Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Sen. Jon Tester (D)

Montana

Leadership: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman

N/A

tester.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2006, term expires 2018, 2nd term.

Born: August 21, 1956, Havre

Home: Big Sandy

Education: U. of Great Falls, B.S. 1978

Professional Career: Music teacher, Big Sandy Schl. Dist., 1978-80; Custom butcher, T-Bone Farms, 1978-98; Farmer, T-Bone Farms, 1978-present.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Christian

Family: married (Sharla) , 2 children

Democrat Jon Tester was elected in 2006 and won a tough reelection fight in 2012. With his plain-spoken Western manner inveighing against “D.C. politicians,” he doesn’t come across like a typical Democrat, but he takes his party’s side on key votes often enough to satisfy party leaders. His campaign prowess helped him in getting the chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2015.

Tester grew up in a farming family, on the same prairie land his grandparents homesteaded almost a century ago near the small town of Big Sandy, home of Big Bud 747, the largest farm tractor in the world. His family ran a custom butcher shop behind their barn; at the age of 9, Tester lost three fingers from his left hand in a meat grinder. The accident, he says, changed him from a saxophone player to a trumpet player. He earned a music degree from the University of Great Falls and later taught music at a local elementary school before devoting himself to farming. He has raised wheat, hay, alfalfa, barley, buckwheat, lentils, millet, and peas and also served on the local Soil Conservation Service Committee. He then switched to organic farming. He told Esquire magazine, “In the eighties, we realized we had to do something to add value to our product, to make it more marketable, to get a better price for it. That’s when we made the conversion to organic. It’s been a blessing for us. Before we converted, when we sprayed weeds, I just planned on being sick for about a week.”

Tester’s political career began on the Big Sandy school board, where he served for a decade. In 1998, when his neighbor, a Republican state senator, decided not to run for reelection, Tester ran for the seat and won. In 2002, he was chosen as minority leader, and he became Senate president in 2005 after Democrats won a majority. In that role, he helped pass a budget that cut taxes for small businesses and middle-class families while increasing funding for public education. When the 2005 legislative session adjourned, Tester announced he would challenge three-term Republican Sen. Conrad Burns.

He was one of five Democrats seeking the party nomination; his only real opposition came from two-term state Auditor John Morrison, a former president of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association and the son of a state Supreme Court justice. He outspent Tester nearly 2-to-1. But in a campaign that focused on Burns’ ethics, Morrison was weakened by the disclosure that he had an extramarital affair in 1998 with the fiancée of a businessman who was later investigated by the auditor’s office. Running as an unabashed populist, Tester gained support from Daily Kos and other left-wing Internet activists, and in Montana he assembled a formidable grass-roots operation with hundreds of volunteers. He beat Morrison 61%-35%.

Tester was taking on the only Republican senator Montana voters had ever reelected. But by 2006, the 71-year-old conservative incumbent had two serious problems. The first was his connection to disgraced and later convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He was the largest congressional recipient of campaign donations from Abramoff’s clients, and he faced campaign accusations that he “sold his vote” and betrayed Montana’s American Indian population by earmarking funds for Abramoff’s Indian clients in other states. Tester argued that Burns was not the same down-to-earth Westerner Montanans had sent to Washington 18 years earlier.

Burns’ second handicap was a gaffe-prone style, ill-suited for the YouTube era. In 2006, while discussing the war on terrorism, he spoke of enemies who “drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night.” This was a bare-knuckled campaign. Burns spent $9 million, $3.5 million more than Tester, and argued that Tester was too liberal for Montana because of his opposition to the Bush-era PATRIOT Act anti-terrorism law and his links to “radical environmentalists” and left-wing bloggers. But Tester was not so easily caricatured. His signature $8 flattop haircut, highlighted in a television ad filmed at the Riverview Barbershop in Great Falls, his down-to-earth way (He’s fond of saying, “You have two ears and one mouth; act accordingly.”), his beefy farmer’s build, and his agricultural background worked to temper the criticism.

The race was decided by just 3,562 votes. Burns carried 41 of 56 counties, including Yellowstone County, which includes Billings, the state’s largest city. But Tester prevailed in several large counties including Cascade (Great Falls), Lewis and Clark (Helena), and Missoula (home of the University of Montana), carrying the latter nearly 2-to-1.

In Washington, Democrats hailed Tester’s victory as a signal of a new political direction in the Mountain West. His distinctive look—he’s tall, barrel-chested, and wears size 12-C cowboy boots while sporting a flat-top haircut—won him immediate notice in the Senate. He also may be the only senator in history to haul along, in his luggage from home, a supply of beef that he's butchered himself. Asked about the practice on the NPR show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" in January 2015, he quipped: "It's normal if you used to butcher beef and you like good meat and you know where it came from. And we take it to DC with us and then we know what we're eating."

