In the first of two televised debates Saturday night, Democratic Senator Jon Tester and his Republican challenger, State Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale clashed over campaign contributions, health care and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme court nomination.
The event was broadcast live by Montana PBS from a closed set in Missoula.
Tester won the coin toss to go first and came out swinging.
"I want to thank Commissioner Rosendale for showing up at this one, appreciate that," Tester said, in a dig at Rosendale declining a debate immediately after the June primaries, Rosendale said it conflicted with his Father’s Day plans.
The first question of the night from Moderator John Twiggs was: What informed the candidates’ decision whether to support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court?
Rosendale backed the nomination shortly after President Trump made it, Tester waited until Friday to announce he opposes Kavanaugh’s nomination.
I found out that he was one of the architects behind a mass suveillance program from the federal level. I found out that he backed the PATRIOT Act, both of those I believe are in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment, Tester said. "He supported dark money coming into campaigns, and he also felt like it wasn't a person's right to choose their healthcare, but it was the government's right."
Tester said he opposes Kavanaugh for those reasons, and, quote, “for all the reasons that were brought up last week.”
Rosendale fired back, on a theme he would repeat throughout the one hour debate: Democrats in Washington, DC are corrupt.
"I'm absolutely disgusted with the way this entire process was handled," Rosendale said.
"Here we have a woman, Dr. Ford, who, clearly, experienced some tragedy in her life many years ago, and then we've got a judge, a commendable man, an honorable man who has served extremely well over the past several years, and he was smeared as well," Rosendale said. "And what disturbs as much is that this all could have been avoided."
Avoided, Rosendale said, had California Senator Diane Feinstein brought Dr. Ford’s allegations to light earlier.
Rosendale also charged that Tester chose not to meet with Kavanaugh and then blamed the White House for the meeting not happening. Tester said he gave the White House multiple potential meeting dates, but did not hear back from the Oval Office. Last night he said he doesn’t blame the White House for the meeting not happening.
Tester then punched back at Rosendale’s character and background.
"For Maryland Matt Rosendale to say what he said is absolutely ridiculous," Tester said, turning to Rosendale, "you're really good at speaking the East Coast talking points."
Tester reminded the audience multiple times that Rosendale is from Maryland, that he made his fortune developing real estate, and that he’s called himself a rancher but has never owned any cattle.
Rosendale, who bought a 9,000 acre property near Glendive in 2002, and served three terms in the Montana legislature before winning statewide office in 2016, said Tester has lost touch with Montana after two terms in the Senate.
"Jon Tester bought a million dollar home in Washington, DC and he left Montana in the rearview mirror," Rosendale said.
And Rosendale hammered on his argument that Tester talks a lot about the corrupting influence of money in politics, but, "he is the largest recipient of contributions from lobbiests in the nation."
Tester made his own charges about campaign contributions corrupting Rosendale.
"Just take a look at the ads that are on TV, how many are paid by the dark money groups, you can see that the vast majority of his are by the - we don't know who they are. We don't know who they are," Tester said. "And he's actually lobbied some of them to try to get them to run ads in the state of Montana, which, by the way, is illegal," he charged.
Tester was referring to a brief recording made public by the Daily Beast on September 13th in which Rosendale talks about the NRA supporting his candidacy. Tester says it’s evidence of illegal coordination with an outside group that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, Rosendale says the audio only reflects an endorsement from the NRA he’s proud to have. A pair of outside groups filed complaints based on the audio with the Federal Election Commission.
Rosendale said Tester’s campaign is benefitting from outside spending groups as well.
Fact checking on the candidates’ dark money claims and other issues by the University of Montana Journalism School is available below.
The candidates also clashed on healthcare. Matt Rosendale said he has plans to fix it.
"And this is going to be managed at the state level a lot better than it will by having a top-down, one size fits all federal government plan that Jon tried to impose upon us," Rosendale said.
Rosendale is backing health insurance options that offer lower premiums, but were seen as too skimpy under the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama and not allowed. And he said he’s, quote, “worked to try and cover pre-existing conditions,” unquote, but has not yet offered specifics on how people with pre-existing conditions can continue getting affordable coverage.
"Commissioner Rosendale has supported policies to kick people with pre-existing conditions off their healthcare policy, there's no if, ands or butts about that," Tester said. "He rubber-stamped a 23 percent increase largest insurance carrier in this state."
Rosendale did sign off on that increase in prices, but Montana’s insurance commissioner doesn’t have the legal authority to deny premium increases, only to determine if they’re justified. Rosendale’s Democratic predecessor also signed off on large premium increases after the Affordable Care Act passed.
