Lifestyle the September 2013 issue

Jon Tester: A “Non” in a Chamber of Partisans

Senator Tester has earned respect from both sides of the aisle because he gives it right back.
By Joel Wood Posted on September 1, 2013
What was your motivation in running for office?
My folks instilled in me the value of public service. I served on local school and public service boards early in my career. Looking back, I realize that, even when politics are at their most intense in Washington, it’s nothing compared to the local school board. Folks on the Big Sandy School Board weren’t afraid to let me know what they thought. After all, school board issues are personal, and the decisions we made affected families and kids. I then ran for the Montana state Senate in 1998 after the state legislature deregulated Montana’s power industry. This change raised power costs and put an unfair financial burden on average Montanans. After serving as the president of the state Senate in 2005, Montanans elected me to the U.S. Senate in 2006.

What has been your greatest accomplishment in Congress thus far?
In 2012, I championed and helped pass a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program. For years, we had too many short-term flood insurance extensions that failed to provide homeowners with the certainty they need in the face of flood risk. Now, homeowners know exactly where they stand and can take responsible measures to protect themselves from flood. The bill also took important steps to more closely align risks with premiums and protect taxpayers. I’m also proud of my bill to increase consumers’ insurance market options while reducing insurance costs. My bill, the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Act of 2013, will expand the insurance market and is expected to lower prices through increased competition because insurance brokers can more easily register across state lines.

What is an interesting fact about your district/state?
Montanans possess a strong conservation ethic. Many of our farmers, ranchers and outdoorsmen and -women take pride in preserving our treasured lands and waters. Many Montana families have worked or enjoyed our lands for years and want to make sure their kids and grandkids have the same experiences. We are also home to Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Taking care of these world-famous parks not only preserves them for future generations, but it also keeps our $6 billion outdoor economy strong. Glacier National Park is home to Triple Divide Peak, one of the few places on Earth where water flows into three different watersheds. A raindrop that falls by the peak can flow into the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, or the Hudson Bay.

When you were a child, you lost three of your fingers in a meat grinder. How did that change your life?
Losing my fingers taught me how to work with and be careful around farm equipment. It was a lesson in responsibility that I keep with me on my farm today, as well as in the Senate. It also taught me that we can overcome anything. This past December I met a first-grader down in southwest Montana who was missing three fingers as well. He was being picked on in school and wondering how his missing fingers would affect the rest of this life. I told him that his hand doesn’t change where life will take him if he works hard. That’s been my experience. If we give our kids the confidence and resources they need to succeed, something like a few missing fingers won’t stand in their way.

You graduated with a B.S. in music, worked as a farmer, and volunteered on a local school board. How did these experiences affect your career?
I taught elementary music. I loved playing the trumpet growing up and my parents encouraged me to get a college degree in something that would diversify me as a person. With agriculture being my first love, music helped broaden my horizons. My degree gave me a backup plan in case the farm went belly-up. Serving on our local school board taught me the importance of local control of government and of folks working together to assure kids have a foundation for success. There are few more important decisions we make in life than those affecting our kids.  

What drove you to transition to organic farming?
My wife Sharla and I switched over to organics in the 1980s to take better care of our land and our health. Organic farming also added value to our crops because organic crops bring higher prices than conventional crops. It was the right decision for us and, looking back, I’m glad we made the switch. More generally, farming keeps me in touch with the land. That sounds very cliché, but it’s true. I do some of my best thinking on the tractor planting or while harvesting my crop. Working the land, I also see firsthand how climate change is affecting the way folks in Montana make a living. We must take responsible steps to address climate change so we can pass our way of life down to our kids and grandkids. Whether you’re a farmer or an insurance broker, we need to keep our eye on the future and always be looking down the road.

I do some of my best thinking on the tractor planting or while harvesting my crop.
Joel Wood Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, The Council Read More

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