However, with Senator Jon Tester, this Democrat from Montana makes it very clear that his primary goal is to protect and serve his state. As he says on his official website, he “won’t ever stop holding government accountable United States Senators can be authentic personalities or become well-known for their unshakeable commitment to certain ideals. You see this in how they vote or what sorts of bills and legislation they seek to create, sponsor or co-sponsor. First and foremost, though, a Senator is supposed to be a strong advocate for their home state. Yet, it is not always easy to see whether or not a Senator is taking steps to shore up specific goals or needs for their state.
, fighting for veterans and improved schools, infrastructure, and jobs.”
He is also well aware of the ways of modern “politics” and has astonishing policies in place to prevent outside influence from doing any sort of manipulation, harm or interference in the state, as well. As his website also explains, “Jon is relentless in defending Montana from outsiders coming into our state hell bent on buying our elections, taking our public lands, and chipping away at our personal freedoms. Every day, Jon is defending Montana.”
How does he do this? He has a long record, even dating before his time in the United States Senate, of doing whatever it takes to ensure the best conditions and opportunities for the people of Montana. Yet, he does not do this with any lack of ethics and is instead noted as one of the most ethical of all Senators currently serving in Congress.
As an example, he is the only member of his state’s delegation to Congress to “host regular in-person town hall meetings.” These have included listening sessions around Veteran’s issues, the Farm Bill, and more. He has even brought cabinet members from three administrations to his home state during these meetings. Keeping a finger on the pulse of his constituents is only one way he remains on track.
Additionally, it was Senator Tester who made history by being the very first member of the United States Congress to make public his daily schedule. Posting it to his website, he was the very first to allow the public to see every single meeting from the prior day. As the government watchdog group, The Sunlight Foundation, said: “It’s a tribute to Senator Tester. He is a populist, and he seized on this idea early,” and lived up to all of his promises to ensure government accountability.
After all, prior to this innovation, it was almost impossible to know who your congressional representatives met with on a specific day. You could get advanced schedules, but these were not an actual report of meetings that had occurred. With this level of openness, however, Senator Tester set a new bar for accountability, making plain just who he sits down with and interacts with.
As a spokesperson for the Senator noted, ““He never did this to force others into doing the same thing. He did this because he believes government should be transparent and the folks that elected him should be able to know what he is up to everyday.”
And a lot of voters are actually eager to know what Congress is up to in early 2019, especially in light of the government shutdown.
The 116th United States Congress opened on January 3, 2019. Yet, even as it did it was part of an unprecedented period in American history as it was in session during the government’s longest shutdown on record. Government shutdowns confuse many. They are defined as a period when Congress and the President have not passed or signed legislation enabling the United States Treasury to release funding for some or even all of the federal agencies and departments.
Also described as a funding gap, it typically results in some agencies curtailing activities or shutting down altogether. As you might guess, this can become dangerous to all involved. For instance, employees are “furloughed” or forced to live without pay. Even more intolerable is that hundreds of thousands of exempt employees will be required to work without pay. This is due to their jobs being essential to human safety or protection of property.
This does NOT mean, however, that Congress, the President and some staff go without pay as well. Their pay is not within the same law as federal worker pay, and so it would take actual Constitutional amendments to interrupt their pay.
Additionally, a shutdown does not mean that Congress ceases to gather and attempt to stick to its schedules. Many members of the House and the Senate are still doing daily work, having hearings and speaking on relevant topics. As an example, the House of Representatives voted on its very first day in session to approve back pay for all federal employees when the shutdown comes to an end with a 411 to 7 majority during one of their first days in session. Both houses of Congress approved and passed it, and the bill itself went to the President on January 14, 2019.
As this legislation is one of the five bills that Senator Tester co-sponsored, we’ll look at it in greater detail a bit later, but the point here is that Congress has not ceased working, and Senator Tester remains as busy as ever. In fact, as we’ve noted, he has sponsored or co-sponsored five different bills since the 116th Congress began in the first week of January 2019.
About Senator Jon Tester
Before doing an in-depth look at the five bills that Senator Tester has sponsored or co-sponsored in this new congressional session, it is incredibly useful to take some time to explore his work while working as an elected official for Montana, as well as prior to that time. We’ll examine his most avid campaign supporters and contributors and the industries that provide the most financial support. While this is done in order to assess whether this has driven any of his legislative initiatives or inspired his participation in the creation of new laws, it also offers a bit of insight into his career and political stances, in a more general manner.