Tester also drew notice for his practice of prominently posting his daily schedule on the Internet, a Senate first. Arriving in Washington, he stressed the importance of transparency and accountability in government, thus distancing himself from the questionable practices that hurt his predecessor. Tester cosponsored a Republican bill to ban former members of Congress from ever lobbying, and he joined a group of senators seeking to ban secret holds on legislation and nominations, a longtime Senate practice.

Tester supports abortion rights, but takes a Westerner’s hands-off attitude on regulating firearms. He cosponsored with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona an amendment to repeal the District of Columbia’s gun control laws, which effectively stopped legislation to give D.C. a voting representative in Congress. Early in Barack Obama’s presidency, Tester and fellow Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus also made it clear they would oppose any notion of reinstating the ban on military-style assault weapons. After the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in 2012, though, Tester expressed a willingness to listen to proposals dealing with assault weapons, as long as other issues such as the mental health of gun purchasers were addressed.

The departure of his fellow Montanan Max Baucus to become U.S. trade representative in early 2014 not only made Tester his state's senior senator; it also gave him the chairmanship of the Indian Affairs Committee. In his first few months he impressed tribal observers with his energy, getting 15 bills through the panel dealing with housing, education, water rights and a legislative remedy for a 2009 Supreme Court decision that limited the Interior Department ability to take lands into trust for tribes. "I wish I could tell you this place is running like a Singer sewing machine, but it ain’t. It’s pretty tough," he told Indian Country Today. "We can have the best ideas, and somebody will put a hold on them, and then that’s that. But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying. And, by the way, if you keep trying, I think that sets a really good example for the folks in Indian country."

On the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Tester worked on the credit card regulation act signed into law in 2009, banning certain fees and deadlines and providing an extra week for paying bills. In May 2010, he sponsored a successful amendment requiring large banks to pay higher Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation fees. He and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker sought to block new limits on the “swipe fees” that banks and credit card companies charge stores for debit card transactions, arguing that the fee limits would hurt small rural banks. Their amendment in June 2011 drew 54 votes, six short of the 60 needed. Tester was named in 2013 to chair the Banking panel’s Securities, Insurance, and Investment Subcommittee, which is responsible for overseeing computerized high-speed traders and efforts to rein in technological snafus that hurt investor confidence in the markets.

On other major issues, Tester was one of just two Democrats in October 2011 to join Republicans in a filibuster of Obama’s jobs bill, contending it contained “tax gimmicks” that did not address deficit reduction. He aroused the ire of left-wing bloggers in December 2010 when he voted against the DREAM Act, which would provide a path for citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military. Tester said, “Illegal immigration is a critical problem facing our country, but amnesty is not the solution.” The Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas, a staunch Tester backer in 2006, said he would do whatever he could to defeat him in 2012. Montana has one of the lowest percentages of immigrants, legal or illegal, of any state.

On issues important to Montana, Tester has promoted carbon capture and sequestration technology as a feasible method of clean energy production that could lead to the development of the large coal reserves in Montana, “the Saudi Arabia of coal,” as he put it. He also fought the Postal Service that year against closing rural post offices and, in June 2012, helped to postpone a planned move of F-15 fighter jets from the Montana Air National Guard to California.

Tester envisioned a tough reelection battle even before Republican Denny Rehberg, Montana’s sole House member, announced in February 2011 he would run for the seat in 2012. Rehberg in 1996 gave Baucus his closest race ever, losing by just 50%-45%. By October 2011, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that Tester, despite running as an outsider, had accepted more campaign contributions from lobbyists than any other member of Congress. Republicans also pointed to Tester’s financial support from large banks on the swipe-fee issue as evidence of his hypocrisy.

Rehberg relied on the familiar Republican strategy of attacking Tester as a liberal Obama ally, citing his vote in favor of the president’s health care law. Tester replied that the law was “about being able to get health care without breaking the bank.” He took a page from the national Democratic playbook in sowing doubt about Rehberg’s support for Social Security and Medicare. Although Rehberg got outside GOP money, national Democratic interests from labor and women’s groups came into the state to assist Tester, organizing a get-out-the-vote effort that proved effective. The senator also got help from an unlikely source, the Seattle grunge-rock group Pearl Jam. He used his friendship with bassist Jeff Ament, a Big Sandy native, to raffle off to campaign donors a prize of two onstage reclining concert seats, along with dinner with Tester and Ament.

In a state that Republican Mitt Romney carried with 55% of the vote, Tester beat Rehberg 49%-45%, with Libertarian Dan Cox receiving 7%. The senator improved on his earlier strong showing in Missoula County, got 52% in Bozeman-based Gallatin County, and narrowly eked out a win in Yellowstone County to offset Rehberg’s strong showing elsewhere.

Tester's campaign-trail acumen helped him overcome his occasional breaks with Senate leadership to win him the DSCC job. Despite Tester's acknowledged misgivings about the job's intense fundraising demands, Montana State University political scientist David C.W. Parker said he was a perfect fit, given his affinity to reach rural white voters who have escaped the party in droves. "People instinctively like him; he smiles and listens patiently when engaging with constituents and fellow politicians alike ... If Tester applies these lessons to his work at the DSCC, he’ll recruit Senate candidates who fit the places they come from rather than imposing ideological litmus tests," Parker wrote in The Washington Post. 

