Want To Know Why Jon Tester And Montana Democrats Are In Big Trouble?

by Travis Mateer

The first big red flag for Jon Tester’s efforts to keep his seat this election cycle, and help Democrats maintain control of the Senate, is this article from the Wall Street Journal. From the link (emphasis mine):

Tester’s race is critical for Democrats to have any chance of holding on to the U.S. Senate, where they have a 51-49 majority but are defending far more competitive seats than Republicans. GOP campaign officials see Montana as one of their most promising potential pickups, along with West Virginia and Ohio, all states Trump won in 2020.

In dozens of interviews across the state, voters said they are more worried about local issues—land development, agriculture, energy and Native American priorities—than the national political concerns that are expected to shape other competitive Senate contests.

Tester’s appeal as a native Montanan speaks to the wave of pandemic migration that has helped Montana’s growth outpace the rest of the U.S. The state of 1.1 million people picked up a net of 24,000 people from other states in 2021-22, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, giving it a migration growth rate that exceeded that of Florida, a magnet for pandemic relocations.

Yes, Montana in 2023 is a MUCH different place than the Montana that first elected Jon Tester all the way back in 2005/2006. For a quick breakdown of that race, here’s an excerpt from Tester’s Wikipedia page:

Tester announced his candidacy in May 2005 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Senator Conrad Burns. Tester was the second Democrat to jump into the race, after state auditor John Morrison. While Tester was seen as having a greater following among his fellow legislators,[20] his opponent, whose grandfather was governor of Nebraska, was able to raise significantly more money and had greater statewide name recognition.

Morrison had collected $1.05 million as of the start of 2006, including $409,241 in the last three months of 2005,[21] but “Morrison’s advantages in fundraising and name identification [did] not translate into a lead in the polls,”[22] most of which showed the race as being exceedingly tight, some calling it a “deadlock” as of late May.[23]

In June 2006, Tester won the Democratic nomination by more than 25 percentage points in a six-way primary.[24] Tester was described as having “gained momentum in closing weeks of the campaign through an extensive grass-roots effort“.

Yes, the “grass-roots” of environmentalism provided the boost that got Tester over the finish-line, and to show his gratitude, Tester quickly (and strategically) forgot who gave him this boost, regularly bashing the very people who helped get him elected when it was politically expedient to do so.

We heel-nipping bloggers at 4&20 Blackbirds documented much of this political tension with posts like this one by JC, titled On Principles, Policies and Politicians; Speaking Truth to Power: a Message to You, Jon Tester. In this post, which you should read in full, JC details how Paul Richards levied his environmental supporters to help give Tester the momentum to achieve victory. Here’s a lengthy excerpt from the post:

Paul Richards, for all intents and purposes, is a progressive environmental and social justice advocate’s dream candidate. Paul was elected to the Montana House in 1974, and was the youngest sitting legislator in history. He advocates strong progressive and environmental values. To this day Paul has been a fearless and fierce voice for the beliefs and principles he advances, and has dedicated his life’s work to that effect.

Those of us who rallied behind Paul had known him for decades, and had worked with him on many environmental issues, including wildland and wildlife issues. Suffice it to say that Paul is a known entity among what has become known as the progressive, leftist environmental movement in Montana.

While it is easy to pigeon hole those of us as “extremists” as Senator Tester has recently done, that belies the knowledge of who we are: your neighbors, farmers, ranchers, businessmen, policemen, teachers, laborers, clerks, lawyers… everyday people, but I digress (many stories, too little space).

Back to that poll number. Along with that number was the knowledge that the Montana Senate race was seen as one of the closest in the U.S., and that its outcome could well tip the balance of the Senate to Democrats. The 2004 Senate had 55 Republicans. And we were tired of them, each and every one.

A week or so before the primary, Paul Richards made the decision that if he could meet with Jon Tester, and work out an arrangement–an agreement of principles–that he would drop out of the race and support him in his primary, and if he won that, in his general election campaign against Conrad Burns.

Paul received ascension from his supporters that if Jon were to agree to certain principles, and he endorsed him, that they would follow Paul. It was an historic moment, as a leftist environmental contingent had never come out of the woodwork to work politically in this way in Montana.

