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Q&A: Jon Tester, Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate

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Q&A: Jon Tester, Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate


We are gathering information from all statewide candidates as a resource for the 2024 Primary Elections. Responses were limited to 200 words per question. Political attacks may have been removed, but otherwise, the responses are published unedited.

What is your full name as it will appear on ballots?

Jon Tester

What is your age?

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67

Where do you live?

Big Sandy, MT

What is your education background?

College of Great Falls, Bachelor of Science in Music

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Please list your current and previous occupations.

U.S. Senator, dirt farmer, music teacher for Big Sandy public schools

What motivated you to seek a seat in the U.S Senate? 

Simply put, the Montana we know and love is changing. Everything from housing to groceries is more expensive as out-of-state multimillionaires move here and buy up our land, using Montana as their personal playground.

It’s putting a strain on everything – on prices, on our local infrastructure, on our towns and our parks and our public lands. With so much changing, we’ve got to have somebody in the Senate who’s willing to fight for our Montana way of life.

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I still farm the land just outside of Big Sandy that my grandparents homesteaded more than 100 years ago. I feel those changes that are going on in Montana right now, every day.

Montana needs somebody back in Washington, DC who understands rural America. Someone who fights for our freedoms and goes to bat for our veterans, our family farms and ranches, our working families, our health care workers and our teachers. I’m running to keep up the fight for those folks, and to make sure our kids and grandkids can grow up in the same Montana we know and love. Montana is the greatest state in the greatest country in the world and it’s damn sure not for sale.

What, if anything, should the Senate do to address the federal deficit? 

The deficit is out of control and both parties are to blame. In Montana, we know how to balance a budget and live within our means. That is why I authored a balanced budget proposal. It would protect Social Security and Medicare benefits that our seniors have earned while still forcing the federal government to stop racking up the debt and passing it along to our kids and grandkids. We also need to hold massive corporations accountable and make them pay their fair share.

Yes or no, do you support a federal ban on abortion?

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NO.

Montanans of all stripes don’t want the federal government telling them what to do, and they don’t want politicians or judges stripping away their personal freedoms. Just last year, politicians in Montana ignored the voices of the voters and passed abortion bans. I opposed these bans and will always fight to protect Montana women’s freedom to make their own health care decisions.

What, if anything, should the Senate do to address climate change? 

There is no question about it, climate change is impacting our economy and our way of life. Sharla and I see these impacts firsthand on our farm, where significant droughts have led to some of the toughest harvests in recent years. Wildfire seasons burn longer and more intensely, and taxpayers are stuck with the bill, paying untold billions of dollars to rebuild after extreme weather events.

We should be developing clean energy technologies to tackle climate change, create good-paying American jobs, and secure our energy independence, and Montana has the opportunity to lead the way. China is actively working to beat America in the clean energy sector in hope of taking over as the world’s strongest economy. We can’t afford to lose this competition. That’s why we should invest directly in Montana companies researching next-generation energy technologies that are affordable and lower costs for consumers. And my Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill secured investments to update our energy grids to prevent and protect against wildfire. Traditional energy sources like oil and gas remain a critical part of how we power our country, so we need to continue to invest in development of technologies like carbon capture and storage to reduce carbon emissions.

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What changes, if any, should be made to the way elections and campaigns are funded? 

Elected leaders should work for the people, not those who can cut the biggest check. It’s way past time to kick dark money out of politics. We should have done it yesterday.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision was disastrous. It flooded our elections with mind-boggling amounts of money and made a mess of our democracy. Since then, I’ve fought to overturn that decision with my “Corporations Are Not People” constitutional amendment, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to join me in making sure hardworking Montanans, not massive corporations and out-of-state billionaires, get to pick their elected officials.

I will also continue fighting for better transparency in campaign finance, like my Sunlight for Unaccountable Non-profits (SUN) Act, which would take huge strides towards eliminating dark money by requiring the IRS to publicly disclose donors who give over $5,000 to certain tax-exempt groups engaging in political activity.

Hardworking Montanans should be the ones deciding their elections, not out-of-state special interest groups. I will always defend the voices of Montanans and put them first.

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What, if anything, should the Senate do to improve the nation’s immigration laws and security at the southern border? 

What’s happening on the southern border is unacceptable, and dedicating more manpower and resources is crucial to keeping Montanans safe.

