Jon Tester town hall

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (center) speaks with constituents following a town hall in Bozeman. April 16, 2019.

BOZEMAN - Questions asked by Montanans at a town hall hosted by Senator Jon Tester on Tuesday may already be setting the tone for next year's election.

A crowd of more than 150 gathered for a town hall on Tuesday afternoon at Bozeman's Baxter Hotel to press Senator Tester (D-MT) on a variety of topics, from immigration to drug prices to violence against women.

However, one issue that came up repeatedly was healthcare. For those who spoke up on Tuesday, the question wasn't whether they wanted public healthcare, but what they wanted that care to look like.

One man spoke strongly about the high cost of life-saving prescription drugs like insulin, pointing out: "We're seeing Americans die because they can't afford insulin, and insulin hasn't changed in 30 years," finally exclaiming: "This is not America, this is not American!"

Tester, who has supported reducing the high cost of prescription drugs, spoke extensively about the issue and its many facets.

But one man pressed Tester hard on his record, asking if the three-term senator knew that the cost of healthcare would skyrocket after the passing of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, a bill Tester voted in favor of.

"Her deductible was $2,000," the man said, referring to his wife's medical coverage before Obamacare. "Now, it's over $7,500."

And while tensions rose in the discussion over healthcare, another point that many in the room spoke passionately about was climate change.

"Climate change... it's real," one Bozeman woman said to Tester. "Gotta, gotta deal with it, by starting to acknowledge it."

A polished woman held up a pamphlet on climate change, and a grizzled gentleman insisted that commodities like coal and oil be included in plans to address climate change. But while older generations filled the second-floor room of the Baxter Hotel, it was a younger face that addressed the senator most pointedly about the issue: 22-year-old Montana native Sara Blessing.

"What is your plan to give my generation its future that is being rapidly stolen from us?" Blessing asked Tester, to rousing applause.

The Montana State University earth science major says she believes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-NY) Green New Deal is the only piece of legislation that correctly addresses the severity of climate change while also presenting solutions to some of its problems.

"Climate change is the only issue in my opinion - or in kind of actuality - it's the only issue that's going to affect our generations and generations to come," Blessing explains. "It is life threatening for everyone in this room and potentially catastrophic for the human race."

Tester spoke of his own experience with climate change, that he sees the impact of it every year on his family farm near Big Sandy. And that the impacts of any changes made to address it won't likely be felt until his grandchildren reach his age.

Despite the consequential, pressing matters constituents brought to Tester on Tuesday, the 62-year-old said he doesn't think the town halls he's been a part of have changed much during his more than 12 years in federal public service.

"You get people who ask questions about what they're concerned about," Tester says. "Sometimes, those questions line up with what I've done. Sometimes, they're in direct opposition to some of the votes I've taken. It gives people an opportunity to feel like they're a part of government, and right now in this moment of time, I think that's really important."

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