Sen. Tester tackles issues in Whitefish

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U.S. Sen. Jon Tester spoke Sunday morning at the Montana Broadcasters Association Conference at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, where he told people what voters should expect out of him if they re-elect him to another term in the U.S. Senate on Nov. 6.

During the event, Tester expounded on his stances against the Citizens United campaign-finance ruling, so-called sanctuary cities and President Trump’s decisions to pull out of major trade deals . He also spoke in favor of universal background checks for firearms purchases, a bump stock ban, more attention to mental health in the state and whatever border-security measures experts say will give the country the most bang for its buck.

Tester said that while the Second Amendment is important to him, he believed there were bipartisan measures that could be passed in Washington to rein in senseless gun violence, and school shootings in particular.

He said he considered both a bump stock ban and universal background checks in that category. He said he believed that criminals should forfeit their Second Amendment rights when they break the law, and it is reasonable to prevent them from purchasing firearms and to perform due diligence to make sure they aren’t purchasing them through someone else.

“School shootings should not be tolerated,” he said.

He said he saw a slippery slope when the conversation turned to banning certain types of weapons altogether, and that was where he drew the line to protect Second Amendment rights. He did not support bans on certain types of weapons.

Tester also voiced disapproval of sanctuary cities, but said he had voted against measures before the Senate to clamp down on them because they had included what he called a “poison pill,” usually in the form of a drop in funding for local law-enforcement agencies.

He also said he found the recently reported practice of the Department of Justice separating children of suspected illegal immigrants from their parents in federal detention facilities reprehensible.

“Border security is critically important,” Tester said. “But a deterrent where you rip kids away from their parents is not acceptable.”

When it came to border security, Tester didn’t expressly rule out a wall but said he supported what experts had deemed more economically efficient security measures, like increasing Border Patrol agents and better technology at ports, where he’s been told by government officials that the vast majority of illicit drugs flow in and out of the country.

A member of the audience asked him about his role in the fall from grace of White House physician Ronny Jackson, whom Trump had nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs before a string of allegations of misconduct on the job were made public by Tester and other members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The allegations culminated in Jackson withdrawing his nomination, and Trump calling for Tester to resign from the Senate.

Tester told the audience his allegiance was to the U.S. Constitution, and he feels that he did his job. He said he reached out to Jackson with the allegations before they were made public, and after a period of silence in response, Tester worked with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia to move forward and they jointly made the decision to release the findings of their investigation to the public.

He said the allegations were so numerous and widespread that he suspected they would have come out once he assumed the post anyways.

“I did my job, and I saved him a lot of heartbreak I believe,” Tester said.

Tester also came out against President Trump’s decision to pull out of international trade deals, because even though they were imperfect he thinks the brash decision could cause undue harm, particularly in a state like Montana where agriculture is a big export.

“I think we’re playing with fire agriculturally and we’re playing with fire with food security,” Tester said.

Tester also addressed the suicide rate in Montana, which is the highest in the union. He said the issue was largely a workforce one, and said we needed to encourage more young people to go into the mental-health field and create opportunities for them in rural states like Montana.

“I believe it’s the biggest health issue we’ll face in the next 50 years,” he said.

The audience of several dozen was primarily made up of people working in the broadcast news industry from across the state who were in town attending the 2018 Montana Broadcasters Association convention, which began on Friday and went through Sunday.

The event was originally planned as a debate between Tester and his Republican opponent, current State Auditor Matt Rosendale, but Rosendale declined the event six days before it occurred. A spokesperson for his campaign cited Father’s Day plans as the reason he chose not to attend.

Rosendale has suggested he and Tester meet for five debates before the November election, though they are not all scheduled. At least two will be held in the fall. At the event Sunday morning, Tester said he was open to debating five times but lamented the lost opportunity in Whitefish.

“Tell me the time and place,” he said.

He said the debates served as an important opportunity to show the people of Montana the distinctions between the two candidates.

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” Tester said of the fact that he was the only candidate on the stage Sunday. “This is going to be a very important election.”

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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