Jon Tester
Jon Tester
Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

January 3, 2017
Richard Blumenthal
Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

January 3, 2015 - January 3, 2017
Leader Harry Reid
Michael Bennet
Chris Van Hollen
Chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

February 12, 2014 - January 3, 2015
Maria Cantwell
John Barrasso
United States Senator
from Montana

January 3, 2007
Serving with Steve Daines
Conrad Burns
President of the Montana Senate

January 3, 2005 - January 3, 2007
Deputy Dan Harrington
Bob Keenan
Mike Cooney
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 15th district

January 3, 2005 - January 3, 2007
Jim Peterson
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 45th district

January 4, 1999 - January 3, 2005
Jim Shockley
Personal details
Born (1956-08-21) August 21, 1956 (age 61)
Havre, Montana, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sharla Bitz
Education University of Great Falls (BA)
Website Senate website

Jonathan Tester (born August 21, 1956) is an American politician serving as the senior United States Senator from Montana, in office since 2007. He is a member of the Democratic Party.

Tester was first elected to the Senate in 2006, defeating Republican incumbent Conrad Burns in one of the closest Senate races of that year. He won reelection in 2012 against U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg in another close race. Tester was previously the president of the Montana Senate and worked as a music teacher and farmer. He became the senior Senator in 2014 following Max Baucus' departure.[1] He is currently the dean of the Montana congressional delegation.

Early life, education, and farming career

Tester was born in Havre, Montana,[2] 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.[3] Tester grew up in Chouteau County, near the town of Big Sandy, Montana, on land that his grandfather homesteaded in 1912.[4] At the age of 9, he lost the middle three fingers of his left hand in a meat-grinder accident.[5] In 1978, he graduated from the University of Great Falls with a B.S. in music.[6]

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.[7] He and his wife continue to operate the farm; in the 1980s, they switched from conventional to organic farming,[8] raising wheat, barley, lentils, peas, millet, buckwheat, and alfalfa.[6] 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.[9]

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.[9] Before running for State Senate, Tester was on the Big Sandy school board for a decade.[10] He was elected the minority whip for the 2001 session. In 2002, he was re-elected with 71% of the vote,[11] 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.[9]


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.[12] 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.[13]

Committee assignments

  • Senate Finance Committee (2001-2004)[14]
  • Senate Agriculture Committee (2000-2005)[15][16][17]
  • Senate Rules Committee (2003-2005)[18]
  • Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee (2005)[17]
  • Panthera Leo City Council of Petroleum County (2012)[17]
  • Council Interim Committee (2003-2004)[19]

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,[20] 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,[21] but "Morrison's advantages in fundraising and name identification [did] not translate[] into a lead in the polls,"[22] most of which showed the race exceedingly tight, some calling it a "deadlock" as of late May.[23]

In the June 2006, Tester won the Democratic nomination by more than 25 percentage points in a six-way primary, defeating State Auditor John Morrison.[24] Morrison had heavily outspent Tester, who was originally an underdog in the race, but Tester "gained momentum in closing weeks of the campaign through an extensive grass-roots effort."[24]

In the November 2006 election, Tester defeated Burns, receiving 198,302 votes (49%) to Burns's 195,455 (48%).[25] The race was so close that Tester's victory was confirmed only the day after the election.[26]


Tester successfully ran for re-election to a second term against Republican U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg.[27]

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.[28]

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.[29]


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."[30]

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".[31] On January 13, 2009, Tester's second session of Congress, he was given a seat on the Appropriations Committee.[32] Tester in 2013 became chairman of the Banking Committee's Securities, Insurance, and Investment Subcommittee.[33]

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.[34] Tester voted to confirm Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He opposed the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.[35]

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships

Political positions

Interest group ratings

Tester's votes in the Senate generally have given him high ratings from liberal groups, and low ones from conservative groups. In 2012, he was rated 90% by Americans for Democratic Action and 86% by the League of Conservation Voters. Conversely, he had scores of 11% from the National Taxpayers Union and 4% from the American Conservative Union. The National Journal rates his votes overall as 55% liberal and 45% conservative.[36]

CrowdPac, which rates politicians based on donations they receive and give, gave Senator Tester a score of 5.3L with 10L being the most liberal and 10C being the most conservative.[37]

LGBT rights

Originally an opponent of same-sex marriage, Tester announced his support of the institution in March 2013.[38]

On December 18, 2010, Tester voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.[39][40]

Abortion and embryonic stem cell research

He supports abortion rights[41] and embryonic stem cell research.[42]

Economic issues

On Meet the Press in 2006, he asserted that "there's no more middle class" because of Bush administration policies.[43]

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.[44]

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.[45][46]

Health care

Tester supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, voting for it in December 2009.[47] Tester voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[48]

In 2017, he said that Democrats should consider a single-payer health care system.[49]

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.[50][51] Tester later amended his legislation, reducing the delay from 24 months to 15 months.[52]