A couple of issues Tester and Rosendale agreed on were permanently re-authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which enhances public lands, and that the Veterans Administration is understaffed. Tester said he’s made good progress on veterans issues as ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, but Rosendale was dismissive of his work.
The two candidates are scheduled to debate again this Saturday.
Fact checking from the University of Montana School of Journalism's Community News Service.
Both Senate Candidates Hit Issue of Campaign Finance
State Auditor Matt Rosendale said that Senator Jon Tester has received the most money from lobbyists – which is true. Tester has received $394,478 from the lobbyist groups, as well as $497,213 from registered lobbyists and their families. This is still far less than the $3.24 million he has received from Montanans. Also, Tester pointed out that this money is disclosed and people know its source as opposed to the millions in dark money ads he claimed are supporting Rosendale.
But Rosendale was quick to point out that Tester is also backed by dark money groups that he said have spent at least $10 million in ads against him. Rosendale said that among these groups is End Citizens United (ECU). The group, though, is registered as a Political Action Committee with the Federal Elections Commission and discloses its donors. The treasurer for ECU, though, is Deanna Nesburg, who has also served as the comptroller of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to her LinkedIn account. The group launched a series of digital and radio ads in Montana opposing Matt Rosendale. The ads are part of ECU’s $2 million ad buy in Montana, according to the group’s website.
Rosendale has also benefited from dark money, according to campaign watchdogs. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Rosendale has received a total of $2,454,405 in support, and benefit from another $6,586,373 spent attacking Tester. Tester has received $1,130,432 worth of support from outside groups and has been helped by $5,439,324 in attacks on Rosendale.
By Marti Lietchy
Community News Service
Rosendale Hits Tester Over Health Care Costs
During Saturday’s debate, Commissioner Rosendale accused Sen. Tester of being the deciding vote for the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. Rosendale went on to say that Tester had promised the premiums would go down by $2,500 and that patients would be able to choose from a wide range of doctors.
In fact, the bill passed the Senate 60-39, but Tester’s vote was critical to stopping a potential filibuster. As to the claims Tester made at the time about the effects of the new law, there are several things that happened in the wake of the law’s passage
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that premiums for families that got insurance through their employer increased 27 percent from 2010 to 2015. This matches the increase for the five years leading up, but is substantially less than the five-year period before that, when premiums increased 69 percent.
In his speech on the Senate floor endorsing the legislation, Tester did not specifically promise lower premiums, but stressed that more of the premiums would go to health care and not administrative costs. He did make a specific promise that the new bill “won't increase our debt one thin dime. In fact, it will lower our deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars, $132 billion over the next 10 years alone.” But in the years since the adoption of the bill, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the ACA would cost $1.76 trillion for the years 2012-2023. Although much of this is covered by taxes, the law will add millions to the debt.
Although the final cost of the program vary due to political efforts to repeal it and the evolving view of how it will affect Medicare costs, there are some clear impacts the law has had in Montana. In 2016, the State Auditor Monica Lindeen reported that the uninsured rate in Montana had dropped from 20 percent in 2010 to 7.4 percent. By 2018 the number had crept back up to 7.8 percent.
By Lee Banville and Annisa Keith
Community News Service
Tester Continues Attack on Rosendale’s Public Lands Stand
Sen. Jon Tester accused his opponent, State Auditor Matt Rosendale, of voting twice against opening up land for “hunting, fishing and recreation” during Saturday’s debate.
The first vote came in April 2018 when the Montana State Land Board voted to make 20,000 acres of private land in the southeastern part of the state permanently open to hunters. The Horse Creek Complex Conservation Easement proposal allowed the Montana Department of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to purchase year-round hunting access to the area. According Montana.gov, conservation easements are a collaboration between FWP and “willing private landowners to conserve important native wildlife habitats and provide public recreational access.” The proposal, eventually approved by Gov. Steve Bullock, nearly doubled access for hunters to Wibaux County.
Both State Auditor Matt Rosendale and Secretary of State Cory Stapleton, who hold two of the five seats on the State Land Board, delayed voting on the proposal. They both cited the need for further evaluation regarding mineral rights to the area following the easement, Rosendale finally voted against it.
The other proposal came before the Land Board in September 2017 and focused on 7,106 acres of the Fitzgerald Ranch in Southwest Montana. Rosendale also opposed this proposal, which was eventually abandoned. The easement would have both secured the land for use by hunters and prevented it from subdivision for the purpose of agriculture. Rosendale said the easement was not worth $213,000 cost.
