He�s not exactly
the type of Democrat you�d be likely to see backslapping New York City fat cats
on their way into an elaborate fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. In fact, Jon
Tester, the senator-elect from Montana, isn�t your typical Democrat. He�s
almost not a Democrat at all, or at least not the kind we�re used to seeing run
around Washington these days.
In fact, Tester ran
his campaign against Senator Conrad Burns (MT-R) on just that platform. He was
tired of the scandals and dishonesty that engulf our national politics and
professed that the polluted Beltway could use a little Montana house cleanin.�
Voters agreed, and Burns, who had ties to the now incarcerated powerbroker Jack
Abramoff, was defeated in one of the tightest races in state history.
A state senator and
organic farmer by trade, Jon operates his family�s homestead just outside Big
Sandy in northern Montana where the winter chills can chatter your teeth as
early as mid-September. When I say he�s not really even a Democrat, that may be
a bit of an understatement. Tester is essentially an NRA approved neo-populist
with libertarian tendencies who wants to immediately redeploy troops from Iraq
as well as repeal the USAPATRIOT Act. And although nobody would consider Tester
an anti-globalization activist, his position on international trade is more in
line with the protesters who shut down Seattle in 1999 than with the Democratic
On a recent Meet
the Press broadcast Tester even addressed the most evaded issue in national
politics: Poverty. �There�s no more middle class,� he confessed to Tim Russert.
�The working poor aren�t even being addressed. Those are the people who brought
us here [to Congress] and they need to be empowered. It�s time to show them
attention . . . We have to use policy to help that situation.�
In a debate last
September, Sen. Conrad Burns attempted to paint Tester as weak on terror. �We cannot afford another 9/11,� Burns chided. �I can tell
you that right now, he (Tester) wants to weaken the PATRIOT Act.� To which
Tester countered, �Let me be clear. I don't want to weaken the PATRIOT Act. I
want to get rid of it.�
Tester built his
campaign from the ground up, shunning support from nationally known Democrats
like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, as he knew they�d rub Montanans the wrong
way. Instead, the nearly 300-pound farmer who lost three fingers in a meat
grinding accident as a child, drove around the state so he could chat
face-to-face with his potential constituents.
Tester, he�s used to bucking the system. His first foray with the Washington
Consensus came in 1998, when he ran for the Montana legislature because he was
outraged over the huge energy hikes that had resulted from the state�s
deregulation of the power industry. And he�s been speaking out against policies
that pit working folks against the corporate class ever since. That�s why he
supports renewable energies and a livable minimum wage.
Still, Tester isn�t
the perfect politician. While he may remain strong on many issues, he is a bit
wishy-washy on a few social justice concerns, such as the death penalty and gay
rights. Nevertheless, Tester�s campaign and personal appeal may serve as a
winning blueprint for left-leaning populists out here in the Interior West.
Indeed Brian Schweitzer used the exact formula
to become Governor of Montana two years ago.
That�s why we
should keep an eye on the senator-elect when he takes office next month. If Jon
Tester shuns the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, and truly speaks for
the people of Montana, he could have a profound effect on our national
discourse. Not to mention the way business is done in Washington.Joshua Frank is the author of "Left
Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush" and edits www.brickburner.org.