Citizens United Supreme Court ruling

Tester opposed the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations. He proposed a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.[53]

Lobbying and campaign contributions

Tester criticized Republicans in Congress for making policy that is designed "for those who write the biggest campaign checks".[54] He has stated that Washington culture is controlled by K Street cronies.[55]

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.[56]

In June 2010, Tester spoke for a few minutes in the conference room at the Thornton Law Firm in Boston to a handful of trial attorneys. The lawyers "listened politely for a few minutes, then returned to their offices. And Tester walked away with $26,400 in checks."[57] Some of the partners received a payment from the firm labeled a bonus that was equal to exactly the contribution they gave to Tester's campaign.[57]


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.[58][59]


Tester is a gun owner.[60] On gun rights, the National Rifle Association has given Tester an A- rating,[61] but another group,[62]Gun Owners of America, has given Tester a rating of F.[63]

Tester supports efforts to loosen restrictions on gun exports, stating it would help gun manufacturers, based in the US, expand their business and create more jobs.[64]

In 2016, Tester voted against a Democrat-sponsored proposal that would have made background checks required for purchases at gun shows and of guns online nationwide. Tester voted against it claiming that it 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 individuals on the terrorist watch list. Both proposals did not pass.[65]

Personal life

During Tester's senior year in college, he married Sharla Bitz.[66] Like Jon, Sharla Tester comes from an agricultural family and grew up in north-central Montana.[67] The couple has two children: a daughter, Christine, born in 1980; and a son, Shon, born in 1985.[66]

Before his election to the Senate, Tester had never lived more than two hours away from his north-central Montana farm.[30] In addition to his Montana farm, Tester owns a home in Washington D.C.[68]

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."[69]


