Jon Tester

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
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Senator Jon Tester says the Veterans Administration’s new Choice Card program got off to a  “shaky” start. The Choice Card is a new program that lets veterans use private medical care if their nearest VA facility is too busy or too far away.

Montana Senator Jon Tester hopes Wednesday’s 10-hour filibuster over the Patriot Act will convince his colleagues that the controversial law needs a full Senate debate.

Tester says Patriot Act supporters usually bring up the re-authorization vote just before the law expires, forcing the Senate to rush through the process, instead of taking the time for a full discussion.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
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Senator Jon Tester wants to reduce the number of student tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Montana school superintendent, Denise Juneau, supports the proposal.

Former Governor Tim Babcock died Tuesday morning at the age of 95.

Babcock was elected Montana's lieutenant Governor in 1960. He became the state's chief executive when a plane crash killed Governor Don Nutter, who was also Babcock's close friend, two years later.

Babcock would go on to lose a U.S. Senate race and another bid to serve in the Governor's office, but he and his late wife, Betty, remained active in state politics for the rest of their lives.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald are on a two-day tour of the state, visiting VA facilities in Helena, Missoula, and Billings.

Tuesday morning they were at Fort Harrison in Helena. McDonald says it’s the 120th VA facility he’s toured since taking over the troubled agency last July. 

McDonald and Tester sat down with about one hundred veterans and active service members, along with representatives of a range of interest groups, for a round-table discussion.

Veterans' Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is hearing a range of concerns about his agency’s performance on a two-day tour of VA facilities in Montana.

With Senator Jon Tester at his side, VA secretary McDonald listened to representatives of various groups, from mental health advocates to the American Legion, spell out what the VA needs to do to better serve the thousands of veterans across the state. He said the fact that Montana’s VA Health Care System went without a permanent director for eight months is a symptom of the problems his agency is facing.

Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

To many Columbia Falls residents the full closure of the local aluminum smelter was more a matter of when than if.

That question was answered with certainty this week when Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced that it's permanently shuttering the plant.

Local real estate agent Bill Dakin say this development was a long time coming.

"This announcement, finally, an honest announcement that this plant will never refine aluminum again, is kind of a new day here."

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Today in Missoula, Senator Steve Daines held the second of three meetings he’s called to talk timber issues. He’ll do the same in Bozeman tomorrow.

The Republican Freshman Senator is calling the meetings “Timber Management Reform Roundtables,” and he’s invited mostly timber industry representatives to give him input on what they need to maintain or grow their operations.

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Yesterday, in a story about attempts to boost revenue for Montana counties that are mostly federal land, Montana Senator Jon Tester made the following statement: 

"Unfortunately, every logging sale in Montana right now is under litigation. Every one of them."

Several listeners questioned that statement, so we asked Senator Tester to respond. 

His communications director Marnee Banks said he is unavailable this week.

Eric Whitney

Montana's U.S. senators are getting behind a new bill they say will help Montana's most rural counties round-out their budgets.

Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons says communities like his are reeling after Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act last fall.

FH Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls, MT
Eric Whitney

Tuesday in Columbia Falls, Senator Steve Daines kicked off a series of three meetings in western Montana that he’s calling “Forest Management Reform Roundtables.”

Around the table were executives from three timber mills, county commissioners from Sanders, Lincoln and Mineral counties, and Montana leaders of The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy,  and the National Parks Conservation Organization.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester has signed-on to a new bill that he says would bring badly-needed financial security to Montana's most rural and timber-dependent counties.

Senator Tester says the "Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes Repair Act" would annually reauthorize Montana's SRS payments for three years at $23 million, the level provided in 2011.

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Montana’s Senators are back from Washington and gathering input on transportation and timber issues.

Friday Democrat Jon Tester convened several panels in Helena to prepare for when the federal highway bill expires in May. He invited representatives from transportation, Chamber of Commerce and agriculture and construction companies to talk about the importance of good highways and bridges in Montana.

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The acting director of veterans health care in Montana is on the defensive after Senator Jon Tester said the VA health center in Helena is temporarily closing its inpatient mental health unit.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, Tester said, “staffing levels at the VA in Montana are at the point where it can no longer safely staff the eight bed acute inpatient section of the mental health facility at Ft. Harrison” in Helena.

Johnny Ginnity, acting director at Ft. Harrison says, that doesn’t mean the mental health ward is being closed.

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Montana's timber counties recently lost lots of federal revenue. Local officials say public services are going to suffer as a result.

"It's very scary. We're pretty bare bones out here the way it is," said Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons.

"What do we do? We've got a four-man road crew. Do you lay four guys off? Do you lay three guys off? We've got some real difficult choices ahead of us here."