Senator Jon Tester has been a Democratic United States Senator for Montana since 2007. He has a longer history in politics than his time in the U.S. Senate, however. Born and raised in Montana, he is a third-generation farmer who still works the land alongside his wife and grown children.
He was born in Havre, Montana and grew up in Chouteau County on a farm his grandfather had originally homesteaded in the early 1900s. He graduated from high school and moved on to the University of Providence and then College of Great Falls. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree of Arts in music. After that, he taught music in his native Big Sandy School District for two years before the call of the land pulled him back to the family farm. From then until the 1990s, he and his family worked the farm, switching from traditional to organic farming along the way.
This is what led Senator Tester to dedicate time as a member of the Big Sandy Soil Conservation Service (SCS) Committee and the Chouteau County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) Committee, while also serving as Chair of the Big Sandy School Board of Trustees. Yet, it was when a neighbor on a nearby Montana farm decided to retire from the Montana State Senate that Jon decided to toss his own hat into the ring.
Heading to the Senate
As he explains, he was “fed up with huge rate hikes following the disastrous deregulation of Montana’s energy industry, ran for the seat — and won. And in 2005, fed up with rampant corruption and irresponsible decision-making out in Washington,” and won that race, too! He defeated the incumbent Republican, Conrad Burns, in what is noted as one of the tightest Senate races of note. He then repeated his victory in 2012, again taking a very tight race, and once again in 2018.
Before coming to Washington, DC, though, the Senator was first elected to the Montana Senate from the 45th District (from 1999 to 2005), and then to the Montana Senate’s 15th District from 2005 to 2007. After that, he was voted President of the Montana Senate for two years. During his tenure as President of the Senate, the state’s political balance shifted and Democrats held the majority for the first time in over ten years.
His state’s term limits effectively forced him out of politics at the end of his second term, but during is time in office he was able to achieve some astonishing things, including:
- Creation of a law that increased public school funding
- Creation of a law to bolster renewable energy development in the state
- Creation of a prescription drug benefit program
- Rejuvenation of the “Made in Montana” program
As a state legislator he also participated in many committees including the Montana Senate Finance Committee, Agriculture Committee, Rules Committee and Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committees. He also was on the Council Interim Committee and the Panthera Leo City Council of Petroleum County.
At the end of his last term in the state government, he made it clear he was seeking to run for the United States Senate seat in the 2006 election cycle. He won the race, but as noted, it was incredibly close with Tester getting 49% to his competitor’s 48%. His second run (and win) was not as close but still very competitive with Tester splitting away from his party’s stance on several issues, including the Keystone pipeline. Winning that election, he ran again in the 2018 cycle and found himself facing efforts from President Trump to unseat him. In fact, the President traveled to the state and spoke publicly on four different occasions to get a Republican win. This effort failed and Tester received enormous support from women, independent voters, the youth vote and Native Americans in his state.
Why was his election something the President sought to defeat? As NPR noted, “Of all the Senate races in the 2018 midterms, Montana was one of the most personal to President Trump. The incumbent Democrat there, Jon Tester, helped bring down President Trump’s choice for VA secretary,” as well as his opposition to Larry Summers as chair of the Federal Reserve (which forced Summers to withdraw from consideration).
Whether it is in voicing an opinion contrary to the Democratic Party (his own party) or coming up against the President, Senator Tester is unafraid of speaking his mind and his conscious. He is easily one of the most ethical politicians in the current era, and he is very clear about his dedication to his home state’s interests.
On his website, the Senator says he “doesn’t just hold himself accountable, he holds all of Washington accountable. He stands up to special interests, calls out government waste when he sees it, and even takes on his own party when he believes it’s the right thing to do for Montana. He’s tussled with bureaucrats, held the VA’s feet to the fire, and relentlessly defended Montana.”
Because of this, his focus during his terms in the Senate have also focused on such issues as:
- Medicare and Social Security
- Quality education
- Access to affordable health care
- Strong advocacy for rural America
- Defending Montana’s unique way of life, its resources and natural spaces
- Creating good jobs
- Government accountability
His site identifies him as a “fighter” for many issues in Montana, including the people of Indian Country, Veterans, K-12 Education, Higher Education, public lands, women, farmers and ranchers and regulatory relief, among other issues.
