Jon Tester

This article is about the Montana farmer and U.S. Senator. For the Wisconsin merchant and state Assemblyman, see John Tester.
Jon Tester
United States Senator
from Montana
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Serving with Steve Daines
Preceded by Conrad Burns
Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Leader Harry Reid
Preceded by Michael Bennet
Succeeded by Chris Van Hollen (Designate)
Chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
In office
February 12, 2014  January 3, 2015
Preceded by Maria Cantwell
Succeeded by John Barrasso
President of the Montana Senate
In office
January 3, 2005  January 3, 2007
Deputy Dan Harrington
Preceded by Bob Keenan
Succeeded by Mike Cooney
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 15th district
In office
January 3, 2005  January 3, 2007
Preceded by ???
Succeeded by Jim Peterson
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 45th district
In office
January 3, 1999  January 3, 2005
Preceded by ???
Succeeded by Jim Shockley
Personal details
Born (1956-08-21) August 21, 1956
Havre, Montana, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sharla Bitz
Alma mater University of Great Falls (BA)
Website Senate website

Jon Tester (born August 21, 1956) is the senior United States Senator from Montana, serving since 2007. He is a member of the Democratic Party.

Tester was first elected to the Senate in 2006, beating Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in one of the closest Senate races of that year. He won re-election in 2012 against Rep. Denny Rehberg in another close race. Tester previously served as the president of the Montana Senate and worked as a music teacher and farmer. He became the senior Senator in 2014 when Max Baucus resigned. He is currently the dean of the Montana congressional delegation.

Early life, education, and farming career

Tester was born in Havre, Montana,[1] one of three sons of Helen Marie (née Pearson) and David O. Tester. His father was of English descent and his mother of Swedish ancestry.[2] Tester grew up in Chouteau County, near the town of Big Sandy, Montana, on land that his grandfather homesteaded in 1912.[3] At the age of 9, he lost the middle three fingers of his left hand in a meat-grinder accident.[4] In 1978, he graduated from the University of Great Falls with a B.S. in music.[5]

Tester then worked for two years as a music teacher in the Big Sandy School District before returning to his family's farm and custom butcher shop.[6] He and his wife continue to operate the farm; in the 1980s, they switched from conventional to organic farming,[7] raising wheat, barley, lentils, peas, millet, buckwheat, and alfalfa.[5] Tester served five years as chairman of the Big Sandy School Board of Trustees and served on the Big Sandy Soil Conservation Service (SCS) Committee and the Chouteau County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) Committee.[8]

Montana Senate (1999–2007)


Tester was first elected to the 45th district of the Montana Senate in 1998, after his neighbor, a Republican State Senator, decided not to run for re-election.[8] Before running for State Senate, Tester had served on the Big Sandy school board for a decade.[9] He was elected the minority whip for the 2001 session. In 2002, he was re-elected with 71% of the vote,[10] and he became minority leader in 2003. In 2004 he moved to the 15th district as a "holdover" because of redistricting. 2005, Tester was elected president of the Montana Senate, the chief presiding officer of the Montana Legislature's upper chamber.[8]


His election as President marked a transition for Montana Democrats as they moved into the majority leadership of the Senate for the first time in more than a decade. Term limits prohibited Tester from running for State Senate for a third consecutive term.[11] While serving as Senate president, Tester supported increased funding for public education and cutting taxes for small business owners and the working poor. He also worked to make health insurance more affordable and require public utilities to use more renewable energy.[12]

Committee assignments

U.S. Senate (2007-present)



Tester announced his candidacy in May 2005 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Senator Conrad Burns. Tester was the second Democrat to jump into the race, after state auditor John Morrison. While Tester was seen as having a greater following among his fellow legislators,[19] his opponent, whose grandfather was governor of Nebraska, was able to raise significantly more money and had greater statewide name recognition.

