He Ain’t No Tony Perkins

Oh, I likeJon Tester alright, but the people of Montana are the real heros.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns told a boisterous crowd in Hamilton on Sunday that he’s the candidate for U.S. Senate who is not “a lawbreaker.”

Members of the audience took offense and shouted “psycho” and booed as Burns claimed that Democratic Senate candidate Jon Tester has an illegal slush fund, has taken “unreported” trips to Taiwan, and made illegal phone calls to raise campaign funds.

The accusations came after Tester accused Burns of no longer representing Montana values.


Under attack by the incumbent senator, Tester chuckled, then defended himself by citing a lengthy, rapid-fire list of out-of-state and out-of-country trips taken by Burns, and the multinational corporations from which Burns has taken money.

The two were in the Bitterroot Valley on Sunday afternoon for a 90-minute debate at Hamilton High School, an raucous event punctuated by heckling from a lively overflow audience.

The debate, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., was delayed a few minutes as organizers scurried to accommodate more than 200 people who arrived too late to snag one of the 694 seats in the high school’s Performing Arts Center.

The crowd, which at times booed and baited Burns, earned a public chastising from one Burns supporter, who voiced her displeasure and asked for the rudeness to end.


The debate – and the crowd – got heated when moderator Jenny Johnson, editor of the Ravalli Republic, asked the candidates: “There has been much discussion about the corrupting influence of money in politics. How do you propose to change the culture of big money in politics?”

Tester took the question first, replying: “Be honest.”

His response was greeted with enthusiastic cheers from the audience, which became louder when Tester said: “I’ll tell you right now, we’ve got the best government money can buy.


Burns then challenged Tester on a foreign trip, which Burns claimed Tester took and didn’t report.

“Jon you were called on the carpet for illegal phone-calling to raise funds,” Burns said. “And I think you said at the time that’s a terrible law.

“When you look at everything here, maybe I’m the only one here that’s not a lawbreaker. I might be the only one, I might be the only one.”

The audience erupted in boos, hoots and profanity, and one cry of “psycho.”

Tester, who was allowed to rebut, said that as a state Senate leader he was twice asked to go on trade missions to Taiwan. The Big Sandy farmer said he turned down the opportunity in 1999, but took the same opportunity in 2001.

It wasn’t secretive, he said. On trips like that, “leadership goes. I went that year – it’s part of the deal.”

“But in the end,” Tester said, “lets talk about Senator Burns’ trips. Hawaii, New Orleans, Miami, Alaska, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, New York, China, Japan, Toronto, and there must have been something going on in Las Vegas because he went there 10 times.”

The crowd applauded, as Tester ran out of time while listing some of the multinational corporations he said Burns associates with, among the Fuji, the petroleum industry and big tobacco companies.