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Jon Tester

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Jon Tester
Official portrait, 2014
Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Assumed office
February 3, 2021
Preceded byJerry Moran
Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
In office
January 3, 2017 – February 3, 2021
Preceded byRichard Blumenthal
Succeeded byJerry Moran
Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
In office
January 3, 2015 – January 3, 2017
LeaderHarry Reid
Preceded byMichael Bennet
Succeeded byChris Van Hollen
Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
In office
February 12, 2014 – January 3, 2015
Preceded byMaria Cantwell
Succeeded byJohn Barrasso
United States Senator
from Montana
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Serving with Steve Daines
Preceded byConrad Burns
President of the Montana Senate
In office
January 3, 2005 – January 3, 2007
DeputyDan Harrington
Preceded byBob Keenan
Succeeded byMike Cooney
Member of the Montana Senate
In office
January 4, 1999 – January 3, 2007
Preceded byLoren Jenkins
Succeeded byJim Peterson
Constituency15th (2005–2007)
45th (1999–2005)
Personal details
Raymond Jon Tester

(1956-08-21) August 21, 1956 (age 67)
Havre, Montana, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Sharla Bitz
(m. 1978)
EducationUniversity of Providence (BA)
WebsiteSenate website

Raymond Jon Tester[1] (born August 21, 1956) is an American politician and farmer serving as the senior United States senator from Montana, elected in 2006. A member of the Democratic Party, Tester is the dean of Montana's congressional delegation and the only Democrat who holds statewide office in Montana. He served in the Montana Senate from 1999 to 2007, and as its president for his last two years in the chamber.

Tester was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, defeating Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in one of the closest Senate races of that year. He narrowly won reelection in 2012 against U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg, and in 2018 against Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale. He is running for reelection in 2024.

Early life, education, and farming career[edit]

Tester was born in Havre, Montana,[2] one of three sons of Helen Marie (née Pearson), who was born in North Dakota[3] and David O. Tester, born in Utah.[4] He is the descendant of Mormon pioneers on his father's side. His father was of English descent and his mother was of Swedish ancestry.[5] Tester grew up in Chouteau County, near the town of Big Sandy, Montana, on land that his grandfather homesteaded in 1912.[6] At the age of nine, he lost the middle three fingers of his left hand in a meat-grinder accident.[7] In 1978, he graduated from the University of Providence (then called the College of Great Falls) with a B.A. in music.[8]

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.[9] He and his wife continue to operate the farm; in the 1980s, they switched from conventional to organic farming.[10][dead link] Tester spent five years as chairman of the Big Sandy School Board of Trustees and was also on the Big Sandy Soil Conservation Service (SCS) Committee and the Chouteau County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) Committee.[11][dead link]

Montana Senate (1999–2007)[edit]


Tester was first elected to represent the 45th district in the Montana Senate in 1998, after his neighbor, a Republican State Senator, decided not to run for reelection.[11][dead link] Before running for State Senate, Tester served on the Big Sandy school board for a decade.[12] He was elected the minority whip for the 2001 session. In 2002, he was reelected with 71% of the vote,[13] and he became minority leader in 2003. In 2004 he moved to the 15th district as a "holdover" because of redistricting. In 2005, Tester was elected president of the Montana Senate, the chief presiding officer of the Montana Legislature's upper chamber.[11][dead link]


Tester's election as Senate 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.[14] Tester cited a prescription drug benefit program, reinstatement of the "Made in Montana" promotion program, a law to encourage renewable energy development, and his involvement with a bill that led to an historic increase in public school funding as accomplishments while in office.[15]

Committee assignments[edit]

  • Senate Finance Committee (2001–2004)[16]
  • Senate Agriculture Committee (2000–2005)[17][18][19]
  • Senate Rules Committee (2003–2005)[20]
  • Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee (2005)[19]
  • Panthera Leo City Council of Petroleum County (2012)[19]
  • Council Interim Committee (2003–2004)[21]

U.S. Senate (2007–present)[edit]


Tester during the 110th Congress


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 had a greater following among his fellow legislators,[22] Morrison, whose grandfather had been governor of Nebraska, raised significantly more money and had greater statewide name recognition than Tester.[citation needed] Morrison had collected $1.05 million as of the start of 2006, including $409,241 in the last three months of 2005.[23][dead link] But "Morrison's advantages in fundraising and name identification [did] not translate into a lead in the polls",[24][dead link] most of which showed the race as exceedingly tight; as of late May 2006, some polls called the primary a "deadlock".[25]

