I arrived at 8 a.m. at the VFW Post 2252 in Kalispell as a roomful of veterans and Flathead Democrats talked with Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh.
Tester was named chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and was circling the state with the new junior senator from Montana. Tester previously said that he would promote job and educational development, plus target wasteful spending as new head of the committee.
In 2005, I saw tribal leaders gain trust in Tester as he presided over the state Senate and lead the Legislature to implement and fund educational programs. Tester cosponsored the education funding bills then and has since maintained a commitment to rural Montana in Congress.
In Kalispell, Tester spoke of newly passed laws like the Farm Bill and budget. Tester previously told the USDA to quickly implement the livestock disaster assistance provisions in the new five-year farming law.
Tester won reelection with an effective ground game. He proved impossible to politically misrepresent, even with the onslaught of opposition ads. Tester maintained realness in politics, airing an ad showing Montana beef in his luggage as it was X-rayed in travel to Washington.
Tester called it good news for Montana farmers and local eaters to have Walsh appointed to the Senate agriculture committee. Walsh said he would help implement the Farm Bill.
Under the law, farmers find many new federal policy decisions on how best to protect their crops from a climate of sudden hail or super storms.
Two-thirds of Montana’s 28,000 farms produce less than $50,000 annually. Less than 800 farms in the state produce more than $1 million per year. Crops have greatly diversified recently.
The USDA interprets Congress’s intent on the Farm Bill and implements rules to best serve farmers, foresters and hungry families.
At the VFW, Walsh looked as Montana as Butte. Walsh will likely remain a fierce advocate for veterans across the state and nation.
I’ve worked with lots of Butte lawmakers during my time in Helena. They are as hard-working as people come. Butte lawmakers get stuff done. They’re good at the political art of compromise, sometimes to the policy discontentment of fellow Democrats.
Walsh’s main contender in the June primary is Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams. Adams is campaigning more left promoting a diverse platform that says no to the Keystone pipeline. Adams acknowledges climate change, and promotes coal as the energy of the past.
For Adams to win the primary election he must mobilize a large turnout of more progressive voters to counter the union endorsements and field offices now at Walsh’s command.
Sen. Walsh will likely face Rep. Steve Daines plus any Independent or Libertarian candidates this November.
At the VFW, Tester, who serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, stood with Walsh. That’s good news. Tester and Walsh both cosponsor the Senate veteran’s bill that opens 27 new clinics and medical facilities, provides in-state tuition, and better jobs, dental, healthcare and retirement.
Montana is in another wild election cycle. Midterms are traditionally low voter turnout but the citizen effort to expand Medicaid to Montana will hugely boost interest.
The GOP is finding Walsh battle hardened and good at leadership. Politically misrepresenting Walsh will prove as difficult as with Tester. Tester and Walsh are about as Montana as one gets.
Walsh said that healthcare is moving in the right direction and “cut and defund” will not help. Walsh liked reforms like not denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions like diabetes and favored the extended age for kids’ coverage on parent’s policies.
At the VFW, Walsh said we should bring service men and women home from Afghanistan. Walsh will likely work hard to help citizen soldiers transition back in to civilian life.
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