MISSOULIAN ENDORSEMENT: Tester deserves 2nd Senate term

This item originally appeared in: The Missoulian

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EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen

The upcoming election is being presaged by an especially voluminous amount of noise. In Montana, much of this clamor has centered on the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg.

But the political careers of both candidates are already well-known to most Montanans. Both were active in state government for years before being elected to their current congressional terms of service; Tester has now been in the U.S. Senate for nearly six years, and Rehberg has served in the U.S. House for 12.

Consequently, Montanans already know exactly what to expect from both candidates. And because Montanans need advocates in Congress who will actively work to further the unique interests of our state, Tester should keep his Senate seat.

Far from merely adding to the ever-increasing campaign noise, Tester has consistently shown that he follows through on his promises with meaningful action. He has shown time and again that he will do what he says he will do. And he has done so even when it meant standing up to powerful people in the Obama administration and in his own party in order to stand by Montanans.

He’s certainly not the rubber-stamp his critics portray him to be. In fact, Tester received significant backlash from fellow Democrats for his opposition to the DREAM Act, which would have granted citizenship to undocumented immigrants who met certain conditions. He also cast one of only two votes against the American Jobs Act last year; in doing so, he sharply criticized the size and scope of the $447 billion plan pushed by President Barack Obama and supported by fellow Democratic Sen. Max Baucus.

Tester has reflected the position of most Montanans in many other important ways. He voted in support of a balanced budget amendment and, in 2010, co-sponsored the “Pay-It-Back Act” that would have stopped more bailout money from going to troubled banks and instead put it toward deficit reduction. As Tester has pointed out repeatedly, he voted against both the auto industry bailout and the bank bailout, and he was the only Democrat to do so.

However, Tester’s willingness to go against the grain when it matters most hasn’t prevented him from building consensus and winning key committee assignments. He is currently a member of five Senate committees: Appropriations; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Indian Affairs and Veterans Affairs.

From the very beginning of his term, Tester has made good on his pledge to make veterans a priority. Montana has one of the highest percentages of veterans in the nation; an estimated one in 10 Montanans is a veteran. The list of things Tester has done to directly support these folks is too long to reprint here, but a short list of highlights would have to include that he helped secure funding to expand the veterans clinic in Billings, got the Veterans Administration to quit dragging its heels and grant approval for the new state veterans cemetery in Missoula, lobbied hard for the “Vow to Hire Heroes Act” that became law last year, dramatically increased the mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who live in rural areas, and created a new program to distribute grants to volunteer organizations that offer transportation services to veterans.

It’s worth noting that Tester is currently the only farmer in the entire Senate, making his firsthand understanding of agricultural issues unmatched in that legislative body. This understanding comes into play when Congress takes up such mammoth legislation as the Farm Bill. Tester is particularly well suited to represent a state whose largest industry remains agriculture.

But he also has shown an understanding of other industries – including those in western Montana. He not only listened to the folks who work and play in western Montana’s forests, he stepped forward to introduce legislation specific to the interests of timber companies and conservation groups. And he continues to carry the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which continues to gather support from Montanans from all political persuasions – but which most recently ran into opposition in the House, where Rehberg voted against it.

Tester deserves applause for sticking his neck out to act on the concerns of western Montanans with a homegrown attempt to solve our timber, jobs and economic problems. No one else has even tried.

So let’s send Tester back to the Senate, where he can keep working to do what’s best for Montana.