Uncommon Ground

Working Town

House District 3 is one the two independently minded swing districts in the north valley electing Democrats or Republicans based on the candidate

By Mike Jopek

We sat at an open table near the tree trunk left in the cafeteria after the top was removed decades earlier. Coffee Traders in Columbia Falls was busy. That morning the menu options were halved due to persistent supply problems plaguing the Flathead.

A woman walked her shepherd and it quietly sneaked under the adjacent table. The couple were meeting over house plans. It looked like exciting times. I imagined it being their first home, maybe built in the downtown area, in one of the traditional neighborhoods, or near the Flathead River.

The dark roasted coffee tasted fresh. We talked, laughed, and enjoyed the comradery. Our food arrived promptly. Outside sat what looked like an all-steel hotrod seeking a jumpstart. It soon roared to life. Across the street O’Brien’s was reworking the barn. 

Sen. Jon Tester recently announced Columbia Falls would receive a $10 million grant for roadwork near the high school and new elementary school. The funds come from infrastructure legislation Tester got passed through Congress.

On the lower end of the valley, one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers in America welcomed another piece of legislation Tester helped pass. America is investing in made-in-America computer chips. That’s a lot of security and new jobs for people valley wide. 

Montana seniors are thanking Tester for passing another law plugging life-saving insulin costs to $35 monthly starting the new year, and capping all medicine costs soon thereafter. Next year, Medicare pays for those $400 shingles shots. 

Veterans are cheering Tester for his legislation benefiting servicemembers exposed to toxins during war. It’s a big deal what Tester did. It helped a lot of people.

Tester kept the focus of his political service in D.C. directed to people in places like Columbia Falls, helping everyone do better and have a fairer shot during times of rapid change and societal difficulty. 

Tester produced while lowering the federal deficit and delivering working families with health insurance tax breaks and more tax breaks for anyone willing to help mitigate climate extremes, be they farmers, homeowners, drivers, or power producers.

No legislation is perfect. He’s likely the first to admit it. Tester is a working farmer, knows how to get along with people, and enjoys about as big an independent streak as Montana. One has to look a long, long way back in time to see a U.S. Congress that was so productive.

Tester, with the patience of a dirt farmer, knows that seasons change and some years are just better. He’s the hardest working, most productive member of the U.S. Congress. His work-with-others politics helps people in the Flathead in towns like Columbia Falls.

We departed Coffee Traders, able to turn left on an August afternoon and drove west toward the farm, passing a lot of uptown businesses like Backslope Brewery with their adjacent employee housing. The highway through town was active, a mix of workers, locals, and rentals driving the road.

Columbia Falls is an area that elected moderates like Doug Cordier or Zac Perry to represent people living within the state House district. The region is one of the many swing districts throughout Montana, places which decide state politics. 

House District 3 is a big rural district encompassing nearly 1,800 square miles of land and thousands of working-class voters. It runs east from Halfmoon, through Columbia Falls and up the canyon past Hungry Horse, Martin City, Coram, West Glacier, Nyack, and Essex. It’s north past Halfmoon, Blankenship, Polebridge and Lake Five areas, including most of Glacier National Park.

The state House district is one the two independently minded swing districts in the north valley electing Democrats or Republicans based on the candidate. It’s a key district to protecting local’s constitutional rights from the extremists of the upcoming state Legislature.