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Jon Tester Kicks off tour at Gibson Park

Location: Great Falls, MT

U.S. Senate candidate Jon Tester kicked off his statewide listening session tour Tuesday at Park and Ponder in Gibson Park.

Tester, a Democrat, is running against incumbent Republican Conrad Burns in what is expected to be a hotly contested race.

Tester appeared before a full house in the restaurant, stating his position on several issues and receiving feedback on people's concerns.

"It's all about input," Tester said. "Listening to Montanans about Montana issues and Montana problems."

Tester said cost of living issues for families, energy independence and health care are all important issues facing Montana families.

Other issues addressed at the meeting were corporate accountability and failing pension plans, deficit spending, energy and federal earmarks slipped into bills.

When asked about the expansion of executive power under President George W. Bush's administration, Tester said the Senate should enforce separation of powers restraints written into the U.S. Constitution.

"The executive (branch) has grabbed a lot of power," Tester said. "The Senate had the opportunity to challenge it. They have chosen not to, they've chosen to be a rubber stamp."

Tester was also asked how he intends to overcome Burns' seniority in the Senate.

"If I thought for a minute Montana would be short-changed by me, I wouldn't be in this race," Tester said.

In addition to the supporters in the restaurant, Tester was also greeted by a group of about seven protesters, some of which were children, holding large pictures of aborted fetuses and signs condemning sodomy, standing outside the restaurant's large window near a playground.

One woman asked Tester on his views of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all states.

"I'm pro-choice," Tester said, eliciting cheers and clapping from almost all of those inside the restaurant. "I don't think there's anybody in here who likes abortion. But it's a woman's reproductive right, not a bureaucrat's back in D.C."

Many of those in attendance said they liked the fact that Tester was touring the state, listening to public opinion.

"It was wonderful," said Mary Papoulis of Great Falls. "I'm all for his style and honesty. He's got a tough job ahead of him, but his priorities are in the right place. There's a very honest feeling I got, that he's here to hear the people."

Great Falls resident June Williamson, a self-described "Yellow Dog Democrat," said she also enjoyed the fact Tester was willing to tour the state, listening to opinions.

Williamson expressed concerns for the future, saying Montana needed more in the way of career opportunities for young people.

"I'm worried about my grandchildren," she said. "I think things in this country should go back to where people were responsible for themselves. He (Tester) has got down-to-earth ideas."

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