Jon Tester agreed to that meeting and Pauls’ terms, and on May 31st, Paul Richards dropped out of the race and publicly endorsed Jon Tester. During that meeting, Jon agreed if elected to abide to the following terms and principles:

  1. Help stop the Iraq War, withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq, and work for peace.
  2. Work to protect all of Montana’s remaining roadless wildlands. Tester said he would talk with Michael Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and he would “look at” the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.
  3. Work to significantly enhance national applications of sustainable agriculture.
  4. Work to significantly enhance national use of renewable energy. Tester said he would support the Apollo Alliance’s programs for renewable energy.
  5. Work to settle outstanding Native American claims, particularly in regard to the Cobell lawsuit.
  6. Establish public financing for all federal elections.
  7. Support universal health insurance, specifically “Medicare-for-all.”

So, what happened? For more context on what JC is referring to, I suggest clicking on some of the following links (fyi, my posts were written under two pseudonyms, lizard and William Skink)

I’m Still Mad At Sen. Tester’s DREAM Act Vote (by jhwygirl; December 20th, 2010)

Tester’s Wolf Rider Constitutionally Challenged In Court (by JC; May 5th, 2011)

Support Small Business & Consumers: Tell Sen. Jon Tester NO! (by jhwygirl; June 2nd, 2011)

“Something Fundamental is Amiss with [Jon Tester’s] Campaign (by JC; April 5th, 2012)

Ryan Zinke And Jon Tester Agree: Build That Pipeline! (by lizard; January 31st, 2014)

Tester Gets A 4 Pinocchio Rating From The Wall Street Journal (by William Skink; February 5th, 2015)

Having watched the arc of Jon Tester’s NATIONAL political trajectory, I can say with confidence that the Montanans who have “had it with rich outsiders” will NOT be feeling any real enthusiasm for Jon Tester, if they vote for him at all.

After burning Burns all those years ago, Jon has scraped by, from my perspective, due to a variety of factors, like Libertarians weakening Republican challengers, who are themselves unimpressive. Then there’s Veterans, whom Tester is genuinely responsive to, and students, who too often just need a little Pearl Jam reminder to be like, cool, we’ll vote for Flattop guy.

Will those factors help him maintain political power this go around?

The Wall Street Journal article touches on the Mayor’s race in Missoula, so I will touch it to (ew, gross) by sharing some hilarious political gossip I stumbled onto last week after going to the WRONG coffee shop for a coffee date.

But first, the Wall Street Journal:

Democrats could be helped by a large and growing share of college graduates in the state. A third of Montanans 25 or older hold at least a college degree, as do two-thirds of new arrivals of that age, Census figures show.

Interviews with voters here indicate that the candidate who is able to convince voters they can help protect their way of life is most likely to win, a theme echoed in local races. Mike Nugent, a Democrat running for mayor of the college town of Missoula, said his campaign is focused on homelessness, housing costs and property taxes. 

And now, the gossip.

Who was the fundraiser woman, and who was the non-profit man meeting for the first time for a political feel-out? I never saw their faces, so honestly I don’t know, but the perspective I got before I realized I was at the wrong coffee shop was fascinating.

The woman, who is going to be doing some work for Monica Tranel, WAS a Jordan Hess supporter, but Andrea Davis won her over by caving on some point of criticism she brought to Davis personally, probably one of those conversations that makes Davis question her choice to enter politics in the first place.

The man pointed out Nugent’s support among businesses, and the fire endorsement, but if the previous glee they both expressed over Gwen Nicholson’s demographics is any indication, Mike definitely has a penis problem with these people.

The man acknowledged being personally closer to Davis, something about her Swedish husband and getting a family ride from the airport in Geneva. What’s that about rich outsiders? Also, obligatory kid/college social sniffing, and then the woman’s excitement that her brother is moving to Missoula and, crazy, bought the house Gwen Jones grew up in, which is very close to her.

A perfect, quiet place for fundraisers, she said. If me outing this cozy spot messes up this woman’s plans, GOOD! It’s what I’m willing to do for the plumbing I’m supporting for Mayor.

That’s right, I’m endorsing PENIS for Mayor, and not just because of what he’s packing, but ALSO because Mike Nugent has told me several times that my public comments on Rollerblades was awesome. I agree, Mike.

