Know Your Candidates: Senator Jon Tester
MISSOULA, Mont. —
1. In your own words, what differentiates you from your opponents?
This November, Montanans have a clear choice. I am a third-generation, Montana dirt farmer from Big Sandy. I’ve fought relentlessly to defend Montana from outsiders coming into our state hell-bent on buying our elections, taking our public lands, and chipping away at our personal freedom. I won’t ever stop holding government accountable, fighting for our veterans and improved schools, infrastructure, and jobs. My opponent pushed to transfer our public lands, has voted over and over against our veterans, and as insurance commissioner rubber stamped insurance rate hikes for Montana families.
2. Explain what you see as the most important issue facing the state.
All across Montana, families are hurting because of the rising cost of health care. Folks are getting gouged by high premiums, threatened by the loss of coverage for their pre-existing conditions, and conned by junk insurance plans that provide hardly any coverage for working families.
It’s time to stop playing political games with Montanans’ health care. That’s why I’ve introduced several bills to make healthcare more affordable for Montanans. I’m willing to work with anyone, from any party, to find solutions and make sure that everyone has access to affordable, quality care.
Meanwhile, my opponent, who is the state’s insurance commissioner, has failed to hold insurance companies accountable, and rubber-stamped rate hikes of 23 percent. And he’s backed plans that would undermine our healthcare system and kick Montanans off their insurance, raise premiums, and undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
3. How are you uniquely qualified to address that issue?
Montanans need someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and take on anyone, no matter how powerful, to lower their health care costs—and I’m wired to fight.
No one knows the needs of Montana families better than Montana families themselves. Over the years, I’ve traveled all over the state hosting health care town halls to hear directly from Montanans about what they need—and I’ve fought for their priorities back in Washington. The only folks who have my ear when it comes to health care are Montanans, unlike my opponent, who buddies up to health insurance industry executives, and even hired an insurance lobbyist to work in his office.
Unlike my opponent, I’m going to keep fighting back against insurers who want to deny coverage to folks with pre-existing conditions, junk health care plans that don’t cover basic services like prescription drugs, and to lower premiums for Montanans.
4. Should teachers and/or other school employees that are not law enforcement be armed?
We can take steps to make our communities safer and protect our Second Amendment rights. I’ll never stop defending Montanans’ Second Amendment rights. But as both a gun owner and a former teacher, I can tell you one thing: Making teachers into security guards is not the answer. But, this is a question for local school boards to answer.
5. What can be done to prevent wildfires from becoming more catastrophic? Why?
We need to allow the Forest Service to get back to doing the work they’re supposed to do: cutting trees, maintaining trails, and reducing the fuel for these catastrophic fires. But the Forest Service can’t do that because their budget is getting consumed by wildfire costs.
I believe fighting wildfires should be funded like a natural disaster and I’ve worked with the entire Montana delegation to temporarily do that, but we need to make this fix permanent. My opponent said he believes wildfires should not be treated like a natural disaster. That shows he just doesn’t understand Montana.
6. Montana currently allows marijuana for medical use. What has shaped your position on the issue?
Montanans have spoken on this issue and I agree with them. Pain kills people, and if marijuana can help with pain management then they should have access to it.
7. Under what circumstances would you support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use?
I do not support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. But if the people of Montana voted in favor of it in a legislative referendum or a ballot initiative I would not stand in the way of legalization.
8. Do you believe in climate change? Yes or No? What is the best course of action?
Climate change is real. As a farmer I see it every year on my farm. We need to look at things we can do to mitigate climate change impacts because our kids and grandkids depend on it. Whether that’s investing in research and development, or alternate energy options we need to take action. Mother Nature doesn’t care if you believe she’s changing or not, she’s going to continue to change until we address it.
9. Montana has one of the highest veteran’s population in the country. What will you do to help our veterans?
From the first day I entered the Senate, veterans have been one of my top priorities. From getting veterans mileage reimbursements for veterans who travel to receive their care, to holding bad actors accountable through the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to the VA MISSION Act, which gives veterans the choice of a local doctor when the VA can’t meet their needs, I’ll never stop fighting for our veterans. We have made promises to our veterans and I’m working every day to live up to those promises.
