Testing Times for Tester Already

Senator Jon Tester’s been in office about a day, and already people are fretting about whether his staff choices — mostly DC insiders — are going to get with the program or are going to waffle.

Left in the West :: It’s Official Today, Jon — Now How Will You Use This Opportunity? I’m writing this letter, though, because — to be honest — a lot of us feel pushed aside, like we’re not to be trusted. It’s a strange feeling when you get the impression that you can’t be trusted by the campaign you gave a year-and-a-half of your life to. But that’s the feeling I’ve been getting — and I know, once again, that I’m not alone.

Why do I feel this way? Why do others who were among your earliest backers feel this way? Honestly, some of it is personnel decisions. It’s nothing against any of them in particular, it’s just that the team as a whole doesn’t really share the values of the Jon I know. Early on in the campaign, we talked about fighting for the middle class and standing up on trade deals. Now your top policy person comes from a Senator who supported CAFTA, the bankruptcy bill, and full repeal of the estate tax. Last I checked, you didn’t want to represent multi-national corporations, Wall Street, or the super-rich. Bridget may be wonderful. I have no idea. But I worry about anyone who spent six years with Bill Nelson.

I worry about what your team will be saying on policy. In the primary, you announced that you wanted a universal Children’s Health Insurance Program. Will you be signing on to one soon? What’s your big goal on energy — you’ll be on the committee and it’s an issue that you care about deeply. If a bankruptcy bill comes up and we can repeal that attack on working families, will you oppose it the way we did in the campaign?

You need a staff that has people at the top who share your values and whose first concern is for you and whether they are running the office the way you would want to. That means that they share your priorities — even if your priority isn’t getting re-elected. Otherwise, on these big decisions, the fight will be non-stop between you and your staff. And while there should be disagreements on the staff and between you and the staff, I want to avoid everything being a battle for you.

You also need a staff that realizes that this race was won as much by the first 3,000 votes you got as it was by the last 3,000 votes you got. The people I know who came together early on to say you could do this are some of the smartest, hardest working people I know in this game. And, unless I’m wrong, it seemed like you enjoyed our company quite a bit, too.

You know me, Jon. I’ve got a lot of faith in you as a person and as a policymaker. You’re now in a place I don’t fully understand and that I think it’ll take some adjusting to on your end. Beyond that, I hope you know that I am loyal to you — probably to a fault. I wouldn’t be writing this if I wasn’t worried. And I wouldn’t be writing this if I wasn’t hearing from a lot of other people who worked hard for you — making phone calls, pounding pavement — that they are also worried.

It may sound premature, although it is far from harsh. (“The revolution eats its children”?) But from what I hear this letter — and the fairly widespread feelings it reflects — was sparked not only by the failure to hire any of the insurgent locals as DC staff, but also by some strange comments by Tester’s new staff people denigrating his core supporters.

Incidentally, the author of the above, Matt Singer, didn’t apply for a job with Tester in DC, so this isn’t sour grapes.

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