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In today’s hyper-partisan world, Montana and the rest of the country desperately need political leaders who think for themselves.

That’s one of the main reasons we support the re-election of Jon Tester to the U.S. Senate.

Tester’s opposition is trying to convince voters that he is an extreme liberal because he sometimes disagrees with President Donald Trump. But that argument just isn’t borne out by the facts.

Yes, there’s a reason Tester is a member of the Democratic Party. There’s also a reason he has twice been elected to the Senate by voters in Montana, a state that has not supported a Democrat for president since 1992.

As a Democratic farmer in a fairly red state, Tester bears little resemblance to the far-left fringe coming from states like California. In fact, Congress tracking website GovTrack has even ranked Tester slightly to the right of Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

So what does our Democratic senator have to offer a state that Republican President Donald Trump won by more than 20 points?

His strong support for gun rights, for one.

Despite political pressure from his own party, Tester voted against Democratic proposals to ban assault weapons and limit magazine capacity. He also opposes the creation of a national gun registry and even wrote to former President Barack Obama and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to voice concerns about a U.N. proposal he said could have created an international gun registry.

Nor is Tester caving to pressure from the National Rifle Association, which generally opposes gun control legislation. Despite the organization’s strong political influence in rural states like Montana, Tester has supported efforts that would help prevent gun sales to people on terrorist watch lists and those deemed mentally ill by a court of law.

Tester has also voted to confirm numerous Trump appointees, including Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, and many others.

Yet the senator refuses to be a rubber stamp.

Tester voted against Trump’s first U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, because of the judge’s views on women’s health issues and First Amendment rights for corporations. Tester voted against the president’s second nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, mainly because the senator never had the opportunity to meet with him one-on-one.

Tester has risked his own re-election by standing up to Trump on certain issues, much like he did when he stood up to his own party by voting against the Dream Act in 2010. But he supports the president when it makes sense, which is not something that can be said of all Democrats these days.

In contrast, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale has made it clear that he intends to follow the president’s lead, which may not always be the best direction for Montana. When asked whether he and Trump disagree on any particular issues, Rosendale couldn’t come up with any, possibly because the president relentlessly attacks Republican leaders who show any hints of bipartisanship.

Rosendale has some good ideas too, such as his support for U.S. manufacturing growth, fighting drug cartels and pursuing treatment options instead of imprisonment for substance abusers.

But we believe it’s more important for Montana to have independent thinkers in Congress, and Tester votes his conscience even when it hurts. 

That’s the kind of leadership we need to overcome destructive partisanship in politics, and we hope to see more of it in Washington.

This is the opinion of the Independent Record editorial board. 

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