10. The opioid epidemic continues to get worse. What needs to be done to stop this troubling problem?
Opioid abuse is a devastating epidemic that has torn too many Montana families apart. Meth abuse has had similar, devastating effects. The first thing we need to do is to make sure we have the technology and manpower to stop these drugs before they enter this country. We also need to fund community-driven addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs.
And I’ve fought to hold drug companies accountable when they hike up prices for medicine that can help treat opioid overdoses, such as EpiPens and naloxone. These health care options need to be affordable and accessible to prevent as many opioid-related deaths in Montana as possible.
11. Many Montanans don’t have health insurance. Should anything be done about this? Is expanding Medicaid the answer?
I will relentlessly fight to reduce health care costs for Montanans and increase their access to quality health care. Montana’s Medicaid plan has boosted our economy, saved the state of Montana millions of dollars, and has provided nearly 100,000 Montanans with health insurance. But we still have a lot of work to do.
Back in March, when funding for Montana’s community health centers was in jeopardy, I fought back like hell. Community health centers provide critical care to Montanans—so I didn’t rest until we agreed on a budget that secured funding certainty for CHCs across the state. And this Congress, I’ve introduced seven bills to bring down health care costs. I’ve urged Senator McConnell to bring these bills to the floor so we can get to work on making health care more affordable.
Unfortunately my opponent has opposed Montana’s Medicaid plan, and he supports policies at the federal level that would not only kick people off their insurance, but it would further jack up costs. When it comes to Montanans’ health care, we need real solutions, not partisan talking points.
12. Should affordable housing be a priority for our state, and is it?
As I’ve traveled around Montana, I’ve heard over and over again that affordable housing and workforce housing is an impediment to economic growth. We need to put an emphasis on solutions that would include public and private partnerships, utilizing programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture.
13. Why is today’s political climate so toxic? What would you tell your fellow lawmakers?
Toxicity exists in politics today because of the millions of dollars that pour into these campaigns. It results in false advertisements and empowers the extremes of each political party.
Montanans sent me to Washington to deliver results for our state—not to obstruct or be a rubber-stamp for anyone. I have a strong working relationship with many of my Republican colleagues, and I’m proud that President Trump has signed 18 of my bills into law this Congress. When we put politics aside, reach across the aisle, and put pen to paper, we can get things done for Montana. That’s what I’ve always done, and it’s what I’ll continue to do.
14. What is an example of a policy or issue you have changed your view on in the last 20 years?
My core values and beliefs are the same as they were when I first ran for office --my perspective as a third generation Montanan informs everything I do in the Senate. But some issues have taken on heightened importance over the last several years, such as the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expands public access to fishing sites, hiking trails, and hunting areas across Montana. As more and more outsiders come into our state hellbent on taking our public lands away from us, the more it becomes clear how critically important it is that we protect them. As your Senator, I’ll always fight to protect our public lands and fully fund LWCF so that access to our lands remains public for generations to come.
15. What question do you wish someone would ask you and why?
As I travel the state and talk with Montanans, I get asked many questions on many subjects. Too often, these conversations fall into political discussions around party labels or what they hear on cable news. But during my time in the Senate I’ve always put Montana first. When President Obama tried to over regulate Montana’s farmers and ranchers, I stood up and told him enough is enough. When my party wanted to over regulate Montana’s small community banks, I worked with Republicans to reduce red tape and give our community banks and credit unions the access to capital Montanans deserved. I don’t care what party you come from, if your idea helps Montana, I’ll be there with you, but if it hurts our state I’ll fight like hell to stand up to you.
16. Under what circumstances would you lie?
There are none.
17. If you could invite three people over to dinner. Who and why?
I would like to have dinner with my grandparents and my wife Sharla so we could talk about the real challenges of homestead life and why they chose to settle where they settled. For three generations my family has called this plot of land west of Big Sandy home, and it is so important to who I am as a person and as Montana’s senator.
18. Who is your political hero? Why?
Mike Mansfield showed Montana and the country what it means to be a true statesman. Senator Mansfield had a proven track record of getting things done, working across the aisle, and being above partisan politics. The Senate and this country could use more Mike Mansfields.
19. What is the best advice you have ever gotten?
My father always told me you have two ears and one mouth—act accordingly.
20. Who do you cheer the loudest for? Grizz, Bobcats, or someone else?