In June 2006, Tester won the Democratic nomination by more than 25 percentage points in a six-way primary.[26] He was described as having "gained momentum in the closing weeks of the campaign through an extensive grass-roots effort".[26] While Tester's pledge to "end secret meetings with lobbyists" was a central issue in his campaign, CNN reported in 2023 that he had not fully followed through on it.[27]

In the November 2006 general election, Tester defeated Burns, receiving 199,845 votes (49.2%) to Burns's 196,283 (48.3%). Libertarian Stan Jones received 10,377 votes (2.6%).[28] Tester's victory was confirmed the day after the election.[29]


Tester sought reelection to a second term and was challenged by Republican U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg.[30]

The race was seen as pivotal for both parties. During his first term, Tester split with Democrats on key issues like the Keystone XL oil pipeline; he had also voted with his party on issues such as the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd–Frank financial services overhaul.[31][dead link]

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 ACA and the 2009 stimulus, both of which Rehberg opposed. Tester said that he stood by his votes on both bills, saying that the ACA contained "a lot of good stuff". The Los Angeles Times noted that Tester diverged from his party on matters such as gun rights and illegal immigration.[32]

On Election Day, Tester defeated Rehberg, 48.6% to 44.9%. Libertarian Dan Cox received 6.6% of the vote.[33]


Tester won a third term, defeating Republican nominee Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale in a high-turnout election by over 15,000 votes and crossing the 50 percent threshold in vote totals for the first time in his three Senate elections.[34] Tester defeated Rosendale, receiving 253,876 votes (50.3%) to Rosendale's 235,963 (46.8%). Libertarian Rick Breckenridge received 14,545 votes (2.9%).[35] President Donald Trump made a particular effort to unseat Tester, traveling to Montana four times over the preceding months. Despite some increase in Republican turnout in the state, Tester secured victory with increased turnout in Democratic-leaning areas, strong support from Native Americans and women, increased support among independent voters, and 67 percent of the youth vote.[36]


Despite reports that Tester was considering retirement,[37] on February 22, 2023, he announced that he would seek a fourth Senate term. His reelection is considered pivotal for Democrats to maintain their Senate majority in the 119th United States Congress.[38]

Tester is one of the Democratic Party's last remaining red-state U.S. senators. Montana's other U.S. senator, Steve Daines, is the head of the Republican campaign arm charged with winning back the majority in the 2024 election cycle, which will likely require unseating Tester. According to Politico, "That makes the senators from Big Sky Country the most awkward pair in the chamber."[39] Montana is one of five states with Senate delegations split between the Republican and Democratic parties.[39] According to The Washington Post, Republican and Democratic strategists agree that "the race will be a test of whether [Tester's] authenticity and connection with his home state's voters can override most Montanans' inclination to vote Republican." Trump carried Montana by 16 percentage points in 2020; his margin of victory was larger in 2016. Tester has made some moves to distance himself from the Joe Biden administration, but his voting record remains in line with the Democratic Party.[40]


Tester at a 2013 press conference regarding the government shutdown that year

During a 2006 Billings press conference, the Tester campaign released a statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, pledging to give Tester a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee "as soon as possible", regardless of whether Democrats won control of the Senate.[41] On January 13, 2009, during Tester's second session of Congress, he was given a seat on the Appropriations Committee.[42] In 2013, Tester became chairman of the Banking Committee's Securities, Insurance, and Investment Subcommittee.[43]

In September 2013, Tester opposed the appointment of Larry Summers as chairman of the Federal Reserve; lacking a committee majority, Summers then withdrew his name from consideration.[44]

Tester received more money in campaign contributions from lobbyists than any other member of Congress in 2018. When asked about this, he said it was "bull".[45]

Tester was on Capitol Hill for the 2021 United States Electoral College vote count on January 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. He was in his office in the Hart Senate Office Building when the Capitol was breached. Along with his staff, Tester was evacuated to an undisclosed location for safety.[46] He called the storming a "despicable and dangerous attack on our democracy" and "a coup by domestic terrorists",[47][48] and blamed Trump for instigating it. He also said that impeachment of Trump was unlikely in the short period of time before Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20.[48] He called fellow Montana senator Steve Daines an "enabler" of the attack, as Daines supported Trump's unproven voter fraud claims.[49]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Tester is considered a moderate or centrist Democrat.[50][51][52][53][54] 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".[55] In 2012, USA Today noted that Tester had sometimes "split with Democrats—most recently in his support of construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast—but he has voted with Obama on the most critical issues of his presidency: the stimulus, the health care legislation and the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul".[56][dead link] FiveThirtyEight, which tracks votes in Congress, found that Tester had voted with Trump's position 30% of the time during Trump's presidency.[57] Through January 2023, Tester had voted in line with Joe Biden's position 91% of the time.[58]


