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Jon Tester, Organic Farmer, Friend of Natural Health Care Leads Montana US Senate Race PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Jon Tester, Organic Farmer & Friend of Natural Health Leads Montana US Senate Race

Summary:  When political corruption touched Montana's long-time US Senator Conrad Burns (R), a door opened for his challengers. Organic farmer and state senator Jon Tester (D) is presently running 8 points ahead of Burns. The potentially good news for the CAM-IM community is not only Tester's role in advancing organic farming. Through that community he connected with the value of diet, herbs, vitamins and natural health care. His wife's health improvement with a naturopathic physician deepened his belief in the value of including services of new provider types to give people choice as the Nation takes on healthcare reform. The CAM-IM community may have a helpful friend in Congress should Tester succeed. 

Organic armer and US Senate candidate Jon Tester (D)
A long-time friend and colleague, Nancy Aagenes, ND, LAc, distinguishes herself among CAM-IM providers in that her first career, in Montana state politics, included a stint as the first female secretary of the Montana State Senate.

So when she e-mailed to let me know that the candidate for US Senate from her state who was running in the lead, Jon Tester, is an organic farmer who had a positive family experience with naturopathic medicine, I thought -- good story! Probably a lot of Integrator readers would be interested in such a person becoming one of the 100 souls who run the Senate.

I caught up with Tester three weeks later. I asked him to first give me the gist of his stump speech on health care. Then I told him I'd like to focus in on some federal natural health care topics I'd sent him in advance. I focused on a CAM-IM wish-list identified in
an Integrator article on The DeFacto CAM Federal Agenda for CAM and Integrative Medicine.

Experience in Organic Farming, and Family Experience of Naturopathic Medicine

Tester is a third generation farmer. He's got the family's whole 1800 acres in organic cultivation now. 
"I began the organic conversion back in '87," he said. He ticked off his crop this year: hard red wheat, hard white wheat, kamut, lentiles, and purple barley. "If I hadn't been running for Senate, we'd have had oil seeds (for fuel) in this year." He clarified: "My Grandpa used to set aside fields for crops to feed the horses. We may be doing it soon to feed our mechanical horses."

Image Tester served in the leadership of the organic movement through the mid-1990s. He was on the board and executive committee of one of the rapidly growing international certifying agencies, Organic Crop Improvement Association. It was there he came across natural health products and practices. He mentions a Canadian organic herb grower friend who "grew the crops on his land and converted a shed so he could make tinctures right there." Added Tester: "He opened my eyes to the value of herbs and supplements." He added that there are always a lot of natural health practices among those in the organic movement.

This background came to his wife's assistance. She'd developed persistent allergy problems "after we moved back to the farm." Tester recalls her "years in the care of (conventional) doctors who were conscientious and doing what they were trained to but she wasn't getting any better." Tester's spouse then saw a Great Falls naturopathic physician, Mona Morstein, ND (now a faculty member at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine). Said Tester: "The naturopath used food as medicine with her over a period of a couple years and my wife got over her allergies."

Tester's Stump Speech on Health Care

Tester's basic position on health care begins with noting that 20% of Montana resident have no health insurance and "a lot of others have high deductibles" and may not be accessing the care they need.
With problems as significant as they are, "everything needs to be on the table." He says he is not advocating single payer, nor is he saying it should be disregarded.

He ticks off his key principles, which influence his views on non-conventional care. Access is top of the list. He adds that there's "got to be choice."  Prevention is another key focus: "Prevention has got to be a bigger part of what we offer. This country doesn't spend enough time on the prevention angle." He's not antagonistic to conventional medicine. He just sees the importance of choice. Tester plans to support healthcare policies which includes these principles.

Federal Policy Related to CAM-IM - AOM/Medicare, Chiropractic/Veterans, NDs/IHS

I then asked Tester about some specific issues which are important to parts of the complementary, alternative and integrative medicine community. Clearly, his focus on directing more resources toward preventive care is well aligned with multi-stakeholder groups like the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium. But where does he stand on some of the specific federal issues which might come before him in the US Senate?

As with most federal politicians, CAM-IM issues, typically only poorly-lobbied and marketed yet, are not high on Tester's radar.  Like most federal officials, Tester is still green to many specifics. So we conversed about some of the CAM-IM issues, to gain his sense of where he would stand on them - knowing that he was neither looking at, as he put it, "any specific legislative language." He knew that ultimately taking a stance would require a better sense of
where "all the pros and cons" might be.

Tester, working the family farm
Tester is disposed to including acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) practitioners in federal Medicare and federal employee benefits programs. The same holds for efforts of chiropractors to have a chance to play a larger role in Veteran's health. These are top federal issues as identified by the American Association of Oriental Medicine and American Chiropractic Association, respectively.


"I don't think we
should discriminate.

"I think it is important
that people have
options, whether
  they be chiropractors,
acupuncturists or
naturopaths. These
(providers) are part
of the pie."
Why? Tester comes back to one of his principles. "What the heck - what we are talking about is choice." He says he'd have to take a look at the specific bills, but his interest leaves him open. "

His familial experience with naturopathic medicine makes it easier for him to speak directly in favor of the core agenda issue articulated to the Integrator by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). The AANP is working to gain participation in delivering care through the Indian Health Services (IHS). "I would support it," says Tester, noting that "my guess is that the Indians would embrace this." Then, seasoned legislator that he is, in a state where Native American politics can be influential: "My only caveat is if the Native Americans said they don't want anything to do with it."  Tester then added, considering the idea of having more non-conventional care in Veterans' programs: "From the VA standpoint, there's a lot of joint and back pain where I think naturopathic doctors could be helpful."

He summarized his views: "I don't think we should discriminate. I think it is important that people have options, whether they be chiropractors, acupuncturists or naturopaths. These (providers) are part of the pie." Then he adds: "I believe strongly in prevention, which revolves around diet, vitamins and herbs. Those in alternative medicine know about them. They would seem to be part of pushing a more preventive approach."

Getting Elected

So, I said, what are your chances? He ticked off how his gut feeling in a few past campaigns had played out against the results. Typically his gut called a closer race for him than did the electorate. He said that while he wasn't sure in the Democratic primary, he won by 26 points.

Now, looking at things - and taking on an incumbent is rarely a winning venture in US Senate politics - he says:  "We've got a damn good chance.  You never know. I could make a mistake.  We could end up in a wider war (in the Middle East - which typically supports incumbency). Right now I'd say that if we can raise enough money and get our message out, we'll win it."

Those wanting to know more about Tester, see
his views on other issues, or are interested in helping him get his message out, can visit his website at testerforsenate.com.

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