That’s why I’ve called on President Biden to step up and do everything in his power to secure the border, and it’s why I supported a strong bipartisan deal to get our border under control earlier this year. This bipartisan bill would have hired more border patrol agents, cracked down on the fentanyl crisis, and tightened asylum standards – that’s why it received the strong endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues decided to play politics and voted to keep the border open for another year so they could campaign on the issue.

I have been talking with Montanans, sheriffs, and mayors across the state, they all are feeling the consequences of the situation at the southern border, from stretched law enforcement budgets to fentanyl in the communities. I was proud that my bipartisan FEND Off Fentanyl Act passed to place sanctions on countries engaged in international trafficking of illegal fentanyl and give law enforcement the resources they need to battle the fentanyl crisis.

What, if anything, should the Senate do to ensure Social Security and Medicare benefits meet the needs of older adults? 

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I will never cut Social Security and Medicare. Full stop. For many older Montanans, Social Security is their only source of retirement income, and Medicare is their only way to access affordable life-saving health care. These are essential benefits that Montanans have spent their entire lives paying into, and I will always fight to ensure these benefits are protected – not just for today’s seniors but for all of Montana’s future generations.

There are some politicians who want to end Social Security or cut those benefits. I oppose any plan to do so. I will also stand tough against any plan to privatize Medicare, because our seniors have paid into that their whole lives and should be able to rely on it. I was also proud to pass legislation that allowed Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices – including capping the price of insulin for seniors at $35/month – and I will fight to ensure that Montana’s nursing homes stay open and fully-staffed. Montana’s seniors can count on me to defend their hard-earned health care benefits.

What should be the top priority when managing public land?  

As a lifelong Montanan, I know our public lands are foundational to our way of life and to our state’s economy. You don’t need to be a millionaire to hunt, fish, or hike in these treasured landscapes, because they belong to all of us. Our public lands play a key role for ranchers looking to graze their cattle, or local sawmills in need of timber to harvest. That is why I oppose the call from some politicians who have said they want to transfer our public lands, which would make it easier to sell our wide open spaces off to the highest bidder.

Montana has a long history of local collaboratives working together to improve management of our public lands. I worked with Montanans to protect special places like the Rocky Mountain Front, Glacier National Park, and the Gateway to Yellowstone National Park. I am also incredibly proud to have secured full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it’s because of that work that conservation and recreation priorities for Montana’s public lands will be funded for generations to come. And I will continue to fight for bills like the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act to protect thousands of acres of public lands for future generations.

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What, if anything, would you do if elected to build trust in the Senate?

When I first ran for U.S. Senate, I made a promise to Montanans that I would go above and beyond on ethics and transparency and work for them – not special interest groups.

Every day since, I’ve worked tirelessly to uphold that promise. The first thing I did was post my Senate schedule online for all Montanans to see. I was the first Senator to do this and still do it to this day – unfortunately, I’m one of the only U.S. senators who does. So I’ve introduced a bill to make that mandatory for all of my colleagues, because the American people deserve to know who their elected officials are meeting with.

I’m also fighting to crack down on lobbyist influence. I’m working to shut the revolving door by banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists – ever. And I routinely invite retired Montana judges to conduct a voluntary ethics audits of my office, to ensure my office and I meet the high standards we set for ourselves. I think all of my colleagues should join me.

Like most Montanans, I believe a handshake means something and our word is our bond. That’s how trust in the Senate should be built – by earning it.

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Something's rotten at Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks • Daily Montanan

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Something's rotten at Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks • Daily Montanan


Something’s very rotten in Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 

A good guess would point to the Gianforte administration’s attitude toward informing the public about what’s wrong – or likely to go wrong – with the environment.  But “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a dead-end strategy for the state’s future — and a damning trademark of a governor who sees Montana as a “product” to be sold as quickly as possible. 

The latest case involves Dr. Eileen Ryce, the Administrator of the Fisheries Division who was mysteriously placed on “administrative leave” as of May 17.  As reported by the Missoula Current’s Laura Lundquist: “Sources inside FWP said Ryce was publicly escorted out of FWP headquarters in Helena on Friday. Sources asked that they not be identified out of fear of retaliation.”  And when reporters asked for the reason, Gianforte’s appointee FWP director Dustin Temple, hid behind the administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” tact and has “refused requests for comment.”