Tester supports abortion rights. In 2023, The New York Times wrote that his "electoral successes trace back to carefully tailored campaigns that catered to local issues over dominant national ones like abortion", and that for red state Democrats like Tester and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, it was an open question whether they could "maintain their invaluable political personas while—for the first time in their lengthy careers in public office—persuading their constituents to keep abortion rights front and center when voting next year."[59]

Economy and jobs[edit]

In 2011, Tester was one of two Democratic senators to filibuster the American Jobs Act. It was reported that he was not concerned about the surtax on some families to pay for the plan, but was unsure that the new spending would actually create jobs. "I've got more of a concern about a state aid package ... and how the money is going to be spent and whether it's really going to create jobs," he explained.[60]

In January 2018, Tester was the only Democratic senator from a Republican-leaning state to oppose a stopgap funding measure to end a three-day government shutdown and reopen the federal government.[61]

In 2018, Tester became one of the Democrats in the Senate to support the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, a bill that partially repealed Dodd-Frank and relaxed key banking regulations. As one of at least 11 other Democrats, he argued that the bill would "right-size post-crisis rules imposed on small and regional lenders and help make it easier for them to provide credit". Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren vehemently opposed the legislation.[62] Tester became the first Democrat endorsed by Friends of Traditional Banking, a political action committee that had previously endorsed Republicans.[63]


In May 2011 a Newsweek reporter who traveled with Tester in Montana said that the "desire to wrest control of wolves from D.C. ... was the only topic that came up everywhere he went: hotels, coffee shops, art auctions. 'What do you think about wolves?' a sixth grader asked during an assembly in Miles City. 'I think we should start hunting them again!' Tester said. The kids let out their loudest cheer of the afternoon."[64] 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 would give lumber mills control of the national forests.[64][65]


Tester is a gun owner.[66] On gun rights, the NRA Political Victory Fund gave him an A− rating in 2012.[67] This was downgraded to a D in 2018 after he voted against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.[68] Tester supports efforts to loosen restrictions on gun exports, saying it would help U.S. gun manufacturers expand their business and create more jobs.[69]

In 2016, Tester voted against a Democrat-sponsored proposal that would have required background checks for purchases at gun shows and for purchases of guns online nationwide. He argued that the bill would "have blocked family members and neighbors from buying and selling guns to one another without a background check". Tester voted for a second Democrat-sponsored proposal to ban gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list. Both proposals failed.[70]

Health care[edit]

Tester supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, voting for it in December 2009.[71] He voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[72]

In 2017, he said that Democrats should consider a single-payer health care system.[51] In July that year, Tester said that health care needed reform but that the latest GOP attempt at reform was a "train wreck" that would "strip health care away from millions of Americans". He said that Democrats should "work to fix what's wrong with the current health care system in a bipartisan way. And that means going through committee process, not doing it in a dark room with a select few, but going through the committee process and getting good ideas from everybody". Reminded that some Democrats "believe that compromise on this issue is not only unprincipled but unnecessary", Tester said the issue was "too important ... not to try to help remedy the problems".[73]


In December 2010, Tester voted against the DREAM Act, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants. He has said, "Illegal immigration is a critical problem facing our country, but amnesty is not the solution. I do not support legislation that provides a path for citizenship for anyone in this country illegally."[74][75]

In 2017, Tester criticized Trump for saying that he would cancel DACA in six months. "I don't support what the president did", Tester said. "I think it's ill-informed, I think it rips families apart, and it's not what this country stands for." Asked if he would now commit to voting for the DREAM Act, he said, "I support comprehensive immigration reform."[76]

In January 2018, Tester and Senators Heidi Heitkamp, Kamala Harris, and Claire McCaskill co-sponsored the Border and Port Security Act,[77] legislation to mandate that U.S. Customs and Border Protection "hire, train and assign at least 500 officers per year until the number of needed positions the model identifies is filled" and require the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection to determine potential equipment and infrastructure improvements for ports of entry.[78]

Impeachment of Donald Trump[edit]

Tester voted to convict Trump during both of his impeachment trials.[79]

LGBT rights[edit]

On December 18, 2010, Tester voted for the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.[80] While he opposed same-sex marriage during both his 2006 and 2012 campaigns, Tester announced his support for it in March 2013, citing concerns about federal government overreach.[81] After the U.S. Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that all U.S. states must recognize gay marriage, Tester praised the ruling as protecting "the rights and freedoms of every married couple".[82] In 2022, he voted for the Respect for Marriage Act.[83]


