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A conversation with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

| March 19, 2023 12:00 AM

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester announced last month that he’ll seek a fourth term in Congress. The Democrat has represented Montana in the Senate since 2007, when the state’s political landscape was considered “purple.”

Now Montana is a Republican stronghold, and the Big Sandy farmer and former music teacher is the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation. As such, he has no doubt that his 2024 re-election bid will be just as tough — and expensive — as the previous three.

His potential Republican challengers could be either of Montana’s current congressmen Rep. Matt Rosendale or Rep. Ryan Zinke. Republicans are also hoping to persuade Tim Sheehy, a decorated veteran and CEO of Bridger Aerospace, to get into the race.

Tester sat down with the Daily Inter Lake editorial board last week for a long-ranging conversation about the election and issues facing the nation.

The following are excerpts from the discussion:

How did you decide to seek a fourth term?

“This truly was a family decision. It's a six year commitment, my wife just went through cancer, and so we had to have a conversation. I mean, it's not to the same level, but it's the same conversation we have with what we're going to plant in the spring, or if I'm going to buy a new tractor, it's the same kind of stuff. You talk it over, you try to have a meeting of the minds. And that's what we did.”

Any worries about a potential Republican challenger?

“I don't think the race changes regardless of who's running … They're going to try to make me into something I’m not, which is what they've done every other time.”

“There's always a chance of losing. I've never been in an election where I didn't think I could lose. It's the determination of the people. But that's what's great about this country. You know, you have that choice. If we ever lose that choice, we're in trouble.”

How is your relationship with Sen. Steve Daines, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee?

“We've always had a good working relationship. He said some things … since I started running that isn't helpful for a good relationship … but [that’s politics]. If you want a friend, buy a dog.”

On International policy, are we taking the right approach in Ukraine?

“Absolutely, unequivocally. Not a doubt in my mind.

Putin invaded this country for no reason whatsoever … If we allow that to happen, then when you say stop?

“We’re supporting with serious dollars. Some people would say there's no accountability there. I disagree with that. I think there is accountability. And we're going to make sure there's continued accountability on those dollars.

“I think if we pull out of there, and I'll just say that if we stop supporting them, it empowers China in a big, big way, because they're watching everything that's going on there.”

This war could go on for a long time.

“That's another challenge … We farted around in the Middle East forever. And that's why at some point in time, there's a negotiated agreement, or this thing will escalate. Or we'll pull out.”

Did you get the answers you sought about the Chinese spy balloon?

“Yeah, but we're not done yet. We're looking for a plan on how it's going to be handled, because I believe there will be a next time and how it's going to be handled next time and how it's going to be handled better.”

“I would have shot it down when it was over the Aleutian Islands. Now to be the devil's advocate, when it was going to the Aleutians they didn't know it was going to go into Canada and or into Alaska and head south … into Montana to the Midwest.”

What are we doing to address the fentanyl crisis?

“There's some advances being made in the technology world that will help [on the southern border] and it's why we're pushing the administration to be very, very aggressive on this, because I think it has had an incredible social impact.

“It's not coming in on backpacks, it's coming in trucks and cars. And [we need] to be able to X-ray those trucks and cars in a timely manner and be able to take that information, analyze it.

What else do you want to see happen on the southern border?

“I'd love to see a comprehensive immigration policy done by Congress.

“I think our immigration policy is broken right now, and unfortunately, highly politicized. So I don't know that anything's going to get done, but it should get done. It'd be good for the country … [it would help] with people filling jobs and help with the national debt.”