Senator Tester, a Farmer on his multi-gen. Montana farm

Thursday, September 20, 2018
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Courtesy photo
Senator Jon Tester at his family farm.

By Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

Senator Jon Tester talked with CCN on Wednesday, Sept. 14. He laughs about ads put out that he is no longer a farmer. “This week my wife and I worked for hours to get our ’69 truck running. I swapped out a fuel pump. We worked together and fixed it.” He looked at his wife and said, “This is a pretty good day!”
He is harvesting red wheat, white wheat, barley and peas. He has hay to be baled. “Out of State people try to make me something I’m not. I’m a farmer. I run my tractor.” The New York Times calls him “the Senate’s only active farmer.”
In fact, he still farms on the farm outside Big Sandy that his grandmother and grandfather lived on and patented in 1915, after coming to Montana in 1910. They left in 1919 for the drought and stayed one year in North Dakota. They came back and have been here ever since. “My folks ran it in 1943. They also had a butcher shop. In '78, we took it over. The farm income was not making it so we started up the butcher shop again." They have about 150 hogs a year. But even then, “I don’t call myself a rancher; I’m a farmer.” He looks around his farm and sees the barn rebuilt after his grandfather first raised it and the same shop, garage, chicken coop and grain bins his father built.
“It keeps me connected,” he says of farm living. “People say to me, ‘Why not move?’ I come out of the legislature. A citizen legislature-it’s a good model. We still farm, some kids and grandkids help out. It keeps you in touch with the people you serve. I love it.”
They used to send people out with cameras to check on him. “They’d usually find me or my wife on the tractor! If you have to fill a tank of gas you know how much gas costs. I’ve wanted to be a farmer since I was 8 years old and I’m now 62 and we do it-not our kids!”
It grounds Tester to speak with his constituents. Like sharing Montana values, he said he connects with Montanans’ honesty and integrity. “It’s critical. In Montana, your word is your bond. It’s worth a written document in my book and most Montanans' books. It’s important when in the environment you work in they stretch the truth and even lie. It’s critically important in business and critically important in government. That's why we need as much transparency as we can.”
He is filing a bill “on the cusp” to require donations be filed online. “So anyone who wants to know can find out-immediately! Now, it’s three months.” He tries to put his schedule online so people can see with whom he’s meeting claiming, “If you don’t have honesty and integrity you’re not a good businessman” or serving your people.
He said of his opponent, Matt Rosendale, telling people he’s a rancher “is just the tip of the iceberg. He wants to privatize public lands. He wants to privatize public education. That’s silly. It may work in Maryland but not in rural Montana. He campaigns on finance reform but he endorses Citizens United.”
Tester continued to distinguish himself from his opponent, commenting on various issues.
“I’m trying to get the facilities and the tools for Veterans in this state. My opponent voted against Purple Hearts Veterans scholarships and Gold Star family assistance. He did not support the Great Falls Veterans Home.”
Tester is looking forward to debating his opponent two times, starting Sept. 29 and a week later. It will be televised. “We’re going to have some fun!”
Health Care
Health care is a major focus for Tester. “I’m creating a bill so that the generic makers of drugs have the ability to get samples. So big Pharma companies will give samples to generic companies to make generic drugs.”
"The payments the federal government is supposed to pay to hospitals-they’re not making. They’re hurting our rural hospitals.” He said it de-stabilizes the market to not help them reduce costs. “We’ve got to de-politicize this! Health care is nearly one quarter of a family budget.”
Tester said, “My bill would give tax credits to middle income families because they’re getting hammered.”
The bill is struggling. “They want the old system; but that wasn’t working either. We need to work together. A bipartisan effort. If we lose our rural hospitals, the area will depopulate. If you get hurt, it’s absolutely critical. Even when my son had the croup-it was critical that I could drive 15 miles, not 40 miles to the hospital.” He talks about the lack of real dialogue. “It just got crazy.”
“I’ve worked hard to get health care for pre-existing conditions. My opponent supports ‘junk plans’ which are just like they sound. Like auto insurance, if you’re wrecked, you’re out of luck." He is pushing the “Spike Act” for transparency from drug companies in pricing. “It requires them to justify their costs.”
Health care premium spikes are coming. Of his opponent he says, “He rubber stamps companies seeking 20 percent increases while other companies can do the job with increases in the single digits.
He feels the high cost of education “is one of the real disservices to this generation. Coming out with a $30,000 to $40,000 debt.”
Public Lands
Tester gave some comforting news to some about the Wilderness Study bills that seek to stop protections for Montana’s Wilderness Study areas, often buffers for the pristine lands they border, and some of which are recommended by the Forest Service Plan revision for permanent protection themselves. “Most bills need to start on the ground (with a ground swell of support) and move up. This was top down and they don’t tend to go very far and this one hasn’t.”