tomy is from Ronan.

He lost both legs and part of his hand while serving our country in Afghanistan.

As big as his losses are, the only thing bigger—is his incredible positive attitude.  And the love of his family.

We needed Lance Corporal Parker.  And now, Tomy needs us.  Our veterans and servicemen and women have fought and fight for our freedom and liberty every day.

So let me be clear: we’ve got a lot of challenges ahead when it comes to cutting spending and cutting our debt.  But we cannot afford to do it by cutting benefits from America’s veterans.

I was struck by what the national commander of the VFW said the other day.

It was a response to a controversial proposal to cut $4-and-a-half billion in veterans’ benefits.

He said, and I quote, “The day this nation can’t afford to take care of her veterans is the day this nation should quit creating them.”

Montana is blessed with our heritage of military service.  In rural America, we’ve got to strengthen what we’re blessed with.

Because rural America fights for this country.  Feeds this country.  And fuels this country.

Like many of your relatives, my grandparents came to Montana with almost nothing.

They had to rely on their own hard work. They had to work together with their neighbors to survive. And they had to live within their means.

You know what?  They made it work.

My grandparents – and my parents – knew the value of a dollar.  I know the value of hard work and the value of a dollar.  Those are Montana values.

We can be proud of Montana’s Constitutional requirement to balance the budget.

That—and darn good leadership over the past few years—has made Montana one of the few states in the nation still operating in the black.

A decade ago, during the Clinton Administration, this country ran a surplus.  It is possible.

But over the past 10 years, some in Congress made some pretty bad choices.  And it turned our economy upside down.

Instead of gimmicks that cost us jobs, hurt education, and weaken our infrastructure, we need to take real steps toward cutting our deficit and balancing our budget.

It’s not going to happen overnight.  It’s going to take a credible, long-term strategy.

So, what is real?

Last year, I cut $6 billion in spending from the unemployment insurance law.

I killed the Animal ID program, which was wasting millions of your tax dollars

I voted—twice—to make sure Congress didn’t get a pay raise.

And just last month I introduced a bill ending automatic pay raises for members of Congress—forever.

This week, Tom Coburn – a conservative Republican from Oklahoma – and I teamed up and introduced a bill to make sure hardworking taxpayers don’t have to write unemployment checks for millionaires.

That’s just common sense. And it shows that one party doesn’t have all the good ideas.

You just have to be willing to work together to cut spending and cut our debt.

And as the only Senate Democrat to vote against both bailouts, I will tell you I will always vote against bailouts.

As for that credible, long-term strategy?

I supported creating a bipartisan panel to recommend a path forward… to cut our debt and cut spending.

I read their plan.  I don’t agree with everything in it.  But I support the idea behind these recommendations.

We need to cut the waste, fraud and abuse in our entitlement programs.  We need to make sure they work for the 21st Century.

We need to take a look at our tax code, to make sure it works for middle class families.  And to make sure nobody side-steps the system.

That’s what it’s going to take to really cut our debt and cut spending.  Not gimmicks.

It won’t be easy.  In fact, it will be pretty darn difficult.  We’re going to have to make some tough choices in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Every expenditure – whether it’s a government program or a tax earmark – has a network of people supporting it.  For that reason, balancing the books will be a challenge.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  It has to be done.  And it can be done… without costing us jobs.

The key is: no one is excused from sharing in the sacrifice. Not the folks who live in the big cities. Nor the folks with Swiss bank accounts. Nor Wall Street Banks or K Street lobbyists.

Nor insurance giants or multinational corporations that send American jobs overseas – and can now secretly fund our political campaigns.

Everybody has to feel a little pain.  But that doesn’t mean we take a battle axe to the very things that are creating jobs and building our economy.  Or backpedal on our commitment to veterans.

Think turning public education upside down creates jobs and a business friendly environment?

In this competitive world, it would only take us backwards.  And it will shift the tax burden onto local property taxpayers.

Does slashing our basic infrastructure, like safe roads and drinking water and electrical transmission lines… help businesses create jobs?

Or saying ‘tough luck’ to our law enforcement officers and firefighters?

Or gutting access to quality, affordable health care?

That kind of governing will land us right back in the ditch.  And it will not create jobs.

We create jobs by investing in education and infrastructure and in health and public safety.

That’s why I’m proud of my vote for the Recovery Act.  A bill that put thousands – let me repeat, thousands – of Montanans to work.

It cut taxes for every Montanan – to the tune of a half-billion dollars.  And it jump-started the infrastructure we need to create jobs.

Every region in Montana has a school, a road, a public works system that has been improved and revitalized because of the Recovery Act.

The Recovery Act is building the North Central Regional Water system, which will provide clean drinking water to tens of thousands of Montanans.

It allowed crews to finish one of our state’s fastest-growing business corridors—Shiloh Road in Billings.

It launched a critical revolving loan fund to keep Montana’s timber industry on its feet – in a time of really tight capital.

I know Cary Hegreberg and my friends at the Montana Contractors Association have done a great job in taking advantage of the Recovery Act – and putting Montanans to work.  I want to thank them.

And most importantly, the Recovery Act pulled our nation away from the ledge of a catastrophic depression.  That’s what I call, successful stimulus.  The only thing failed about it… was a vote against it.

Remember this: it is our patriotic responsibility as Americans to govern and budget carefully.

It is patriotic for a business to go the extra mile needed to create jobs here in America.

Off-shoring jobs may save you a few bucks, but none of us can afford to cut American workers out of the picture.

Invest in jobs here, and you invest in your community. And your country.

The Natural Baby Company is doing it.  The Healthy Pantry, and the Stillwater Mine are doing it.  A whole bunch of Montana businesses are doing it.

Montanans should demand support for Montana jobs from their political leaders. And we all should demand it from our businesses.

As we have this debate, we also can’t let Montana and rural America shoulder more than our share of the sacrifice.

That’s all the more reason I need to keep fighting for the priorities of rural America in the US Senate.

I will never give up on Montana. I will never give up on our family farms and ranches. Or our schools and small businesses.  Or our veterans.

Our human infrastructure is too valuable to let go by the wayside.  Letting our roads fall apart or letting our best teachers go somewhere else will cost us jobs. It will cost us opportunity.

We can’t afford to take a back seat to anyone.

Despite the differences we may have in this room, we are all Montanans.  And we’re all lucky to call this state home.

I’m bullish on Montana.  In fact, I can’t think of a single reason not to be.

We’ve got the people.  We’ve got the resources.  And like the generations before us, we’ve got opportunity for the taking.

Later this month, on February 23rd, I’m hosting my sixth Small Business Opportunity Workshop.  This one will be in Missoula.  And I invite every Montanan to attend. 

You don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to take part.

The idea is to work together to build Montana, to create jobs and take advantage of every opportunity possible.

Montanans aren’t afraid to work hard or make tough decisions.

Working together, we’ll build up our state.  We’ll create jobs.  And we’ll move forward, not backward.

We can do it while empowering small businesses, family farms and ranches, working families.

We can do it without ignoring the needs of the physical and human infrastructure we need to stay competitive.

We can do it by investing in K-though-12 education, and our university system.

Good luck in the weeks ahead. God Bless.