Remarks to the Twenty-First Century Democrats

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Remarks to the Twenty-First Century Democrats  (2007) 
by Jon Tester

I haven't been to many of these fancy Washington dinners - we call them suppers at home - but they're a little different out here. There's less meat, more lettuce, and it costs ten times as much. I haven't actually priced a head of lettuce out here and we bring our own meat from the farm, but those heads of lettuce must be pretty expensive out here...

I understand some of you paid over a thousand dollars to come to this dinner tonight. You know, for that kind of money I've got a neighbor at home who can set you up with an entire calf... double it and he'll probably sell you half his farm.

So it's good you're having this dinner out here, instead of in Montana. You'd have a tough time getting anyone to pay ten dollars for four ounces of chicken and the opportunity to hear me give a speech.

But seriously, I want to thank Twenty First Century Democrats for the tremendous work it does to seek out and support visionary leaders hoping to make their way to the state house... to Congress... or to the Senate. Because of folks like you... willing to look beyond the surface... the polls... and the conventional wisdom... folks like me have an opportunity to serve in places like the Montana legislature and the United States Senate. I want you to know that I appreciate the work that you've done for me... and for the country.

When I first ran for the Senate, I didn't fully realize what I was getting into. We reached out to a lot of different groups to talk about our campaign and to look for support... but we really found a partner with Twenty First Century Democrats. You were less interested in my ability to fill out a questionnaire, and more interested in the kind of leader I'd been in Helena... and the kind of leader I'd be in Washington. I know I wasn't everyone's favorite guy in Washington, but your commitment to leadership... focusing on what we can accomplish rather than what divides us as a party... is refreshing... and important.

I remember the interview I had with Twenty First Century Democrats... and I remember Kelly asking me what I would do to ensure that I wouldn't be changed by Washington. I should have said, "Look at me. Are you serious?"

But it's an important question... one we don't ask enough of candidates. I haven't been here all that long, but I can see how some folks get off the plane and after a little bit... end up being a part of the very problem they vowed to change. There are, unfortunately, too many examples in recent history.

The key, I think, is to make sure you know who you are before you get here... to know why you're here in the first place... to understand your service is an honor and temporary . . .and to have no problem going back home when you're finished.

We have the best quality of life anyone could ask for on our farm. If I wanted to improve my quality of life, I'd invest in a new, more comfortable seat for my tractor. I ran for the U.S. Senate to improve the lives of my grandkids. And that of your kids and your grandkids, that's why I'm here.

My home is a farm twelve miles from Big Sandy, Montana. Twenty-nine years ago, my folks passed their farm to me and my wife Sharla. It's the same farm I grew up on, the same farm my dad grew up on... and it's where Sharla and I raised our kids and where we spoil our grandson and granddaughter.

Since we took over the farm... whether it was planting or harvest... broken trucks or new combines... rain... no rain... or too much rain... I've known... everyday... that I've been incredibly blessed. Sharla and I raised our kids on that farm... and now my daughter and son-in-law are helping us out while we're on this little adventure in Washington.

I'm deeply honored to represent the state of Montana in the United States Senate. But there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about my farm... my family... and my neighbors. The day that I leave the Senate will be a day of mixed emotions. But on the other hand, I can tell you that it was more than a little difficult to leave the farm for Capitol Hill.

In fact, there's a lot about this politics business that isn't as rewarding as harvesting barley or lentils. I spent a lot of time pushing Montana wind with the front of my pick-up campaigning for the Senate. I drank some good coffee... and an awful lot of bad coffee. I gave a few speeches... asked some of my closest friends for money... was called some names... and had more than a few negative things said about me in television commercials. Out here, the days are long... there's way too many meetings... and as nice of a place as Washington is... it's not Big Sky Country.

It wasn't easy to get here, and it's not always easy to be here. But the same thing that got me to spend all that time on the road in Montana... to make the fundraising calls and weather the negative ads... is what drives me to work hard while I'm here. It's a love of my country... my state... and a tremendous optimism about the future. Sharla and I raised our kids on our place near Big Sandy.

A few years ago, Sharla and I were blessed with our first grandchild and then another just a few months ago... and I can't tell you the tremendous joy it brings me to see my daughter raising our grandkids.

Kids are the ultimate optimists... they believe that anything's possible. Those of you who have kids know how hard it is to get a four old to go to bed at night... they're convinced that if they fall asleep, they'll miss something incredible. Once we get a little older, however, we have a very different relationship to going to bed.

But I remember being a kid in Montana. I remember neighbors and community... I remember being taught to work hard and honor your word. I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be a farmer... and I didn't doubt that the family farm would be here for me to pass on to my kids. Back then, when I was a kid, it seems like it was easier to be an optimist.

Since then, that optimism has been tested. We had the farm crisis in the eighties... consolidation in agriculture that has forced the little guy off his land... and more recently, drought that has turned productive land into dry patches of dust. Rural economies have shrunk and small towns have died. Opportunity is hard to come by.