He's talking about the loss of federal "Secure Rural Schools" funds. The program expired this fall and wasn't reauthorized by Congress.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
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It's been eight months since the Montana VA had a permanent director and Senator Jon Tester says he's fed up with the delay.

Tester fired-off a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald this week calling it "completely unacceptable".

The Democrat says he only recently found out that a hire was imminent about three months ago. However,  the Office of Management and Budget found a "screw-up" that scuttled the process.

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Both of Montana’s Senators voted today for the bill to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Democrat Jon Tester says he looks forward to the day when clean, renewable resources provide most of America's energy needs:

"But until we get to a point when that's affordable and available, it appears to me that I'd rather do business with Canada than I would the Middle East."

Tester says the recent Bridger Pipeline oil spill on the Yellowstone River was not only a catastrophe, but entirely preventable.

The 114th Congress opens Tuesday. One of its first orders of business will be to vote on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester says he’s voting for it.
 

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People who worked to pass the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act celebrated on a ranch outside of Choteau today.

The Heritage Act was first introduced in Congress in 2011. Speaking to people celebrating on Dusty Crary’s ranch Thursday, Senator Jon Tester praised the hard work over many years before and since then that it took to put it together. It passed as part of a package of bills that were attached to a Defense spending bill.

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The U.S. Senate has approved an expansive bill that adds new wilderness lands in Montana and blocks mining and drilling near Glacier National Park.

The measures were in a defense bill that passed 89 to 11 today.

The bill adds 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It also allows for a complex coal swap involving the Northern Cheyenne Indians. The tribe will get back 5,000 acres of coal deposits it was wrongly stripped of more than a century ago.

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Montana's Senators and Senator-elect today announced what they're calling a “landmark” package of public lands legislation. It's being tacked on to a Defense authorization bill that the House and Senate are expected to vote on this week and next.

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BREAKING NEWS: We're following up on this story and will have more on the air starting at 5 p.m. Below is the press release announcing the legislation issued this morning.

In a joint press conference today, Senators Jon Tester, John Walsh and Senator-elect Steve Daines announced a landmark legislative package that includes eight Montana-based lands and resources bills.

Political science professor David Parker, at Montana State University has a new book out. It’s called Battle for the Big Sky. In it, he says, “Much of the existing scholarship suggests that campaigns don’t matter much at all.”

Interviewed at his office recently, Parker acknowledged, “It does seem kind of weird, right? You look at the cost of presidential campaigns, and, wait a minute, political scientists say they don’t matter. They basically take the view of MacBeth, right? It’s all ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Governor Steve Bullock's longtime Chief of Staff is leaving and is being replaced by Tracy Stone-Manning, the current Director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Bullock's outgoing chief of staff, Tim Burton, is leaving to lead the Montana League of Cities and Towns; a nonprofit association of 129 Montana municipalities. Burton says Stone-Manning is an excellent choice.

Josh Burnham

A federal judge today struck down Montana’s ban on gay marriage. Attorney General Tim Fox says he’ll appeal.

Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls ruled that Montana’s law violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The law was challenged by four couples represented by the ACLU of Montana.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Montana, in September ruled similar gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada unconstitutional. But conflicting decisions remain in other federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme court has not issued a final word.

Courtesy Indian Health Service

Starting on Saturday, Montanans can begin buying health insurance for next year on the healthcare.gov website. One group in the state that’s been slow to do so are Native Americans.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
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Montana Senator Jon Tester was named chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee today.

On his Twitter feed Tester said, “I’m accepting this position with the DSCC to recruit and support candidates who understand the issues facing regular, working Americans.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
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Senator  Jon Tester talks about election losses and leading the Democratic party’s senate campaign in 2016 in this interview with Montana Public Radio News Director Eric Whitney.

Interview Highlights:

Election Results

"Folks weren't happy with Democrats and they made some changes," said Tester. "That's certainly what elections should be about. If things aren't going the way folks think they should be, there's accountability and we move forward and try to adjust."

On Cusp of Historic GOP Win, Daines Seeks To Moderate His Positions

Oct 9, 2014
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Watch Steve Daines’ television ads this fall and you will see a candidate still introducing himself to Montana – bobber fishing with one daughter, his wife describing how they met in church, his daughters hailing his legislative accomplishments.

That’s because two years ago he was a little-known Bozeman businessman running for the U.S. House whose only political experience was a failed lieutenant governor run in 2008.

Now, the first-term congressman is set to end a century-long Democratic lock on one of Montana’s U.S. Senate seats.

Montana Senator Jon Tester visited western Montana today. His trip included attending a health care summit in Charlo being put on by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Before going there, though, he stopped by Montana Public Radio to talk about a number of issues, including so-called “country of origin labeling,” the law that requires meat and seafood to carry labels so consumers can know which country it came from. He spoke with News Director Eric Whitney.

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