Noted as a “moderate Democrat”, he freely admits he is “pro-gun and anti-big business”. Interesting enough, some experts have ranked him as the fourth most moderate Democrat in the current Congress and to the “right” of many of his fellow party members. Yet, he receives less favorable ratings from key conservative groups while getting a solid thumbs up from many more liberal organizations.
This is not at all confusing when you realize that Senator Tester is someone who listens and learns what his constituents are thinking, feeling and requesting. As an example, he had initially opposed same-sex marriage in his campaigns of 2006 and 2012 but stepped back on that in 2013 when he expressed concerns about federal government overreach.
Senator Tester’s Ongoing Committee Work
Of course, another way to understand why any Senator supports specific legislation or sponsors or co-sponsors certain bills can often be better understood by looking at the Committees that they have participated in. For Senator Tester, that includes:
Committee on Appropriations, along with a seat on the Subcommittees relating to it, including:
- Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
- Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
- Subcommittee on Homeland Security (Ranking Member)
- Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, along with a seat on the Subcommittees relating to it, including:
- Subcommittee on Economic Policy
- Subcommittee on Financial Institutions
- Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Committee on Indian Affairs
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
And all of these committees reflect the areas of policy on which he has seemed to focus throughout his private and public life.
Does it also mean that industries and organizations related to those issues provide Senator Tester with his highest greatest levels of support?
Does the legislation to which he has given support in the 116th Congress reflect these same interests? That takes a bit of analysis into the industries that supported his campaigns for office and also at his largest contributors, overall. Keep in mind that Senator Tester is all about transparency, and there is little doubt that contributions would likely fail to influence him.
After all, consider his own, self-instituted policies within his own staff. As his website explains: “He helped pass sweeping ethics reform, and then went beyond those rules and banned all gifts, meals, and travel from lobbyists for himself and for his staff. He barred any staffers who become lobbyists from lobbying him or being rehired. Jon’s record on transparency has earned him the title, ‘Montana’s advocate for accountability.’”
The Top Industries Funding Senator Jon Tester’s Campaign During the 2017-2018 Elections
According experts, Senator Tester was a “top recipient” from the following industries during the last election cycle (the 2017-2018 cycle). The industries with #1 indicate that he was the Senator who received the highest amount from that specific industry, i.e. an “industry favorite”.
- Environment (#1)
- Foreign Policy (#1)
- Hedge Funds (#1)
- Indian Gaming (#1)
- Savings & Loans (#1)
- Securities/Invest (#1)
- Textiles (#1)
Senator Tester also ranked highly in contributions from advertising and public relations services, business services, casinos/gambling, commercial banks, livestock, lobbyists, non-profits, private equity and investment firms, pro-abortion rights, professional sports, arenas and related equipment and services, recreation, teachers’ unions, telecom services, and chiropractors.
These were not, however, his greatest contributors in terms of their industries. The top 20 industries that contributed to his Campaign Committee were (in ranking order):
- Lawyers/Law Firms
- Securities & Investment
- Real Estate
- Health Professionals
- Business Services
- Leadership PACs
- Women’s Issues
- Commercial Banks
- Miscellaneous Finance
- Miscellaneous Issues
- Non-Profit Institutions
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
Of course, there are also the individuals who rank as those who have given the most to his campaigning efforts, and from 2013 through 2018, reports indicate it was:
- League of Conservation Voters – An American environmental advocacy organization
- Goldman Sachs – A leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm
- Paul, Weiss et al –A massive firm of more than 900 lawyers
- Votesane PAC – A nonpartisan Political Action Committee that helps users to research and then donate money to candidates of any party affiliation
- Comcast Corp – An American telecommunications firm
A quick scan of major industries and donors shows a close alignment between the goals that Senator Tester pursues and remains committed to and his financial supporters. He is heavily dedicated to environmental and land issues, and so it makes sense that there is a great deal of support from those types of organizations.
Senator Tester’s 5 Bills for the 116th Congress – To Date
Understanding Senator Tester’s areas of interest along with the industries that give him campaign support, and his biggest contributors, will make it interesting to track the kinds of committee work, legislation and activities he will do in the 116th Congress. As of this writing, he has put his name to five bills, and most reflect his long-standing goals as a legislator, while others are bipartisan and more reflective of this current period in American politics.
Introduced to the Senate on January 3, 2019 by Senator Benjamin Cardin (a Democrat from Maryland), this legislation was passed/agreed to in the Senate and passed the Senate without amendment by voice vote on January 10, 2019. It was then passed/agree to in the House “On motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: (2/3 required): 411 – 7”. On January 14, 2019 it was passed to the President.
