janetesterhowie.jpgOn Saturday night Howie Klein and I went to a dinner at the home of Rick Jacobs (Courage Campaign) for Jon Tester, who was raising money for his PAC to support Democratic Senatorial candidates in 2008.

Blue America raised over $17,000 from 901 contributors for Tester during the last election, so we took the opportunity to bend his ear and ask him about many of the issues that we felt were of concern to members of our community who donated to his campaign.

We asked him how he felt about retroactive telecom immunity, and he said he was inclined to vote against it. I asked him if he would commit to filibuster — he wouldn’t, but he did say that if he decided to oppose it he wouldn’t play games and would vote both against the bill and against cloture. With the room full of Californians, many wanted to know what in God’s name was up with Diane Feinstein. Tester said she seemed to be motivated by information she had received as a member of the Intelligence Committee which he wasn’t privy to, but whatever it was made her believe that the right to snoop on people was imperative to national security. He didn’t comment on her crap decisions to install racist judges and sanction state torture, both of which he opposed. (It should be noted that he seems to be having a good influence on Max Baucus.)

We also asked him how he as an organic farmer felt about the farm bill, and he thought that there were a lot of good things in it, like support for farmers’ markets. He admitted that it needed to go further, and that there was a problem with all of the increasingly privatized universities where the research is now being funded by corporations — Monsanto just isn’t going to give grants to do research into organic agriculture. I had read Kirk Murphy’s and Ian’s posts just before leaving for the dinner, and asked him if he felt that the negative externalities of industrial agribusiness were being adequately addressed by the bill — if in fact they weren’t being exacerbated by all the subsidies. He agreed that this was a problem but said the Senate was a body that moved slowly and hoped they would eventually do more.

Tester was a music major in college, and spoke about his meeting with Margaret Spellings regarding NCLB. He tried to tell her he didn’t think that the program was working and thought that its heavy emphasis on testing math and science was shortchanging kids when it came to, among other things, music and art. She asked if he wanted her to start testing for those, too.

He got up to speak and take questions for a while. He opened by saying he was very thankful to blogs in general and FDL specifically for supporting him last year.

Someone asked about the looming threat of war with Iran, to which Tester responded, “I’d be more surprised if Bush didn’t bomb Iran before the next election than if he did.”

So much for those who think the tough talk about Iran is all bluster. It’s sort of like watching a psychotic child juggle knives in a room full of kindergartners and counting on both his skill and good intentions to keep something truly awful from happening.

While people were still grabbing for their wine glasses over that one, a journalist asked if there was any difference between Republicans and Democrats since the Democrats had failed so miserably to end the war. Tester gave the standard answer that the political reality was that the public equated cutting off funding for the war with lack of support for the troops, and so that option really wasn’t open to them when it came to forcing troop withdrawal. He said that the Democrats really did want to end the war but needed 60 votes to get anything passed, and blamed Joe Lieberman and a thin majority for their failure to do so. Which was why he thought it was so important for him to support the DSCC’s efforts to get more Democrats elected to the Senate.

I like Tester but I felt like Ed Grimley my hand shot up so fast. I didn’t want to embarrass him but I just could not let that one pass. I said that no doubt it was true that the public equated defunding the war with lack of support for the troops, but there was another way to force troop withdrawal — the Webb Amendment, which was unequivocally a bill that supported the troops in its mandate that they be given adequate rest time in between tours of duty. I said that the blogs and anti-war activists were ready for that fight, we wanted it, we wanted to help hammer so-called “moderate” Republicans and make them stand on the Senate floor and explain how exactly they supported the troops yet wouldn’t vote for this bill.

If Harry Reid truly wanted the Webb Amendment to pass, he would never have allowed the hastily cobbled-together McCain bill onto the floor that gave the Republicans cover for voting against Webb with some toothless, non-binding “Sense of the Senate” nonsense. Someone asked what the McCain bill was, and somebody else said that it gave the troops more rest, but Tester just looked at his feet sort of ruefully and said no, that was Webb (which he voted for, by the way). I said if any bill needs 60 votes to get onto the floor, how did McCain ever come to a vote if the Democratic leadership didn’t want to undermine Webb? And how could this be interpreted as anything other than a sign that the Democrats had no intention of forcing troop withdrawal? He said he would have to go back and re-read McCain.

Howie said afterwards that he looked forlorn.

Howie also said that he hoped Tester’s PAC would support other progessive candidates like him, and not people like his opponent in the Democratic primary — who was supported by the DSCC. He had a good sense of humor about it and laughed heartily.

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