Looking at Ryce’s performance running the Fisheries Division, some things stand out that might have something to do with the director’s action. Put bluntly, Ryce has been telling the truth about some fisheries issues that do not paint the Gianforte administration in a good light — especially in an election year.

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Just recently Ryce released the agency’s analysis of the levels of toxic substances in the fish in the Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers. The news was not good, to put it mildly. In a nutshell, the fish in the 148-mile stretch of the Clark Fork are so contaminated with the known and potent carcinogens PCB, dioxin and furans, that Ryce’s division has recommended not eating any of the fish since there is no “safe consumption level” for those toxins. 

Montanans owe Ryce a debt of gratitude for telling us the truth — and protecting not only our health, but especially that of our children.  Nonetheless, is seems apparent the Gianforte administration does not want the truth revealed when the state spends millions of dollars every year touting Montana as the trout mecca of the nation.  Nor is it the kind of news that speaks well of our regulatory agencies and the failure to heed the Montana Constitution’s “inalienable right to a clean and healthy environment.”  Just the opposite, in fact. 

Ryce’s truth-telling was highlighted earlier this year, too, when she appeared before a legislative interim committee and raised a red flag about the number of private ponds being permitted by the agency.  As Ryce detailed, the state has 10,000 private ponds already and is currently permitting at least 200 a year…basically one every working day for the agency. 

The concern is that those ponds are usually stocked with fish bought from both in-state and out-of-state private hatcheries. Shipping in fish from private hatcheries presents a significant chance for introducing diseases or non-native invasive species into state waters from the ponds, many of which are in flood plains close to major rivers. 

Montanans owe Ryce a debt of gratitude for that truth-telling, too.  Once invasive species or diseases are released in Montana waters it is very, very expensive and difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of them. 

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Sure enough, just this week the department sent out an alert that it had discovered the first Mystery Snails in Montana near Finley Point on Flathead Lake.  Further proving Ryce’s concern for what gets dumped in private ponds, an angler reported catching a Dojo Loach, or “pond loach” native to East Asia, “in a small pond” near Bozeman.

Those who have been keeping track of the Gianforte administration’s approach to our environment, fish, and wildlife are well aware of the efforts to cut the public out of government decision-making with ever-shorter or totally non-existent opportunity for public review and comment.

All Montanans should be concerned when an honest and competent state employee like Ryce gets muzzled and put on administrative leave for telling the public the truth and raising red flags about potential disasters from private ponds and imported fish and diseases.  

Election year or not, nothing stinks worse than rotten fish — and right now, the stink is coming from the governor’s office and his Fish, Wildlife and Parks director.

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Montana presidential primary gives option for “no preference” votes

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Montana presidential primary gives option for “no preference” votes


HELENA — Only two names are appearing on Montana’s presidential primary ballots this year: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. However, voters do have another option.

For 50 years, Montana law has required that voters in the state’s presidential primaries have a choice to vote “no preference” instead of for a candidate.

One group actively encouraging voters to support “no preference” is Montanans 4 Palestine, which has organized protests against Democratic and Republican politicians because of their stances on Israel’s war in Gaza. Several weeks ago, they announced they would campaign for a “no preference” vote in the Democratic primary as a way to protest the Biden administration, saying it hasn’t done enough to stand up against what they describe as a genocide.

“Ultimately, this is an expression of disgust with the president’s policies,” said co-founder Brendan Work.

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Last weekend, Montanans 4 Palestine members were knocking on doors in Bozeman and Missoula to get out their message, and Work said they’ll be canvassing again this weekend. They’ve also distributed yard signs in several cities across the state.

Work said they’re making the case voting “no preference” is a low-risk way for people to show they’re unhappy with the administration.

“Biden has already won the nomination pretty much, and this vote is not like a vote for Trump,” he said. “So it’s a good way for people to express their feelings – and it’s easy to do: It’s right on the ballot; it says ‘Joe Biden,’ and ‘no preference.’ And that’s an easy choice for a lot of us.”

Jonathon Ambarian

A yard sign in Helena urges a “no preference” vote in Montana’s Democratic presidential primary, to protest the Biden administration’s policies on Gaza.