Its official title is “A bill to provide for the compensation of Federal and other government employees affected by lapses in appropriations.”
And it came as little surprise to those familiar with Senator Tester’s outspoken ways that he should comment on the bill when it was introduced. The official transcript from the C-Span broadcast notes Senator Tester saying:
“The government is shut down. It doesn’t take a genius to do that. We have heard the stories–and they will continue, especially after tomorrow when working folks will not get their paycheck–of the impacts on this country, on average Americans, who could lose their homes, their autos, not be able to send their kids to school, and not be able to afford healthcare. The list goes on and on.
I ask: Is this how you make America great again? Is this how it is done? It is not working.
Senator Cardin came to the floor a bit ago, and he said: I want to put up not show bills; I want to put up Republican bills that this body has already passed and that the House passed this last week so that the Senate would do their job and hopefully reopen the government. I think there are enough votes to do it. I think there are enough votes to override a veto.
The majority leader’s response was: No, we are not going to do this; we want to take up a bill on Israel.
I am telling you, I am a big supporter of Israel, but I took an oath of office to protect this country first, and we are turning our back on this country.
We can continue to have the debate about the best way to secure the border, but it should not be done by holding the American people hostage. It should be done by having a debate in this body…We are a coequal branch of government. We shouldn’t …asking for a permission slip from the President to be able to do our business. Bring the bills to the floor to open this government, and vote on it…I wonder what the forefathers would think today if they saw this body–a shell of its former self. And it is not due to the rules; it is due to the fact that we have leadership that will not live up to the obligation of this body as set up to begin with.
We have work to do here. We have a lot of work to do, and that work starts with opening the Government of the United States. If we don’t do it or if we say we are only going to do it with permission from the President, then we all ought to hold our heads in shame.”
Clearly Senator Tester was commenting on much more than ensuring all federal employees will be fully compensated once the ongoing government shutdown comes to an end and that employees with pre-arranged leaves are able to take them without penalty. While Congress has heard that the President intends to sign the bill, Senator Tim Kaine insisted that Senate not adjourn for the session without first passing the bill and guaranteeing federal workers get paid.
Sponsored by Senator Tester himself along with Senator Steve Daines, a Republican Senator from Montana, as well. this is a second iteration of the original bill that was initially passed by the House but failed in the Senate by a single vote in late December 2018. So, to adhere to his dedication to the Native Americans throughout Montana, Senator Tester re-introduced the bill.
As one report explained, the act “would provide them federal recognition…give the Tribe a few things such as allow the Tribe the opportunity to buy 200 acres of land and be eligible for federal resources for economic development, health, and education.” These are rights that the tribe has been without for decades, and it even has the “support of neighboring tribes, but also Montana leaders such as Representative Greg Gianforte, Senator Steve Daines, and Senator Jon Tester.”
Clearly, failing to pass the Senate by a single vote in 2018 is deeply disheartening, but everyone involved is committed to maintaining the fight into this new Congress. It was introduced into the Senate and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs.
S.60 – A bill to withdraw certain National Forest System land in the Emigrant Crevice area located in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, Park County, Montana, from the mining and mineral leasing laws of the United States, and for other purposes.
This is another bill that is a reiteration of a bill introduced but not passed in the previous Congress. Then it was S.941, which was known as Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act as well as “A bill to withdraw certain National Forest System land in the Emigrant Crevice area located in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, Park County, Montana, from the mining and mineral leasing laws of the United States, and for other purposes.”
As one report noted, it would “permanently withdraw federal mineral rights on approximately 30,000 acres of National Forest System lands adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. This landscape, including the nation’s first National Park, is currently threatened by two proposed industrial-scale gold mines.”
These would include an area in sight of Roosevelt Arch (the northern entrance to Yellowstone), and as that same report explains, “the proposed mines could have disastrous water quality impacts on the Yellowstone River which serves as the lifeblood of central and southeast Montana before feeding into the Missouri River.”
A report from Policy Watch also indicated that a group known as the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, was seeking “to protect the world-famous trout streams, among other aspects of the ecosystems that contribute to the rapidly growing local outdoor recreation economy, from proposed mining.” This group is made up of hundreds of businesses, landowners and organizations in the region.