Morrison had collected $1.05 million as of the start of 2006, including $409,241 in the last three months of 2005,[20] but "Morrison's advantages in fundraising and name identification have not translated into a lead in the polls,"[21] most of which showed the race exceedingly tight, some calling it a "deadlock" as of late May.[22]

On June 6, 2006, Tester won the Democratic primary by a margin of over 25 percentage points, much larger than what had been expected, given the previous polling. Burns won the Republican primary over former State Senate President Bob Keenan. On election day, Tester received 199,845 votes to Burns's 196,283. Tester was declared the winner on November 8, 2006.[23][24] His victory, along with that of Jim Webb in Virginia, was one of the two closest and last decided Senate races in the 2006 midterms, which saw the Democrats regain control of the Senate.


Tester successfully ran for re-election to a second term against Republican U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg.[25]

Tester's race was seen as a pivotal one for both parties seeking the Senate majority. Tester split with Democrats on several key issues, such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but has also voted with his party on issues such as health care reform and the Dodd–Frank financial services overhaul.[26]

When announcing his candidacy, Rehberg called Tester a "yes man" for President Obama, saying that he sided with the administration in 97% of his votes. Rehberg cited Tester's support for the healthcare legislation and the 2009 stimulus, both of which Rehberg opposed. Tester said that he stood by his votes on both, saying that the healthcare legislation contains "a lot of good stuff" and that the only thing failed about the stimulus was "a vote against it". The Los Angeles Times noted that Tester diverged from his party on matters such as gun rights and illegal immigration.[27]


Tester criticized Republicans in Congress for making policy that is designed "for those who write the biggest campaign checks".[28] He has stated that Washington culture is controlled by K Street cronies.[29] He has spoken against flag burning, but sees a Constitutional ban as unnecessary. Originally an opponent of same-sex marriage, Tester announced his support of the institution in March 2013.[30] Instead of avoiding class issues, Tester has also taken them head-on. On Meet the Press, he asserted that "there's no more middle class" because of Bush Administration policies.[31]

During a Billings press conference, the Tester campaign released a statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledging to give Tester a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee, regardless of whether Democrats wrested control of the Senate from Republicans, "as soon as possible".[32] On January 13, 2009, Tester's second session of Congress, he was given a seat on the Appropriations Committee.[33]

A New York Times profile of Tester after his 2006 election described him as "truly your grandfather's Democrat—a pro-gun, anti-big-business prairie pragmatist whose life is defined by the treeless patch of hard Montana dirt that has been in the family since 1916."[34]

He supports abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, and has also voted to increase funding for Medicare and SCHIP. In the Senate, Tester continues to advocate increased funding for public education, just as he did in the Montana Legislature. Tester supports middle class tax cuts. He has voted against repealing the Estate Tax and Alternative Minimum Tax, policies he sees as favoring only the wealthy. When criticized for being soft on national security, Tester stated, "the Patriot Act has very little to do with the War on Terrorism" and asserted that "I don't want to weaken the Patriot Act, I want to repeal it."[35]

A January 2012 piece on Tester focused on the fact that he butchers and brings his own meat with him to Washington. He said "Taking meat with us is just something that we do.... We like our own meat."[36]

Tester voted to confirm Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Filibuster on American Jobs Act

Tester was one of only two Democratic senators to filibuster the American Jobs Act. It was reported that he wasn't concerned about the surtax on some families to pay for the plan, but was unsure that the new spending would actually create jobs.[37]

Health care

Tester supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, voting for it in December 2009.[38] Tester voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[39]

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

On December 18, 2010, Tester voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.[40][41]

Swipe fees controversy

In April 2011, Tester was sharply criticized for introducing legislation to delay regulations that would cap the fees paid by retailers for debit card transactions at 12 cents while simultaneously accepting campaign contributions from the financial sector, which opposes such regulations.[42][43] Tester later amended his legislation, reducing the delay from 24 months to 15 months.[44]

Corporate personhood

It was reported that Tester opposed the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, where it was decided that corporations and unions had free-speech rights that allow them to donate money to third party political groups. Tester said that "corporations are a whole lot different than people. I don't know corporations that can be put in prison." He went on to say that he didn't believe that the forefathers envisioned corporations enjoying the same or more rights than people, which he thought was happening. Tester doesn't believe that it helps Republicans or Democrats, rather, it undermines our ability to effectively run the United States.[45]