But it's not just rural America. Factories are closing and jobs are being sent overseas. The cost of college is skyrocketing, matched only by the cost of providing health care for our families. We continue to be addicted to foreign oil... and we're sending thousands of kids to fight in a war with no exit strategy and no end in sight. Scientists tell us that we're on the brink of environmental catastrophe.

Sometimes it is hard to go to bed at night. But unlike the four year old, it's not because we might miss something incredible... it's because we worry about the kind of world we're going to pass onto to those kids.

Like every parent and grandparent, I want my kids and grandkids to have opportunity... the opportunity to achieve their dreams and create their own future. The reason I ran for office is pretty simple: I want my kids and grandkids... and the kids and grandkids across the country... to have the opportunity to dream big dreams and achieve them. I want their future to be one of health... happiness... security... and fulfillment. I want them to be part of a country that stands for their greatness... is a leader in innovation... and shows the world the true power of democracy.

And when I think about what's at stake for our kids and grandkids, the call time... the miles on the road... the flight delays... and the meetings... are all worth it. So long as I can make a difference, I'll put my boots on everyday and happily go to work in the United States Senate. And when I feel like I'm no longer making a difference... I'll be happy to go back home and spend some more time with my kids and grandkids.

I am very humbled by the opportunity to serve in the Senate, and I thank Twenty First Century Democrats for the work they did to help me get here. Twenty-First Century Democrats talks about looking for authentic candidates. They talk about candidates who know who they are... and are true to who they are.

When Kelly told me that Twenty First Democrats was honoring me for being one of these authentic candidates, it got me thinking about what it means to be authentic.

Maybe it's because of where I'm from...

Maybe I've never had much trouble being what folks out here call authentic. . .

Maybe it's because I like who I am

Maybe it's because I believe every body is equal

Maybe it's because I appreciate people who work hard

In a small town, you might not have a lot... but you have who you are. You have your word. When we shake hands on a deal... we're both expected to live up to it. And if you don't... word gets around.

If I showed up at the Mint Bar and Grill in Big Sandy in a $1,000 suit or a pair of $200 loafers... I'd be lucky to get out of there with my jacket on my back and with any shoes on my feet. If I showed up with a fancy haircut... we'll I don't know what would happen, but it probably wouldn't be good.

There are a lot of politicians who seem to have a problem with being who they are. Maybe they're a little too careful about what they say... or a little too scripted by the consultants and staff . . . or they are more concerns about polls than voters.

Maybe they are being pushed to be something they are not. But it's not really all that hard to be who you are. In fact, it seems like a lot more effort to try to be something you're not. When you think about it, being who you are isn't really that much work at all.

But power can be seductive. And its power, I think, that causes politicians to stop being true to who they are. The press and the pundits tend to talk about powerful politicians... those with the best committee assignments... the most seniority... or the highest leadership position. And when you start thinking about power as something granted to you by your party's leadership... or by the rules of the Senate... I can see how someone can get wrapped up in the trappings of power.

But the fact is, the Constitution is pretty darn clear about where our power comes from - it comes from the people that elect us. And that's it. Our power comes from them. Once you forget that... I can see how it can be a challenge to remain true to who you are.

When you come from a place like Montana, people will let you know when you stop being who you are... when you stop being authentic.

I am a United States Senator. But I'm also a third-generation farmer from Big Sandy Montana. I'm husband... a father... and a grandfather. I'm in the Senate to make America better for my children and my grandkids, and for all of the other children and grandchildren across the country.

When that stops... when I'm no longer making a difference in that respect... or when I start trying to be someone I'm not... it'll be time to go home.... where the suppers are much cheaper... and the servings are much bigger.

Before I go, I'd like to say a few words about an issue that takes a lot of the air out of the rooms in Washington.

It's tough to go anywhere in this country anymore and find someone who approves of the way things are going with the War in Iraq.

This war has been mismanaged from the beginning. The Administration has done it on the cheap and cost this country more in blood and money than anyone could have imagined.

We're spending two billion dollars every week in Iraq and more than 3,000 brave Americans have died since the President stood in front of a banner that read "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED."

I've said it for almost two years and I'll say it to you again tonight; the President needs to develop a plan to get us out of Iraq as soon as possible.

It's time for the Iraqis to take over military control of their own country. The Iraqi military, not Americans, should be disarming bombs, guarding bridges and policing a centuries-old civil war.

Let's bring our troops home.

With that, I want to thank Twenty First Century Democrats for taking a chance on a farmer with a flattop who decided to run for the United States Senate... and thank you for the work you do to support authentic leaders at every level of government. I'm proud to call myself a Twenty First Century Democrat, and I'm humbled and honored to be with all of you tonight.

So thanks again... and if you're ever in Big Sandy, stop by.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).