COLUMN: Sen. Tester and the ties that bind

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I’ve had plenty of criticism for Sen. Jon Tester in this column over the years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him.

I don’t like Democratic policy goals, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the senator. He was, after all, elected by Montanans — twice — to represent them. I don’t think Montanans can really claim to be surprised by how the senator has voted on their behalf.

In fact, Sen. Tester is a good example of what I have argued repeatedly in this column — that one should run on principles, and then stand up for those principles when elected. Sometimes people expect senators to “compromise” in order to pass legislation, but that makes no sense when it means compromising your principles.

I think, for the most part, Montana has gotten a square deal from Sen. Tester. He ran as a liberal Democrat, and he votes as a liberal Democrat. If conservative Montanans (some of whom were Republicans) voted for him, that is their problem, not his.

Perhaps the reason why Sen. Tester remains a popular politician and a formidable candidate in Trump’s Montana (the president won the state by 20 percentage points!) is because he exhibits a Western practicality that some of his East Coast counterparts in the Democratic Party probably don’t understand.

In other words, when he wants to get something done, he is willing to work with anyone to make it happen — even Republican legislators, even (eek!) President Trump.

Turns out there are some policy issues that are not partisan, and don’t require compromising your principles to bring to fruition. Sen. Tester should be commended for finding a way to get things done that are important, even if it means giving some of the credit to Trump.

In particular, that’s been true of the senator’s continuing efforts to help our veterans navigate the VA health-care system and receive benefits they are entitled to thanks to their service.

On Thursday, Sen. Tester’s office sent out a press release noting that eight bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Tester have been sent to President Trump for his signature. Most of those bills focused on veterans, support for whom should be unanimous and non-partisan.

Good for you, senator.

It is to be hoped that while we as a nation engage in a great debate about policy differences that could mean the death or rebirth of the United States, we do not forget those elements of commonality that have always bound us together.

Support for the national anthem, the flag and those who fought for it has become a rallying cry across this great land in recent weeks, and for good reason. We either continue to put nation first, or we put this great experiment in democracy behind us — and enter uncharted territory — a dangerous place where tooth and bloody claw could easily supplant brotherhood “from sea to shining sea.”

Let us all hope that does not come to pass.

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