Montana Public Radio

Sen. Tester Grilled On Keystone, Campaign Funds At Missoula Town Hall

Jun 21, 2019

Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Jon Tester met with constituents at a town hall event Friday in Missoula. About 150 people packed into one of the meeting rooms in Missoula’s Holiday Inn Parkside Friday to interact with Tester.

The town hall was an open door event with no invite needed. It was his second in person town hall of the year and his ninth since President Trump took office.

"I think that anytime you can meet eyeball to eyeball with Montanans it’s always uplifting," Tester said. "You get to hear about stuff that you don’t know about, you get to hear about stuff you do know about and you get to hear about what people are talking about; their concerns and the challenges that they see as going on in Washington D.C. So it’s positive all the way around."

Missoula Mayor Jon Engen made a few brief opening remarks and then handed the mic off to Tester.

And with that, Tester opened Friday’s roughly hour long town hall with updates of recent congressional action, including the nationwide reversal of the Job Corps closures, legislation to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Act and passage of the Blue Water Navy Act for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Then he opened it up to questions from the audience. Tester fielded questions about President Trump, rural broadband coverage, and the CSKT water compact.

One issue drawing lots of questions: climate change.

"Even if you don’t believe it’s real, I go back to what the late John McCain said, "'Even if you don’t think people caused it, we should act like people are.' We should come up with common sense solutions that doesn’t shut our economy down, but yet deals with the issue of carbon in our atmosphere and climate change overall," Tester said.

Sen. Jon Tester's June 21 town hall in Missoula was an open door event with no invite needed. It was his second in person town hall of the year and his ninth since President Trump took office.
Credit Kevin Trevellyan / Montana Public Radio

A little later, one young man asked Tester to withdraw his support for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

"Here’s the deal," Tester answered. "When I fill my tractor up if I’m going to farm, you know what I’m going to fill it full of? It ain’t electricity – that’s fired by coal, by the way – it’s fuel. I have no other option. So we need to have research and development that preceeds some of the stuff that's going on, or it can’t happen."

The questioner then told Tester that his support of the Keystone XL pipeline was essentially dooming his generation. Tester replied that he heard and understood those concerns.

He then pivoted to criticize the Trump Administration’s intent to undo the Clean Power Plan and moves to cap fuel economy and tailpipe emission standards at 2020 levels instead of raising them.

Tester was also challenged to reject campaign funds from the oil and gas industry.

"You can wean yourself off of PAC money and you can wean yourself off of all different kinds of money – I had this debate when I was in an election with banking money – I’ll lose the election. If you can’t get your message out, you’re screwed. The person I’m running against will take every dollar they can get from anybody that'll give it to them."

Tester then offered alternatives, including exploration of more campaign spending restrictions, as well as more political debate appearances and town hall meetings.

Other issues tackled Friday included growing tensions with Iran, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and pharmaceutical prices.

Tester’s supporters, like Missoula’s Tom Cochran, gave his performance high marks.

"His responses were about 98% excellent. A few he had to hedge on; campaign financing directly, and the oil pipeline, but he didn’t dodge them, he just kind of skirted them a little bit. So, he did a good job."

Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, and GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte have held many online question and answer sessions and telephone conference calls with constituents, but have avoided open invite, live, public town hall meetings.