During Tester's first Senate campaign, in a September 24, 2006, debate in Butte, Conrad Burns criticized Tester for wanting to weaken the PATRIOT Act. Tester replied: "I don't want to weaken the PATRIOT Act, I want to repeal it!"[84] Tester opposed the confirmations of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General,[85] Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency[86] and Neil Gorsuch as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States for supporting the PATRIOT Act's bulk data collection provisions.[85][87] On September 28, 2018, Tester announced that he would vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Among other reasons, Tester cited "concerns that Judge Kavanaugh defended the PATRIOT Act instead of Montanans' privacy", as Kavanaugh had helped the Bush administration craft a program of mass domestic surveillance and had ruled in favor of increased government surveillance under the PATRIOT Act in Klayman v. Obama.[88]

On May 20, 2015, Tester was one of seven Senate Democrats to join Republican Senator Rand Paul in his 10-hour filibuster against reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act.[89]

Supreme Court[edit]

Tester opposed the Supreme Court decision Citizens United, which allows corporations and unions to donate unlimited amounts of money to third-party political groups. He proposed a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision, arguing that it had a bad impact on American democracy.[90]

Tester voted to confirm Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.[citation needed] He opposed Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch.[91] Tester also voted against Trump's nominees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.[92][93] Tester voted to confirm Joe Biden's nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.[94]

Torture and interrogation[edit]

In May 2018, Tester said that he would not support Gina Haspel's nomination to become CIA Director.[95] The first Democrat from a red state to express opposition to her, he cited her role in Bush administration interrogation and detention programs, and said he was "not a fan of waterboarding".[95]

Veterans affairs[edit]

As ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Tester raised concerns about the nomination of Ronny Jackson to head the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. There were allegations against Jackson that he dispensed medications in a medically unethical fashion, was drunk on an overseas trip and drunkenly banged on the hotel door of a female colleague.[96] Jackson denied the allegations but withdrew his nomination.[97] In response, Trump called for Tester's resignation and said that the allegations against Jackson were false.[96] According to CNN, four sources familiar with the allegation that Jackson drunkenly banged on the door of a female colleague confirmed it. The Secret Service said it could not verify any of the allegations.[96] Johnny Isakson, the Republican chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, defended Tester, saying he had no problem with Tester's handling of Jackson's nomination.[98]

Personal life[edit]

During Tester's senior year in college, he married Sharla Bitz.[99] They have three children.[100] Tester is affiliated with the Church of God.[101]

Before his election to the Senate, Tester had never lived more than two hours away from his north-central Montana farm.[55] In addition to his Montana farm, Tester owns a home in Washington, D.C.[102]

A January 2012 profile of 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".[103]

Tester is a Freemason.[104]

Electoral history[edit]

2006 U.S. Senate Montana Democratic primary results[105]
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
Total votes 108,198 100.00
United States Senate election in Montana, 2006[28]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Jon Tester 199,845 49.16 +1.92
Republican Conrad Burns (incumbent) 196,283 48.29 −2.27
Libertarian Stan Jones 10,377 2.55 +2.55
Total votes 406,505 100.00
Democratic gain from Republican
2012 U.S. Senate Montana Democratic primary results[106]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Jon Tester (incumbent) 88,720 100.00
Total votes 88,720 100.00
United States Senate election in Montana, 2012[33]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Jon Tester (incumbent) 236,123 48.58 −0.58
Republican Denny Rehberg 218,051 44.86 −3.43
Libertarian Dan Cox 31,892 6.56 +4.01
Total votes 486,066 100.00
Democratic hold
2018 U.S. Senate Montana Democratic primary results[107]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Jon Tester (incumbent) 114,948 100.00
Total votes 114,948 100.00
United States Senate election in Montana, 2018[35]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Jon Tester (incumbent) 253,876 50.33 +1.75
Republican Matt Rosendale 235,963 46.78 +1.92
Libertarian Rick Breckenridge 14,545 2.88 −3.68
Total votes 504,384 100.00
Democratic hold


  • Grounded: A Senator's Lessons on Winning Back Rural America (2020)[citation needed]


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External links[edit]

Montana Senate
Preceded by
Loren Jenkins
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 45th district

Succeeded by
Preceded by
Emily Swanson
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 15th district

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

2006, 2012, 2018, 2024
Most recent
Preceded by Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Montana
Served alongside: Max Baucus, John Walsh, Steve Daines
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by Ranking Member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Jerry Moran
Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by Order of precedence of the United States
as United States Senator
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States senators by seniority