Rosendale defended his work on the Land Board, saying he helped open up access to 45,000 acres of public land and blaming Tester for the closure of “over 23,000 miles” of road managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Although we could not find a specific federal action that closed 23,000 miles of road, according to a 2015 report from Montana Environmental Quality Council, the government had closed about 10,000 miles of roads through Forest Service land. None of these actions are the result of specific proposals or actions by Sen. Tester and are rather decisions by the Forest Service.
When questioned about his support for public land, Rosendale touted being member of the State Land Board during the “largest purchase that the Montana Land Board has ever made.”
In February 2018, Rosendale voted with the majority of the Montana State Land Board to approve the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s $11.3 million purchase of private land in Eastern Montana. The most expensive purchase in the history of the state’s land banking program, the acquisition opened up 17,000 acres for agricultural and hunting uses. According to the state auditor website, “DNRC projects the agricultural and grazing leases could raise more than $300,000 a year.”
Tester mentioned Rosendale’s past support of giving federal lands over to state authorities during the debate.
During his unsuccessful 2014 campaign for the GOP House nomination, Rosendale promoted transferring the 35 percent of Montana’s land under federal control to that of state authorities. Rosendale, a member of the state senate at the time, said state control of federal land would help spur economic growth and improve infrastructure.
He has since changed his stance. A statement on his campaign website reads: The people of Montana have made it very clear that they oppose a federal lands transfer. “I have listened to them and completely agree – NO FEDERAL TRANSFER OF OUR PUBLIC LANDS!”
By Paul Hamby
Community News Service
Rosendale Renews Claims on Border Security
During Saturday’s first debate, State Auditor Matt Rosendale criticized Sen. Jon Tester for voting to save municipal protections for illegal immigrants, saying Tester has “supported sanctuary cities time and time again.” In these cities, police are prohibited from questioning citizen’s immigration status. Two Senate bills proposed ending sanctuary city designations, and Tester did vote against both of these bills.
Tester said he could not support a bill that cut funding to local law enforcement. A 2015 bill introduced to end sanctuary cities clearly prohibited block grants for law enforcement in those places, and a similar 2018 bill prohibited sanctuary cities from receiving community, economic development, and public works grants. At a June Broadcasters Association event, Tester said he opposes sanctuary cities but could not support the bills proposed to end them. Currently, there are no official sanctuary cities in Montana.
Tester has fought Rosendale’s accusation of being soft on immigration, pointing to his endorsement by a union that represents border patrol agents. The president of the union, Brandon Judd, said at a press conference that Tester is “unafraid to cross party lines and work to get a job done.” The organization generally endorses Republicans, including President Trump.
Tester said he supports border control and pointed to his vote for an unsuccessful 2018 bipartisan bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants while also appropriating $110 million to enhance border security.
Rosendale said he supports building a southern border wall and the president’s immigration agenda, and that Tester has hindered Trump’s efforts to tighten border security. At the June event, Tester voiced concerns about the cost and effectiveness of a border wall and condemned the administration’s policy that separated immigrant children from their families.
By Shaylee Ragar
Community News Service
Tester Hits Rosendale Over Support for Veteran Homes
Both candidates agreed on the need to better support services for veterans, but differed on tactics, with Tester citing Rosendale’s votes as a legislator against funding the Southwest Montana Veterans Home and another in Columbia Falls.
Rosendale voted to privatize Columbia Falls veterans home, and opposed opening a new veterans facility in Butte. Rosendale wanted to make sure the facility in Butte did not rely on federal funding when federal funding was not secure, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Rosendale also voted that session for legislation (House Bill 2, Amendment 33) that would have privatized the Columbia Falls veteran home. Supporters said the care could be provided less expensively by private providers. The funding was eventually restored after opposition from veterans’ groups and others.
He said that it’s taken too long to implement the Veterans Choice Program, which helps veterans access care from community providers when the wait time is too long or travel distances are too far from VA facilities. Rosendale said the Veterans Choice Program “was so bureaucratic and cumbersome that the veterans couldn’t even use it,” according to the Missoulian.
In 2013, Rosendale also voted against a bill that would provide Purple Heart Veterans with scholarships. At the time Rosendale was backing a bill called Montana Property Fairness Act, according to the Montana Post. The Purple Heart Scholarship would have cost the government $50,000
Both candidates said staffing problems at the Veterans Administration remain a major concern.
By Emily Schabacker and Dennis Swibold
Community News Service