Interviews and words by Taylor Anderson Explorebigsky.com Assistant Editor
Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, is in the sixth year of his
first term serving in the U.S. Senate. He has stood for
protecting services for veterans, protecting gun rights
and developing and reforming the energy industries.
His Forest, Jobs and Recreation Act of 2011 seeks to
create 700,000 acres of wilderness in western Montana
forests while creating logging jobs in an industry
he says needs a boost. That bill has seen stark opposition
from the House, notably from Rep. Denny
Rehberg, a Republican who is giving up his at-large
seat in Congress to run in the senate election against
This race has quickly become the most contested in
the country, and could potentially determine which
party holds the majority of the Senate.
TA So how’s the campaign going for you these days?
JT I think it’s going as well as it possibly can. We’re in
good shape as we move forward [if you look at] what
we’ve accomplished in DC over Rehberg’s 12 years
he’s been here versus the six I’ve been here.
TA You stand for breaking our dependence on
foreign oil. And you say drilling at the Bakken
Oil Fields in eastern Montana is a way of doing
that. You’re not alone in that belief on your side
of the aisle, are you? What are your views on the
Keystone XL pipeline?
JT It starts with jobs and it ends with jobs. There’s
important work yet to be done. Hopefully we’ll get
some work done in the next six to eight months. If
we could put the Bakken oil fields into Billings that
would be great.
I support the pipeline even if it goes to Houston. It
has to be done right and safely. The issues with the
Ogallala have to be dealt with. Short-term jobs are
one thing but the long-term impacts are much, much
greater. I pushed the president, and I think he’s wrong
on this, so we pushed him to change his opinion.
TA Your website says, “Jon believes that Montana
has great potential to be a leader in many industries.”
Which industries do you see Montana a
potential leader in?
JT We have incredible conventional energy resources:
coal, natural gas and oil. I also think we have a tremendous
opportunity in renewable energy. I’m still a
big supporter of all of the above.
We have better solar resources than Germany, better
geothermal than Iceland. Biomass on our farmland
can be used. One of the best wind sources in the
country in eastern Montana. We could literally be the
Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.
If you look at our forests, we have good forest
infrastructure. The [Forest, Jobs and Recreation Act] would put people back to work in the forest.
Of course, on all these things whether you’re talking
wood products or livestock or grain production, we
have incredible ability to manage all those things.
Whether making logs into lumber or furniture. We
have incredible opportunity to preserve these products.
Montana has a special name in the marketplace.
TA What about the university system in Montana?
JT MSU is just up the road–those are incredible economic drivers. We need to do a better job funding research
that will help in industries to save us money over the
long haul. Montana is a great place to live. The small
businesses that can spin off…can create a lot of jobs
in the state. We have a great university system, and
we need to start using it.
TA I’ve heard you quoted saying
there’s no more middle class.
Is that accurate, and if so, do
you still believe it’s true?
JT There’s still a middle class
but it’s shrinking, and
that’s the problem. We
need to focus on working
families and small
business. It’s one of
the reasons veterans
need to get the
benefits they deserve.
The reason for it is wages have been stagnant for the
last 27 years. You can’t have those stagnant wages.
Also, there are a whole lot of folks going into the
poor category. When you’re living in a condition
that you’re one sickness from bankruptcy, that isn’t
middle class quality. I don’t think there’s no middle
class, I consider myself middle class.
TA When you pull up Denny Rehberg’s campaign
site, your picture is the first to appear. When you
pull up JonTester.com, it’s a picture of Montana
Veterans. What does this say about the different
campaigns you two are running?
