Uncommon Ground

Hey Jon

Rural Montana needs help and fast

By Mike Jopek

Hey Jon,

I recall those days when I bested you in cribbage at the firefighter’s house. I was a mere freshman legislator, green and unwise to the ways of politics. You were the leader of the state Senate. It was a long time ago, calmer, more congenial times. 

Our hometowns sent us from our respective farms to Helena to help people. When we met, you stood in the Capitol calling the saints with a stately tone from your trumpet. 

Today a dirt farmer chairs the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in the U.S. Congress, a powerful and noble position. Montanans are counting on you to fix our national mess.

It feels disrespectful to publicly call you by your first name, Sen. Tester. No contempt intended, our honorable friend, only wished to relay to Beacon readers that you’re a real guy, true and trusted.

I’ll get to my point. Rural Montana needs help and fast. You know this and say as much.

Whitefish, where we’ve farmed for the past three decades, may seem close to prosperity. It’s the destination to countless traveling tourists, an outdoor recreational hub to people worldwide. Some million people crisscross through our town annually, spending good money to help keep locals working.

My friend, life remains very difficult for many citizens in town, across our valley, and statewide. Locals are anxious and fatigued. There’s a phantom undercurrent pulling us down. It’s a pervasive sickness that makes living tough for working people like teachers, nurses and those making stuff happen. 

Some in town are doing very well — it makes me happy. The construction industry booms like never before, as citizens from across America flee cities seeking our rural lifestyle. We have as much to offer and teach our new neighbors as they do us locals.

Underneath that good construction money is a sputtering economy that caters little to workers as many businesses gasped this winter. Too many wage earners cannot afford to buy a home in towns across Montana. 

Many workers see layoffs, as the contagion oscillates through town. Much work pays part-time wages. And as you know, you run a farm, the bills never end, they keep coming. 

Senator, there’s scant vaccine available locally to ease the sickness. Powerful D.C. people may feel everything is according to plan. I don’t know. Here in Whitefish, like everywhere in Montana, only a very small proportion of locals are fully immunized. We’re in for one long ride at this pace.

Many rural people suffer, the mental and economic distress is real and it hurts. It’s devastating to see the pain on faces of local nurses and workers.

I write you Sen. Tester, seeking help for our small towns and schools. We can’t wait for relief to stagnate through the political backchannels of time. Kindly keep help simple, targeting people and local jurisdictions. 

This letter feels sad, my friend, too blunt. Montanans and our towns, schools and hospitals need help today. We can’t wait until springtime; that’d be catastrophic. 

From here on the farm, it feels like your colleagues may filibuster any lousy pittance of help for rural Montanans while a lifetime confirmation to the most powerful court in our land cannot withstand the 60-vote threshold. 

Mr. Chairman, Montana appreciates your strong voice and action to help people. Our towns, schools, and hospitals across this great state need immediate federal help to yank us from the riptides of a killer pandemic that is suffocating our local economy. 

America asks a lot of you Jon Tester. We offer little in return. I won’t skunk you in crib and will offer Montana-brewed ales if you swing by the farm. I trust this letter finds you in good health and happiness. By the way, good book. Write another when this mess gets cleared up. 

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