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MontanaPBS Debate Night | U.S. Senate

MontanaPBS hosted the United States Senate candidate debates this fall. On Saturday, September 29 in Missoula, Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Montana Auditor Matt Rosendale discussed issues as they face off for a seat in the U.S. Senate. MontanaPBS journalists John Twiggs and Anna Rau asked questions of the candidates and facilitated the discussion. A unique format featuring an open discussion period will facilitate the exchange of ideas and policies. This debate cuts through the rhetoric, the advertising and the noise with the two candidates sitting at the same table discussing the country’s most important issues.

Montana PBS Election Coverage

Race For The U.S. Senate

Rating: NR

Democrat incumbent U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale.

2018 Fact Check | U.S. Senate Debate
Fact Checks provided by Community News Service, University of Montana School of Journalism. Full text below the PDF links.
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

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

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. Among these groups is End Citizens United (ECU), the treasurer for which is Deanna Nesburg, she currently also serves 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

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, voted to delay the proposal indefinitely. Gov. Bullock and Attorney General Time Fox voted to proceed. After the board delayed action, the governor moved forward with the easement separately.

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

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. The Purple Heart Scholarship would have cost the government $50,000. The Rosendale campaign on Sunday said the reason for the “no” vote on the measure was because Mr. Rosendale wanted the scholarship program run through the Board of Regents.

Both candidates said staffing problems at the Veterans Administration remain a major concern.

By Emily Schabacker and Dennis Swibold | Community News Service