JT I appreciate him putting my picture up because I’ve
done a lot of good in Congress and he hasn’t done a
lot. We’ve aggressively worked to get things done in
Vets are important to this country. We get into Iraq
and Afghanistan, and before that other wars…one of
the things we need to do better as a country is living
up to the promise we’ve made to our vets. I believe in
TA Looking across the aisle, you share several of
the same views on issues as Rehberg. Breaking
dependence on foreign oil. Better technology to
harness alternatives. What makes you two so
JT That’s a great question. I think it’s one thing talking
about priorities and another doing things to make
those real. One of the reasons I push for renewables
is to take pressure off foreign oil. One of the
reasons I vote for the highway bill is it improves
He’s the only member of the delegation that voted
against Keystone. He says one thing and he does
another. That’s a fact. I don’t want to be critical
when I say that. Part of the problem is he does
a fundraiser with BP on the anniversary of the
oil spill in the Gulf. That’s fine. He gets a ton of
money from big oil so I think he probably has to do
You could talk about priorities, but when the rubber
hits the road, what have you done to fix it?
TA This may be the toughest question you’ll face on
the campaign trail. What does Denny Rehberg
JT That’d be a better question for him. I would say I
don’t know. I gotta say something huh?
He is a human being; there must be something he’s
done well. They don’t come to mind easily. His housing
development out of Billings is good. Any time
you can get affordable housing for people–assuming
they are affordable.
Without protection by the Forest, Jobs and Recreation
Act, what could happen to those National
Forests? Why is this legislation needed? Sum up
your bill for the Montana people.
The reason it’s needed is because in order to have a
vibrant mill industry you need a dependent supply.
This is going to get the Forest Service out and cut
10,000 acres for 10 years. This is more wood than
they’ve cut in a long, long time on federal lands.
[Montana] still has eight or so mills and they’re doing
pretty good work.
It will withstand any sort of lawsuit brought against
it. It’s written in a way that I feel very, very secure in
that. In the end it’s important because we have 5.5
million acres of red dead trees in our forests.
We still have eight or so mills and they’re doing
pretty good work. What they need is dependable
supply. What our forest needs is some management
for those trees.
Plus it sets aside land for snowmobiles permanently,
by the way. It sets aside wilderness for future generations.
It truly is important. It’s a bill that was built by Montanans,
not me, Montanans.
TA Do you have anything to say about the current
state of Congress?
JT This place is crazy.
Denny Rehberg couldn’t conduct a phone interview,
and these answers were coordinated via email.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican, is giving up his
seat in the U.S. House to challenge Sen. Tester’s seat
in the Senate. Rehberg stands for curbing energy
resources while still harnessing the vast coal and oil
that abound Montana, ending state-run health care,
and passing a balanced budget.
The Billings native has served six terms as Montana’s
congressman. This race has quickly become
one of the most contested in the country, and could
determine which party wins majority of the Senate
TA How’s the campaign going these days?
DR We’re seeing so much energy from folks in Montana
who are ready to get involved in this election so we can elect a new president and get new
leadership in the U.S. Senate.
They’re tired of what Washington has been doing,
but they’re excited and optimistic about our coun –
try’s ability to change course and get our economy
moving again. We’ve got campaign offices in
Billings, Bozeman, Kalispell and Missoula, and
we’re seeing a lot of interest from folks who want
As I travel the state meeting with Montanans, it’s
very clear we’ve got the issues on our side, along
with the momentum and enthusiasm.
TA You support what many others do for energy
reform–harnessing traditional energy and
developing ways we can use less. What are
your thoughts on the Keystone XL pipeline?
DR The time to start building the Keystone XL
pipeline is now. Montana workers need these
jobs, and Montana energy producers in the Bak –
ken need this pipeline to bring their product to
A lot of politicians in this state say they’re f or
[it], but I’m the only one who has introduced
language in support of Keystone XL that’s passed
both the House and Senate with bi-partisan
majorities. Here is a project that’s truly ‘shovelready,’
would create jobs now, and would be paid
for by private investment instead of taxpayers.
It’s a win-win.
TA In what industries is Montana a leader? How
do you plan to push the state to be a leader
DR Each of Montana’s 56 counties has unique op –
portunities. You won’t find better workers
anywhere in the world, and that’s why
we’ve got so many important industries.
We need to continue to find
ways to responsibly develop our
[rich] natural resources. We’re
blessed with exceptional nature
and outdoor activities that are
the envy of the country. In much
of our state, agriculture will continue to be the
backbone of the economy.