If you appreciate my mix of gossip and history going back over a decade in a race that people who care about national politics think is meaningful, then support Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF), or find the donation button at my about page to click.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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8 Responses to Want To Know Why Jon Tester And Montana Democrats Are In Big Trouble?

  1. Tester, who picked up where Conrad Burns left off (abandoning and dissing environmentalists, introducing a bill to turn wild lands over to industry), has powerful backers behind him who know how to manipulate elections to his favor. In 2006 his people knew to use environmentalists to give him a narrow edge, then he dumped them. In 2012 he used (some say up to) $2 million in dark money to finance Libertarian Dan Cox (6.6%), the money channeled through a fake environmental group (most are fake). He then became a champion in the fight against Citizens United. No shame, he has.

    He has reassured me of one thing, though only tentatively: In Montana, votes are counted. Otherwise, he would not have to become such a sleaze rat come election time.

    Nationwide, I see two glaring examples of vote (not voter) fraud: The Trump win in 2016, the Biden win in 2020. Could not have happened in real life, not that the alternative outcome mattered. Montana, blasting out its Democrats after two years of Covid abuse in 2022, seems to have a real vote counting system.

  2. JC says:

    Nothing like a blast from the past to burn up an hour this fine fall afternoon. After reading this, rereading my post from 2011 and all the comments, and then rereading Pogie’s counter and all the comments, I have to admit that political blogging in the old days was pretty golden. For those who want to see Pogie’s response to me, you can see it here, at archive.org:


    Couple of quick thoughts:

    1) My opinion of Tester has deteriorated over the years, and I really have little to say about him. Except that I find his newest campaign position, being opposed to Biden and democrats orthodoxy on climate change, really hilarious. He’s retreated into being a “compassionate” republican conservative clad in democrat veneer.

    2) It is sad and unfortunate to have to revisit all the dirt cast at Paul Richards. He passed away recently, alone at home, with his remains being found after a welfare check prompted by a UPS deliveryman observing that previously delivered packages hadn’t been brought in. Revisiting how the mainstream Montana dem bloggers trashed him is just so sad. He was the nicest guy, who truly cared about people and the issues he held dear.

    3) And John Morrison? Running for MT Supreme Court? He may want to revisit all the stuff that the republicans dredged up about him during his run against Tester in 2006. There’s a ready made negative campaign just sitting in a republican strategist’s office just waiting to be dusted off and brought up-to-date.

    • Big Swede 2 says:

      Truly sad story indeed.

      Kicked to the curb and then forgotten.

    • As long as they have us convinced that the “two” parties have significant differences, they have us under their thumbs. The 2012 Dan Cox debacle is a fine example, along with Nader in 2000, Perot in 1992 and 1996: The purpose of “third” parties is to occasionally maneuver the selected candidate from the big parties into office. Nothing new going on here. Perot was used to assure Clinton’s election with a minority of the vote, just as Teddy Roosevelt was used in 1912 to put Woodrow Wilson in office. These people are otherwise unelectable. That’s just how it works.

  3. JC says:

    Here’s the text from Tester’s new campaign ad on FB:

    “Jon Tester will stand up to anyone to defend Montana’s way of life – especially when the Biden Administration thinks it can impose harmful regulations on Montana families, farmers, and ranchers.”

    I guess he’s not looking to Biden’s coattails to hitch a ride in the upcoming election, or curry favor with the DNC. And I wonder if he means that by “Montana’s way of life” he’s referring to the influx of coastal refugees trying to remodel Montana in their mold? I’m sure that’s where he’s looking to raise the bulk of his war chest. It sure isn’t going to come from “everyday Montanans” who have seen their disposable income vanish.

    • Biden “coattails”? First I’ve heard of it.

      • JC says:

        There aren’t any coattails. Which is why he doesn’t have any problem going against democrat policies. Actually, national dems have probably listed his race at risk, and they are all figuring just what he can say to garner republican votes without alienating his colleagues. But as we all know, republicans will vote for a real republican over a rino any day.

    • Big Swede 2 says:

      My college roommate and best man in my wedding went on to a successful career as CEO of Upjohn. He called me the other day to say he got a personal letter from Tester begging for campaign money. Dave lives in Wisconsin, has no home or property here.

      An “every day Montanan”.

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