Jon Tester took a blow to the head last week, but we can report that he remains clearheaded on things that matter most to Montanans.
Tester, who missed a step coming down some stairs at his farm, wound up with some stitches in his scalp, but at an editorial board meeting with The Montana Standard and the Helena Independent Record Tuesday, his footing was sure. As usual, he displayed both political savvy and the benefit, unique among our congressional delegation, of having met consistently face to face with Montanans on the issues.
He is guardedly pleased with getting to a longer-term budget deal, including funding for things like community health centers that treat one in 10 Montanans; remains very distressed about the recently passed tax reform bill, calling out its $2.5 trillion debt impact; continues to support the Manchin-Toomey background check bill which failed by a handful of votes in the aftermath of Sandy Hook; and equally firmly supports the Second Amendment right to buy guns (yes, that includes AR-15s).
He’s pushing hard for bills that would prevent mining near Yellowstone Park, and forge the compromise worked out by the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, a group of local loggers, ranchers, outfitters, conservationists, snowmobilers, business owners, and outdoor recreationists in the Ovando and Seeley Lake area. It would ensure public-lands access as well as some timber production and protection of the headwaters of the Big Blackfoot. We concur with both positions; we favor mining in many areas and under many circumstances, but not on the edge of Yellowstone Park when tourism is as crucial to the area as it is. We also support both the conservation and the logging aspects of the Blackfoot Clearwater bill. The fact that both environmentalists and hard-core land privatization advocates are shooting at the compromise means to us that it gets a lot right.
Tester, who has probably done more for veterans in his ranking role on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee than anybody from Big Sky country in Congress, notes that veterans’ groups are rallying around VA Secretary David Shulkin, and says he doesn’t believe Shulkin’s recent travel peccadilloes are a firing offense, as long as restitution is made and there is no recurrence. But he maintains that he’s pushing Shulkin to put more resources into the VA in Montana, where persistent staff shortages have created frustrations, and big gaps in care, for Montana vets.
He said he expects the NRA to “shoot at” him for supporting background checks on firearm purchases, and he expects the 2018 Senate campaign to be a tough one.
He says that he plans to run on accountability in government; on protection of public lands; on border security, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and on pushing broadband access to rural communities, "where it can change lives," among other issues.
The political staircase doesn't come with big handrails for incumbents these days, and so yes, it will be a tough Senate campaign. But if Tester treads carefully, it will probably be tougher for his opponent than it will be for him.
This is the opinion of The Montana Standard editorial board.