Jon Tester Montana Politics

Disappointment with Senator Tester: A Reflection

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I’ve had a couple of days to process my feelings of frustration about Senator Tester’s disappointing vote on the DREAM Act, a sensible and fair piece of legislation that would not only have provided opportunity for a more realistic position on immigration and increased national security, but had the added benefit of being the moral choice. To demonize young people eager to serve in the military and attend college for the sake of a few votes is the kind of cynical realpolitk that Montana voters rejected in 2006.

The thing is, this vote was hardly a singular anomaly. Tester has offered a couple of puzzling votes and positions in the past year that hardly square with the candidate I enthusiastically supported in 2006. A few that stand out have been

  • proposing an end to a meager $25 extra in unemployment benefits
  • an inexplicable vote for a tax deal that benefits the wealthy while weakening Social Security’s viability
  • not even voting to let the full Senate on the DREAM Act, but hiding behind the same procedural tricks that Democrats have been decrying for the past two years

While some are far too quick to dismiss the position that I and thousands of others have taken as that of “far-left liberals” fighting “the friends who disappoint,’ these votes strike at the core of why I supported Senator Tester so much: his commitment to working families and human rights.

What’s most frustrating to me is that these shifts to the right are largely quixotic. While Senator Baucus may have made a career pandering to the right wing in Montana, that game’s up. With approval ratings nearing Bushian lows, Baucus has finally alienated the right and left so much that I can’t imagine that he’ll run again. Do Senator Tester’s political advisors really believe that the Tea Party will be assuaged by these votes? That the Daines/Rehberg smear machine won’t distort his votes and positions no matter how he votes? If not, they certainly didn’t hear the Daines announcement and haven’t read any of the Rehberg press releases on the Tester forest bill.

Senator Tester got elected because he took principled, even progressive stands on issues and Montanans responded to a politician who was willing to say what he believed without focus testing each message. Montana may be a conservative state, but its voters will respond to candidates to stick to their principles. Just ask Governor Schweitzer and the members of the Legislature who kept their jobs by not trying to re-brand themselves as conservatives.

Nationally and locally, when Democrats run from what they and their party believes, they lose. Do I, for a minute, believe that Senator Tester really believes that the DREAM Act was a dangerous form of amnesty? Not for a minute–and he should be ashamed of himself for taking that position.

Does all of the preceding mean that I won’t be supporting Senator Tester in 2012? Given the likely alternative (Rehberg, almost without a doubt), I’ll certainly support the Senator. But will I support him with the same passion and energy? Right now, that’s awfully hard to see, and it hurts that it’s come to that. Maybe someday Democrats will figure out that alienating the very people who support them most in vain bids to gain the support of those who never will is a losing strategy, but right now, I can’t even dream that will ever be true.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate. In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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