  1. ^ Glasser, Susan B. (2013-04-23). "Max Baucus to retire". Politico. Retrieved . 
  2. ^ "TESTER, Jon", Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  3. ^ "1". Retrieved 2014. 
  4. ^ Cohen, Betsy. "Back on the farm", Helena Independent Record, April 9, 2007.
  5. ^ Klein, Joe. "The Democrats' New Populism", Time, July 2, 2006.
  6. ^ a b "Biography". U.S. Senate website. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  7. ^ "Jon Tester (D-Mont.)" Archived September 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  8. ^ Lowery, Courtney. "The 'Good Guy' Running for U.S. Senate", NewWest, August 28, 2005.
  9. ^ a b c "Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)". The Almanac of American Politics, National Journal. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  10. ^ "Almanac: Sen. Jon Tester (D)". National Journal. Retrieved 2014. 
  11. ^ "". Retrieved 2014. 
  12. ^ McCulloch, Linda. "Term Limits - Elections". Retrieved 2012. 
  13. ^ Johnson, Charles S. "Tester begins Demo race for U.S. Senate", Billings Gazette, May 24, 2005.
  14. ^ Mike Allen, 406-441-4101, "Montana Legislature -Legislative Finance Committee". Retrieved 2014. 
  15. ^ "Montana Legislature: Sessions". July 16, 2008. Retrieved 2014. 
  16. ^ "Montana Legislature: Sessions". Retrieved 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Montana Legislature: Interim Committees Membership". May 21, 2013. Retrieved 2014. 
  20. ^ Johnson, Charles S. "Tester, Morrison list endorsements", Billings Gazette, May 16, 2006.
  21. ^ Johnson, Charles S. "Burns' fundraising nears $5 million; Morrison's hits $1 million"[permanent dead link],, August 28, 2005.
  22. ^ Horrigan, Marie. "MT Senate: Race to Take On Embattled Burns Nears Finish" Archived August 27, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.,, May 31, 2006.
  23. ^ Johnson, Charles S. "Tester, Morrison deadlocked", Helena Independent Record, May 28, 2006.
  24. ^ a b Charles S. Johnson, Tester routs Morrison, will challenge Burns: Embattled incumbent beats Keenan by 3-to-1 margin, Billings Gazette (June 6, 2006).
  25. ^ U.S. SENATE / MONTANA results,, November 2006.
  26. ^ Matt Gouras, [Tester wins re-election, defeats Rehberg], Associated Press (November 6, 2012).
  27. ^ "Montana". The New York Times. 
  28. ^ Davis, Susan (April 5, 2012). "Montana race could tip balance of power in U.S. Senate". USA Today. Retrieved 2012. 
  29. ^ Barabak, Mark Z. (February 27, 2011). "Winning the West, Montana style". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012. 
  30. ^ a b Egan, Timothy (November 13, 2006). "Fresh Off the Farm in Montana, a Senator-to-Be". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012. 
  31. ^ Johnson, Charles S. "Dems vow to get Tester on Senate appropriations", Helena Independent Record, October 19, 2006.
  32. ^ "Tester earns seat on Senate Appropriations Committee". Jon Tester. January 13, 2009. Retrieved 2013. 
  33. ^ Barone, The Almanac of American Politics 2014 (Kindle Locations 48474-48476)
  34. ^ Ben White, "Democratic opposition dooms Larry Summers's Fed chances," POLITICO Sept. 15, 2013
  35. ^ Lutey, Tom (April 2, 2017). "Tester will oppose Neil Gorsuch". The Missoulian. Retrieved 2018. 
  36. ^ Michael Barone, et al. The Almanac of American Politics 2014 (2013) (Kindle Location 48402)
  37. ^ "Jon Tester | US Senate, primary (2018) in Montana (MT) | Crowdpac". Retrieved . 
  38. ^ Stein, Sam (March 28, 2013). "Jon Tester Explains Gay Marriage Evolution". Retrieved 2013. 
  39. ^ "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home - Votes - Roll Call Vote". December 18, 2010. Retrieved 2011. 
  40. ^ "Senate Vote 281 - Repeals 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 28, 2013. Retrieved 2012. 
  41. ^ Kuglin, Tom (March 6, 2017). "Anti-abortion activists push Tester to support Trump's Supreme Court nominee". The Missoulian. Retrieved 2018. 
  42. ^ Reed, Don (November 12, 2012). "A Brighter Day: Stem Cell Elections in 2012". HuffPost. Retrieved 2018. 
  43. ^ "MTP Transcript for Nov 19",, November 19, 2006.
  44. ^ Raju, Manu; Wong, Scott (October 17, 2011). "Jon Tester, Ben Nelson unsure on teachers bill". Politico. Retrieved 2012. 
  45. ^ Pathe, Simone (January 22, 2018). "Montana's Jon Tester Breaks With 2018 Red-State Democrats". Roll Call. Retrieved 2018. 
  46. ^ Everett, Burgess; Robillard, Kevin (January 25, 2018). "Tester puts reelection on the line with risky shutdown vote". Politico. Retrieved 2018. 
  47. ^ "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home - Votes - Roll Call Vote". December 24, 2009. Retrieved 2011. 
  48. ^ "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home - Votes - Roll Call Vote". March 25, 2010. Retrieved 2011. 
  49. ^ Roubein, Rachel (September 6, 2017). "Centrist Dem: Maybe we should look at single-payer health care". The Hill. Retrieved 2018. 
  50. ^ Bolton, Alexander (April 20, 2011). "Swipe-fee opponents shower Sen. Tester with campaign contributions". The Hill. Retrieved 2012. 
  51. ^ Foley, Elise (June 8, 2011). "Jon Tester Faces Opposition From Montana Voters On Swipe Fees". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012. 
  52. ^ Carter, Zach (May 19, 2011). "Jon Tester Backpedals In Multibillion-Dollar Swipe Fee Fight". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012. 
  53. ^ James, Frank (January 30, 2012). "Sen. Jon Tester Decries Citizens United's Impact In Montana, Nationally". Retrieved 2012. 
  54. ^ Miller, Scot (August 3, 2006). "Title Not Given". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved 2010. 
  55. ^ "2006 Montana 3-way Senate Debate at MSU". October 9, 2006. Retrieved 2013. 
  56. ^ Palmer, Anna; Bravender, Robin (March 2, 2012). "Max Baucus, Jon Tester investigation called for by Montana GOP". Politico. Retrieved 2012. 
  57. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  58. ^ Romano, Andrew (May 1, 2011). "The Democrats' Last, Best Hope". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2012. 
  59. ^ Chaney, Rob (May 26, 2011). "Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act draws mixed reviews". The Missoulian. Retrieved 2012. 
  60. ^ Greene, David. "The View From Montana, Where Guns Are An Important Election Issue". Retrieved 2017. 
  61. ^ Bloch, Matthew; Fairfield, Hannah; Harris, Jacob; Keller, Josh (December 19, 2012). "How the N.R.A. Rates Lawmakers". The New York Times. 
  62. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (April 3, 2013). "Gun Owners of America, a Lobbying Group, Grows in Influence". The New York Times. 
  63. ^ [2][dead link]
  64. ^ Miller, Nicole. "Sen. Tester pushing for help for Montana's gun manufacturers". KPAX. Retrieved 2017. 
  65. ^ Lutey, Tom. "Tester splits with Democrats on gun show background checks". Retrieved 2017. 
  66. ^ a b McKee, Jennifer. "Mr. Tester Goes to Washington". Archived January 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Montana Magazine. January 15, 2007. Article quoted at Jon Tester's official Senate website. Retrieved 2009-12-26.
  67. ^ "Jon Tester: The Right Man to Represent Montana". Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  68. ^ Terris, Ben (May 2, 2017). "Jon Tester could teach Democrats a lot about rural America -- if he can keep his Senate seat". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018. 
  69. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (January 10, 2012). "Loyal to His 4-Legged Constituents". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012. 

External links

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
U.S. 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
Preceded by
John Barrasso
Ranking Member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Tom Udall
Preceded by
Richard Blumenthal
Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Current U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
John Barrasso

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