Montana's no stranger to the sepia-tone mystique of the "Wanted" poster. Still, when one picturing Sen. Jon Tester landed in our email inbox last week, we were intrigued.
Tester wasn't wanted for the kind of activity that landed outlaws on posters a century ago—he didn't hold up the Union Pacific Flyer and he hadn't fled with coin-filled burlap sacks. According to the Montana Republican Party, his offense was far graver: riding the fence. And the GOP was offering a reward: $100 for the person who could get Tester himself to state whether he was for or against President Barack Obama's American Jobs Act.
The offer echoed like a starter's pistol for any journalist struggling to pay the bar tab in today's economy.
Washington, D.C.-based Roll Call was first in line to claim the prize. They'd learned of Tester's dissenting opinion on the jobs act through his spokesman, Aaron Murphy. Murphy said technically, he won. But he wasn't in it for the money. Instead, he turned the GOP's campaign season gimmick back around.
"The Montana GOP can make its check payable to the Billings Fire Department to help with legal fees brought on by Congressman Dennis Rehberg's lawsuit against firefighters," he told Roll Call.
Roll Call contacted GOP spokesman Bowen Greenwood and turned down the cash—ethics, they said. Greenwood responded that Murphy's word didn't count. The race was still on.
Enter the Indy. We put the question to Tester straight.
His $100 answer? "No."
Obama's proposal comes with many pros, Tester said, like investment in infrastructure and education, incentives for hiring veterans, and closing tax loopholes for the wealthy. Those points would directly benefit Montana, he said, where our roads need work and our unemployed need jobs.
But there was a list of cons for Tester. Extending the payroll-tax holiday? Threatens to undermine Social Security. Aid to states? Not the fed's problem. He appreciated Obama's attempt, but, he said, "this isn't a plan I would have written."
We called Greenwood to share the news.
"It sounds like we have a winner," he told us.
But as journalists, now we're on the fence. Do we donate the winnings to the Billings Fire Department, as Tester would like us to, or stay out of the political fray and pay down our tab at Charlie B's?