TA A buzzword around Congress today is ‘Balanced
Budget.’ How would you work to pass
this if there were two different parties in Congress?
How would it be different next term?
DR It’s been more than 1,000 days since my opponent
and the Democrats who run the Senate have
passed any budget at all, much less a balanced
budget. That’s something for Montanans to be
A budget, whether for a family or a government,
is about setting priorities and making sure you’ve
got the funding required to meet needs and
promises. The first thing I did this Congress was
sponsor a constitutional amendment to require
Congress to balance the budget. I’ve also spon –
sored legislation that says no one in Congress
gets a pay raise until the budget is balanced. I’ll
continue to bring Washington’s reckless spending
under control so we can protect the programs
folks have paid into and count on, such as Medi –
care and Social Security, and stop putting future
generations into debt.
TA When I pulled up your site a few weeks ago,
the first picture up there was of Jon Tester.
That begs the question, what makes you bet –
ter than him? And why should you earn the
vote from Montanans come November?
DR There’s a clear contrast in philosophies between
myself and Sen. Tester. While he’s supported
President Obama’s agenda 95 percent of the time,
I have been a check and balance on the President
in the House and would be even stronger in the
Since Obama took office and Tester began voting
for his policies, our country has lost more than a
million jobs and we’re in our 36th straight month
of above-8-percent unemployment nationally.
Meanwhile, our national debt has skyrocketed
and stands today at over $15 trillion.
In the Senate, I will work to reverse this danger –
ous trend and get our nation to a point where
Washington is no longer over-taxing, over-spend –
ing and over-regulating.
TA Let’s talk about the Forest Jobs and Recreation
Act. What are you against? Is there anything
in the bill or any theme of it that you sup –
DR New wilderness lands are the only thing this pro –
posal truly guarantees. We know from experience
the very same environmental groups holding up
timber production today, many of which are not
on board with this bill, will sue to prevent the
timber harvest and kill those jobs by tying them
up in court for years.
I’ve proposed a straightforward solution to that
issue by suggesting to Sen. Tester and others that
any new wilderness land be phased in as these
jobs are created, which would ensure that we get
the jobs we were promised and not just the new
wilderness. That would go a long way toward
making this a better deal for Montanans.
TADo you want to share any thoughts on the
Wilderness Study Areas in western Montana
that are ready for management by the Forest
DR The federal government has locked up 42 mil –
lion acres of federal land in so-called Wilderness
Study Areas and Inventoried Roadless Areas.
These were possible wilderness areas, but for
whatever reason, the Bureau of Land Manage –
ment or Forest Service, respectively, have deter –
mined they are not suitable for wilderness. It’s
past time to return some of these lands to the
public for their use and enjoyment. I’ve sponsored
legislation—H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless
Area Release Act—to open public land for public use.
TA What does Tester do well?
DR I think Sen. Tester is a nice guy. Something he and I
both do well is to separate a person from how you feel
about their philosophy and politics. Sen. Tester and I
have some very important disagreements, and we’re
certainly opponents in this race, but at the end of the
day it’s a contest of principles, ideas and records, and
not a matter of personal attacks. That’s how I plan to
run this race, and I hope he’ll do the same.
TA What makes you two different even though you
share many of the same views?
DR I think the biggest difference is that, while he may
say he shares certain views with me or other Montanans,
his record tells a different story. For instance,
he ran in 2006 promising to lead efforts to balance
the federal budget, but it’s been more than 1,000
days since he and his fellow Senate Democrats have
passed any budget at all. He says he opposes bailouts,
but he voted to bail out Fannie and Freddie at taxpayer
expense and to allow taxpayer-funded bailout
bonuses to go to executives at insurance giant AIG.
He says he supports our Second Amendment rights,
but he’s voted to confirm both of President Obama’s
anti-gun activist judges to lifetime appointments on
the Supreme Court. Words aren’t enough—you need
to back those words up with deeds, and in too many
cases Sen. Tester has said one thing in Montana,
then done the opposite in Washington.