So we arrived in Montana at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning after -- get this -- ten stops on the road from Portland. The first was to fix a wire running from our vehicle to our trailer. The second was a dramatic and unexpected halt in order to secure my kayak, which was about to skitter off the top of Tony's van and into oncoming traffic. The rest were an assortment of pee breaks, meal breaks, and a brief interlude in Spokane to buy a toilet and some zero-VOC paint.
At length, we drove the half-mile up the gravel road to the house. That we arrived in the middle of the night was of no importance to the children, who thought it was an excellent time to play an entire game of pool until the road-weary adults herded them downstairs to bed. I rose at about ten, stuck my hair into a clip and drove into town to get some breakfast food. At the checkout counter, my fatigue-narrowed eyes lit upon a small entry in the upper left hand corner of the local newspaper:
"Senator Jon Tester will be in Libby Saturday, where he will host an afternoon 'meet and greet' for residents. The gathering, at the pavillion at River Front Park pavillion, is free and open to the public...."
Even though this isn't really a political blog, I'm a total political junkie. I don't write much about politics because, let's face it, that's kind of gilding the lily in light of the vibrant political blogosphere that's churned along for some time without the slightest contribution from me. I assume readers will be unsurprised to learn that I'm somewhat of a leftist, and those who know me understand the effect that little blurb would have had on me.
I've been a huge fan of Jon Tester since the Montana Senate primary last year. He's an organic farmer and environmentalist. In spite of meeting a fook of a lot of politicians in my life, Tester was the first one who impressed me enough to induce me to make a campaign contribution. (Jim Webb was the second.) I followed his campaign religiously. There was simply no way I was going to pass up this opportunity.
He didn't disappoint me in the slightest.
I've met three senators, three or four governors, a former United States attorney general, mayors of cities large and small, a bunch of federal and state judges and politicos of all stripes, and until I met Tester, I'd never met one without a certain veneer of artificiality. Despite being a fervent consumer of all things political, I generally dislike the practitioners of it. The fledgling, baby politicians at my old law firm were an interpersonal irritant. I found them insufferable, with their canned smiles and the pablum that passed for conversation because, oh my God, we can't possibly say anything that would piss off someone, somewhere, at some time.
These are not really my kind of folk. I have no use for them, and they had little use for me. Compared to them, see, I'm a loose cannon.
So on some level I was prepared for disillusionment. But it never arrived. Tester and his trademark flattop swept briskly out of his car and into the pavilion and immediately began talking about renewable energy. Then he took all manner of questions from the group, including some obviously repetitive queries that he simply answered again. He issued blunt, straightforward opinions and rattled off obscure statistics about this or that. There was no equivocation. He fielded questions about trade, immigration, veterans' benefits and eminent domain.
I raised my hand. He smiled and nodded at me.
"Habeas corpus," I said. It wasn't a question so much as a statement.
"I can tell you right now I support the restoration of habeas corpus and I'll vote for that."
This was right after being grilled by a Vietnam vet with whom I'd just engaged in some light disagreements about the wisdom of the Geneva Convention, of all things. No equivocation, no preface about winning the War on Terra, just "I support that."
So afterward I waited to shake his hand with a few other people. Tester lost a few fingers as a kid in a confrontation with a meat grinder, and I noticed up close that's on his left hand, not his right. When my turn arrived, I told him I was a supporter, and that while a lot of Democrats seemed to have replaced their spines with silly string in recent times, he hadn't disappointed me once since November and I hoped he continued on his current trajectory.
He gave me a huge smile and we exchanged a few further pleasantries. You can tell it's early enough in the game that he still genuinely enjoys hearing from an ardent supporter. The overall impression I got was that the same guy I was talking to would be pretty much the same guy who chatted with his family later that week. He was refreshingly real. And his intelligence and the depth of his knowledge was obvious.
In short, I felt I'd just met a guy who will shape up to be one of the great public servants of my time. It was a pleasure.
And no, I didn't get a picture. This is because Mr. T was headed back to the truck to get my camera battery, which we'd inadvertently left in the car. He was supposed to run to the car, grab my camera, put the battery back in and discreetly take a picture while I was meeting the good Senator.
But nooooooo. He had to stop and gab with some folks on the way back, and completely missed the window of opportunity. Ordinarily he would have spent some time in the doghouse for such a thing, but I was pretty stoked from meeting the latest in a long line of great public figures to hail from the American West.