Work estimates his group has around 300 members, and he says it’s grown significantly since the start of the war in Gaza. He said their initial goal is to get 5,000 “no preference” votes, which he said would demonstrate there’s a “pro-peace constituency” that leaders need to listen to, especially in the closely watched race for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat. Their higher target is to crack 15% of the Democratic primary vote, which would allow for the selection of “no-preference” delegates for the Democratic National Convention. Work said that would likely take 20,000 votes.

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This campaign follows visible efforts to encourage “uncommitted” votes in Democratic primaries in a number of other states, including Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin. That vote has often ended up between about 8% and 15%, reaching as high as nearly 19% in Minnesota’s primary and 29% in Hawaii’s caucus. However, Biden has won the overwhelming majority of delegates – projected by national analysts to be more than 3,600, compared with just over 30 uncommitted delegates.

A spokesperson for Biden’s campaign released a statement to MTN Thursday.

“The President believes making your voice heard and participating in our democracy is fundamental to who we are as Americans,” they said. “He shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He’s working tirelessly to that end.”

2024 will be the first time in 40 years that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have multiple candidates listed on their Montana primary ballot. In recent election cycles, the highest “no preference” vote totals have generally come when there’s only one candidate on the ballot – like in 2012, when “no preference” got 9.4% of the Democratic primary vote in Barack Obama’s reelection year, and in 2020, when Trump was the only Republican candidate and 6.2% of the vote was for “no preference.”

The largest share of “no preference” votes for both Republicans and Democrats in Montana came in 1992: 16.6% and 24%, respectively.

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Montana “No Preference” Vote History:

1976:

Republicans: 2.2%, 1,996 votes
Democrats: 3.6%, 3,820 votes

1980:

Republicans: 3.8%, 3,014 votes
Democrats: 11.9%, 15,466 votes

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1984:

Republicans: 7.5%, 5,378 votes
Democrats: 28,385 votes (Montana Democrats held a caucus and no candidates appeared on the primary ballot)

1988:

Republicans: 7.5%, 6,520 votes
Democrats: 3.6%, 4,083 votes

1992:

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Republicans: 16.6%, 15,098 votes
Democrats: 24.0%, 28,164 votes

1996:

Republicans: 7.2%, 8,533 votes
Democrats: 10.0%, 9,176 votes

2000:

Republicans: 4.1%, 4,655 votes
Democrats: 22.1%, 19,447 votes

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2004:

Republicans: 5.6%, 6,340 votes
Democrats: 7.4%, 6,899 votes

2008:

Republicans: 2.4%, 2,333 votes
Democrats: 2.4%, 4,358 votes

2012:

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Republicans: 3.8%, 5,456 votes
Democrats: 9.4%, 8,270 votes

2016:

Republicans: 4.7%, 7,369 votes
Democrats: 4.2%, 5,415 votes

2020:

Republicans: 6.2%, 13,184 votes
Democrats: 2.8%, 4,250 votes

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Montana Veterans Memorial hosts annual ceremony Monday

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Montana Veterans Memorial hosts annual ceremony Monday


Authors Tony and Janet Seahorn, who co-wrote “Tears of a Warrior, a Family’s Story of Combat and Living with PTSD,” will speak at the 19th annual Memorial Day Ceremony in Great Falls, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Monday.

The Seahorns — Tony, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, and Janet, who teaches on neuroscience and literacy at Regis University in Denver and at Colorado State University — provide education counseling, team building and outdoor adventures through their business, and their book was selected as the military book of the year in 2014. They will participate in a book signing at the VFW Post 4669, at the Black Eagle Community Center, from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday.

The Memorial Day ceremony will also include personnel from Malmstrom Air Base, Montana Veterans Memorial Association President Starnell Darko, Jesse Callendar from the Great Falls Pipe Band, Great Falls Municipal Band and Boy Scout troops from the area. In addition, Army veteran and Blackfeet Community College professor Marvin Weatherwax Sr. will introduce the Blackfeet Veterans Honor Guard. Following the ceremony members of the Blackfeet Nation will conduct a blessing at the Agent Orange Monument at the Montana Veterans Memorial.

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The Montana Veterans Memorial is at 1025 25th St. N in Great Falls. Monday’s ceremony will also be broadcast on the Montana Veterans Memorial Facebook page, and on 89.9 KGPR Great Falls Public Radio.



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