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Mountain Outlaw: Jon Tester Illustrates What It Means to Be a Real Montanan

December 13, 2023

BILLINGS – As a third-generation Montanan from Big Sandy, and the U.S. Senate’s only working dirt farmer, Jon Tester, still has a strong reputation for working across party lines to defend the Montana way of life. In a new profile, Mountain Outlaw highlighted “the Tester appeal” – and how Jon “embodies Montana.”

Read more from Mountain Outlaw below.


Mountain Outlaw: Sen. Jon Tester Embodies Montana
By Bella Butler
December 12, 2023

  • The state that has long been known for its affinity for locally rooted representatives has an extensive record of electing them based on issues and character more than party affiliation.
  • Montana’s politics are becoming more and more nationalized, and fewer and farther between are the candidates that harness a bipartisan following painted with Montana values more so than blue or red. In this way, Tester arguably represents a dying breed of Montana politician.
  • In Tester’s case, it’s hard to dispute his authenticity. Tester’s relationship with Montana begins with his grandfather, who made his way from North Dakota’s Red River Valley to Montana in 1912, when “the grass was as tall as the belly of a horse.”
  • While working as a senator, he still tends to his farm. Even after his busy day in Billings and a full week in Washington, he says he’s got to get home to unload and clean a bunch of peas. It’s who he is, he says. And he’s said it before.
  • I ask him about the separation of these roles; how he parses out the senator from the farmer from the husband and the grandfather. His answer is quick and, in retrospect, obvious as the thread that holds together his identity. “Well, I hope there isn’t any difference.”
  • Amidst the echoes of national politics bouncing from headline to headline, Sen. Jon Tester has not forgotten about Montana. There’s no doubt he’s plugged in to broader issues at the Capitol—he brings up concern for Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin more than once—but he’s deliberate in putting his identity as a Montanan out in front of him at all times.
  • An old friend of Tester’s, a fellow third-generation Montanan and the president of the Montana Farmers Union, Walter Schweitzer echoes Tester’s woes. “I used to be able to go to community events, coffee shops, and have civil debates,” Schweitzer told me in a Nov. 1 interview. “I love debates and I think a good debate is when you learn something from the other person, and we’ve lost that civility. It’s like people are having the debates with earmuffs on.”
  • To him, Tester represents the Montana he feels is slipping away. I asked Schweitzer what he thought of the Tester appeal. Where does it come from? “He’s a real Montanan,” he said.
  • What I keep coming back to is this moment at the end of our interview when I asked him [Tester] about his frequent claim of being a “defender of the Montana way of life.” What does “Montana way of life” mean?
  • “Well, I think it’s where people work together,” he said, not missing a beat. “I think it’s where people understand the value of community. Where it’s not about me, it’s about we. Where it’s your word is your bond and a handshake means something. I think it’s seeing somebody on the street that you don’t know and have a smile and say ‘hi.’ That’s the Montana I know.”
  • Maybe the Tester appeal is the embodiment of the Montana we all want to believe in.