Receiving lobbyist money

In March 2012, the Montana GOP filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee requesting an investigation into the actions of Tester and Max Baucus. The complaint cited a Politico report suggesting that Baucus' K Street connections were "warning clients against giving campaign contributions to Tester's Republican challenger Rep. Denny Rehberg". Tester denied any wrongdoing.[46]


Tester tried to revive a bill that was meant to be a compromise between the conservationists and the timber industry. The bill would put 700,000 acres of wilderness aside for "light-on-the-land logging projects" with the intention of creating jobs in the flagging industry. It was noted that Tester was not "winning admirers on his side", with some liberal environmentalists saying that gives lumber mills control of the national forests.[47][48]

Group ratings

Tester's votes in the Senate generally have given him high ratings from liberal groups, and low ones from conservative groups. For example, in 2012 he was rated 90% by Americans for Democratic Action and 86% by the League for Conservation Voters. Conversely, he had scores of 11% from the National Taxpayers Union and 4% from American Conservative Union. The National Journal rates his votes overall as 55% liberal and 45% conservative.[49] On gun rights, the National Rifle Association has given Tester an A- rating,[50] but another group,[51] Gun Owners of America, has given Tester a rating of F.[52]

Tester in 2013 became chairman of the Banking Committee's Securities, Insurance, and Investment Subcommittee. It has focused on oversight of computerized high-speed traders and efforts to rein in technological snafus that hurt investor confidence in the markets.[53] In September 2013 he announced opposition to the appointment of Larry Summers as chairman of the Federal Reserve; lacking a committee majority Summers then withdrew his name from consideration.[54]

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships

Electoral history

Montana U.S. Senate Election 2012
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Jon Tester (incumbent) 233,064 48.45 -1.8
Republican Denny Rehberg 216,507 45.01
Libertarian Dan Cox 31,476 6.54
Montana U.S. Senate Election 2006
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Jon Tester 199,845 49.2
Republican Conrad Burns (Incumbent) 196,283 48.3 −2.3
Montana U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Election 2006
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jon Tester 65,757 60.77%
Democratic John Morrison 38,394 35.48%
Democratic Paul Richards 1,636 1.51%
Democratic Robert Candee 1,471 1.36%
Democratic Kenneth Marcure 940 0.87%
Montana State Senate 45th District Election 2002
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jon Tester (incumbent) 4,646 71.20
Republican Roy Hollandsworth 1,879 28.80

Personal life

During Tester's senior year in college, he married Sharla Bitz.[55] Like Jon, Sharla Tester comes from an agricultural family and grew up in north-central Montana.[56] The couple has two children: a daughter, Christine, born in 1980; and a son, Shon, born in 1985.[55]

Before his election to the Senate Tester had never lived more than two hours away from his north-central Montana farm.[34]