Tester does have the good fortune of a favorable Democratic environment: The party is defending just 10 seats in 2016 compared to the GOP's 26, with the added expected enthusiasm of a presidential race to bring out more voters.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2644

(202) 224-8594

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 311
Washington, DC 20510-2604

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2644

(202) 224-8594

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 311
Washington, DC 20510-2604

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 252-0550

(406) 252-7768

Judge Jameson Federal Building Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101-1954

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 252-0550

(406) 252-7768

Judge Jameson Federal Building Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101-1954

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 728-3003

(406) 728-2193

130 West Front Street
Missoula, MT 59802

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 728-3003

(406) 728-2193

130 West Front Street
Missoula, MT 59802

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 449-5401

(406) 449-5462

Capital One Center Suite 202
Helena, MT 59601-3837

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 449-5401

(406) 449-5462

Capital One Center Suite 202
Helena, MT 59601-3837

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 452-9585

(406) 452-9586

119 First Avenue North Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 452-9585

(406) 452-9586

119 First Avenue North Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 586-4450

(406) 586-7647

Avant Courier Building Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715-6248

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 586-4450

(406) 586-7647

Avant Courier Building Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715-6248

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 723-3277

(406) 782-4717

Silver Bow Center Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701-9215

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 723-3277

(406) 782-4717

Silver Bow Center Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701-9215

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 257-3360

(406) 257-3974

8 Third Street East
Kalispell, MT 59901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 257-3360

(406) 257-3974

8 Third Street East
Kalispell, MT 59901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 365-2391

(406) 365-8836

122 West Towne
Glendive, MT 59330

DISTRICT OFFICE

(406) 365-2391

(406) 365-8836

122 West Towne
Glendive, MT 59330

Staff Leadership Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Aerospace

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Agriculture

Dylan Laslovich
Legislative Director

Janelle DiLuccia
Senior Legislative Assistant

Henry Ring
Legislative Correspondent

Appropriations

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Arts

Hannah VanHoose
Legislative Aide

Banking

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Budget

Susan Cierlitsky
Administrative Director

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Campaign

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Census

Stuart Varvel
Legislative Assistant

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Molly Sherlock
Legislative Correspondent

Commerce

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Communication

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Crime

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Economics

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Education

Hannah VanHoose
Legislative Aide

Energy

Dylan Laslovich
Legislative Director

Janelle DiLuccia
Senior Legislative Assistant

Henry Ring
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Dylan Laslovich
Legislative Director

Janelle DiLuccia
Senior Legislative Assistant

Henry Ring
Legislative Correspondent

Family

Hannah VanHoose
Legislative Aide

Finance

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Foreign

Molly Sherlock
Legislative Correspondent

Govt Ops

Dylan Laslovich
Legislative Director

Stuart Varvel
Legislative Assistant

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Molly Sherlock
Legislative Correspondent

Gun Issues

Hannah VanHoose
Legislative Aide

Henry Ring
Legislative Correspondent

Health

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Homeland Security

Stuart Varvel
Legislative Assistant

Molly Sherlock
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Human Rights

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Intelligence

Tony McClain
Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

James Wise
Chief of Staff

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Molly Sherlock
Legislative Correspondent

Land Use

Dylan Laslovich
Legislative Director

Janelle DiLuccia
Senior Legislative Assistant

Henry Ring
Legislative Correspondent

Medicare

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Military

Max DiPietro
Air Force Fellow

Tony McClain
Legislative Assistant

Molly Sherlock
Legislative Correspondent

Native Americans

James Wise
Chief of Staff

Henry Ring
Legislative Correspondent

Public Works

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Religion

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Science

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Seniors

James Wise
Chief of Staff

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Small Business

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Social Security

James Wise
Chief of Staff

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Tax

Kellin Clark
Legislative Assistant

Technology

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Telecommunications

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Trade

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Transportation

Justin Folsom
Legislative Assistant

Henry Ring
Legislative Correspondent

Veterans

Tony McClain
Legislative Assistant

Flannery Geoghegan
Legislative Correspondent

Molly Sherlock
Legislative Correspondent

Welfare

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Women

Monica Carmean
Legislative Counsel for Health and Judiciary

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Jon Tester
Votes: 236,123
Percent: 48.58%
Denny Rehberg
Votes: 218,051
Percent: 44.86%
Dan Cox
Votes: 31,892
Percent: 6.56%
2012 PRIMARY
Jon Tester
Unopposed
2006 GENERAL
Jon Tester
Votes: 199,845
Percent: 49.0%
Conrad Burns
Votes: 196,283
Percent: 48.0%
2006 PRIMARY
Jon Tester
Votes: 65,757
Percent: 61.0%
John Morrison
Votes: 38,394
Percent: 35.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2006 (49%)

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