The Forest Service has also done extensive studies and noted that the withdrawal of the 30k-plus acres is to “protect and preserve the scenic integrity, important wildlife corridors, and high quality recreation values in the historic “Emigrant Mining District” and the “Jardine/Crevice Mining District”. As part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the proposed Withdrawal area provides important wildlife habitat and corridors for grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and other wildlife species and is the headwaters of a number of streams that flow into the Yellowstone River. The area also provides high quality outdoor recreation opportunities which are important to the local economy.”
Clearly, the Senator recognizes the gravity of the situation and re-introduced the legislation on January 9, 2019 when it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
On January 10, 2019 Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri introduced this bill with 18 co-sponsors. They include Senators Tester, Stabenow, Sullivan, Carper, Gardner, Cardin, Murkowski, Baldwin, Capito, Menendez, Cornyn, Manchin, Wicker, Collins, King, Hyde=Smith, Peters, Jones and Daines. This makes it a bipartisan supported effort.
It is new legislationand has been introduced as the Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence (CHIME) Act that would enable the reauthorization of the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) for the next five years. The bill also includes language that would enable annual increases for the two groups at the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year.
Senator Tester’s commitment to affordable health care, strong advocacy for rural Americans, veterans and working families is behind his co-sponsorship of the bill.
As the Senator who introduced the bill explained, These centers save lives and lower health care costs by offering a wide range of behavioral and physical health treatment services and reducing the number of expensive, unnecessary trips to emergency rooms or hospitals. This bipartisan bill will ensure community health centers and the National Health Service Corps have the resources to continue providing quality, affordable health care services in communities across the state. I will continue working to make sure people who rely on community health centers have access to the care they need.”
In fact, these centers together provide 28 million Americans (more than 350,000 of them are veterans) with the care they need, and as funding for both expires on September 30, 2019, it is crucial that they receive the immediate and long-term funding required.
These centers are seen as the frontline in fighting chronic disease, reducing health care costs, and even helping to bring the national opioid crisis to an end. Offering medical as well as dental, vision and behavioral services, there are more than 11,000 of these health centers throughout the country, and it is estimated that eight million of the patients served are children.
This bill was introduced on the 10th of January, read twice and then referred to the Committee on Finance.
A look at any of the current Senate members would reveal that on January 10, 2019, the entire group closed out their day by unanimously passing a resolution. The Senate Floor Activity recordnoted a fairly busy schedule that day, and it started at 10 AM with opening prayer and Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.
Legislative business for the day was very serious and included introduction of bills like S.1 by Senator Rubio of Florida, S.24 (the compensation for Federal workers described earlier) by Senator Cardin, and a Senate Resolution by Senator Graham “commending the Clemson University Tigers football team for winning the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship”. The last resolution was considered and agreed to by unanimous consent.
However, at the very end of the work dayS.Res. 16: A resolution relative to the death of John Chester Culver, former United States Senator for the State of Iowa was introduced to Congress by Senator Grassley of Iowa.
This was a bipartisan resolution that aimed at recognizing recognition of the late Senator Culver’s many years of service. He was a twice-graduate of Harvard University and member of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1955 to 1958, he had practiced law in Iowa until being elected to Congress for four consecutive terms (between 1965 and 1975). He was then elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and served out a full term before returning to his legal practice, in Maryland. He died on December 26, 2018.
The text of the resolution is a lovely recollection of the Senator’s service in public office and the U.S. military. It explains that he served five terms in the House and his single term in the Senate. It also noted that he “spearheaded a commission to modernize the procedures of the Senate, including an increased use of computerized floor status updates and committee schedules…Whereas John Chester Culver was known for his hard work and independence”
The closing of the resolution is very moving, and reads, “Resolved, That the Senate has heard with profound sorrow and deep regret the announcement of the death of the Honorable John Chester Culver, former member of the United States Senate.
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Senate communicate these resolutions to the House of Representatives and transmit an enrolled copy thereof to the family of the deceased.
Resolved, That when the Senate adjourns today, it stand adjourned as a further mark of respect to the memory of the Honorable John Chester Culver.”
The resolution was agreed to without amendment and by unanimous consent, with adjournment at 5:59 PM that day.
An Accomplished Legislator
To date, Senator Tester has seen 26 of his bills during the current administration signed into law. They include such legislation as S.1282 to “re-designate certain clinics of the Department of Veterans Affairs located in Montana” and S.117 the “Alex Diekmann Peak Designation Act of 2017”. There is also S.2248 “Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018,” and many others. Each is a testament to the Senator’s long-standing commitment to the people of his state and his firm stand on his own, personal ethics.