  1. "TESTER, Jon", Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  2. "1". Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  3. Cohen, Betsy. "Back on the farm", Helena Independent Record, April 9, 2007.
  4. Klein, Joe. "The Democrats' New Populism", Time, July 2, 2006.
  5. 1 2 "Biography". U.S. Senate website. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  6. "Jon Tester (D-Mont.)" Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  7. Lowery, Courtney. "The 'Good Guy' Running for U.S. Senate", NewWest, August 28, 2005.
  8. 1 2 3 "Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)". The Almanac of American Politics, National Journal. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  9. "Almanac: Sen. Jon Tester (D)". National Journal. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  10. "". Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  11. McCulloch, Linda. Senate "Term Limits - Elections" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  12. Johnson, Charles S. "Tester begins Demo race for U.S. Senate", Billings Gazette, May 24, 2005.
  13. Mike Allen, 406-441-4101, "Montana Legislature -Legislative Finance Committee". Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  14. "Montana Legislature: Sessions". July 16, 2008. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  15. "Montana Legislature: Sessions". Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  16. 1 2
  18. "Montana Legislature: Interim Committees Membership". May 21, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  19. Johnson, Charles S. "Tester, Morrison list endorsements", Billings Gazette, May 16, 2006.
  20. Johnson, Charles S. "Burns' fundraising nears $5 million; Morrison's hits $1 million",, August 28, 2005.
  21. Horrigan, Marie. "MT Senate: Race to Take On Embattled Burns Nears Finish",, May 31, 2006.
  22. Johnson, Charles S. "Tester, Morrison deadlocked", Helena Independent Record, May 28, 2006.
  23. Jalonick, Mary Clare. "Playing Outsider, Tester Wins Mont. Seat", Associated Press, November 8, 2006.
  24. U.S. SENATE / MONTANA results,, November 2006.
  25. "Montana". The New York Times.
  26. Davis, Susan (April 5, 2012). "Montana race could tip balance of power in U.S. Senate". USA Today. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  27. Barabak, Mark Z. (February 27, 2011). "Winning the West, Montana style". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  28. Miller, Scot (August 3, 2006). "Title Not Given.". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  29. "2006 Montana 3-way Senate Debate at MSU". October 9, 2006. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  30. Stein, Sam (March 28, 2013). "Jon Tester Explains Gay Marriage Evolution". Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  31. "MTP Transcript for Nov 19",, November 19, 2006.
  32. Johnson, Charles S. "Dems vow to get Tester on Senate appropriations", Helena Independent Record, October 19, 2006.
  33. "Tester earns seat on Senate Appropriations Committee". Jon Tester. January 13, 2009. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  34. 1 2 Egan, Timothy (November 13, 2006). "Fresh Off the Farm in Montana, a Senator-to-Be". The New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  35. "Jon Tester on the Issues". Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  36. Steinhauer, Jennifer (January 10, 2012). "Loyal to His 4-Legged Constituents". The New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  37. Raju, Manu; Wong, Scott (October 17, 2011). "Jon Tester, Ben Nelson unsure on teachers bill". Politico. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  38. "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home - Votes - Roll Call Vote". December 24, 2009. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  39. "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home - Votes - Roll Call Vote". March 25, 2010. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  40. "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home - Votes - Roll Call Vote". December 18, 2010. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  41. "Senate Vote 281 - Repeals 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'". The New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  42. Bolton, Alexander (April 20, 2011). "Swipe-fee opponents shower Sen. Tester with campaign contributions". The Hill. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  43. Foley, Elise (June 8, 2011). "Jon Tester Faces Opposition From Montana Voters On Swipe Fees". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  44. Carter, Zach (May 19, 2011). "Jon Tester Backpedals In Multibillion-Dollar Swipe Fee Fight". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  45. James, Frank (January 30, 2012). "Sen. Jon Tester Decries Citizens United's Impact In Montana, Nationally". Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  46. Palmer, Anna; Bravender, Robin (March 2, 2012). "Max Baucus, Jon Tester investigation called for by Montana GOP". Politico. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  47. Romano, Andrew (May 1, 2011). "The Democrats' Last, Best Hope". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  48. Chaney, Rob (May 26, 2011). "Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act draws mixed reviews". The Missoulian. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  49. Michael Barone, et al. The Almanac of American Politics 2014 (2013) (Kindle Location 48402)
  50. Bloch, Matthew; Fairfield, Hannah; Harris, Jacob; Keller, Josh (December 19, 2012). "How the N.R.A. Rates Lawmakers". The New York Times.
  51. Steinhauer, Jennifer (April 3, 2013). "Gun Owners of America, a Lobbying Group, Grows in Influence". The New York Times.
  53. Barone, The Almanac of American Politics 2014 (Kindle Locations 48474-48476)
  54. Ben White, "Democratic opposition dooms Larry Summers's Fed chances," POLITICO Sept. 15, 2013
  55. 1 2 McKee, Jennifer. "Mr. Tester Goes to Washington". Montana Magazine. January 15, 2007. Article quoted at Jon Tester's official Senate website. Retrieved 2009-12-26.
  56. "Jon Tester: The Right Man to Represent Montana". Retrieved December 26, 2009.

Further reading

Party political offices
Preceded by
Brian Schweitzer
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Montana
(Class 1)

2006, 2012
Most recent
Preceded by
Michael Bennet
Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Succeeded by
Chris Van Hollen
United States Senate
Preceded by
Conrad Burns
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Montana
Served alongside: Max Baucus, John Walsh, Steve Daines
Preceded by
Maria Cantwell
Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
John Barrasso
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
John Barrasso
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