Sen. Jon Tester knows what it’s like to be a member of an electric cooperative that averages less than one member per mile of power line.

“He gets it when it comes to explaining how various federal proposals can help or harm the co-ops,” says Gary Wiens, CEO of the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association. “Plus, he’s never stopped being a down-to-earth lawmaker.”

Tester, a third-generation farmer in Big Sandy, Montana, is a member of Hill County Electric Cooperative and has worked to ensure that federal legislation benefits co-ops and the members they serve.

The latest example can be found in the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress passed late last year. The Montana statewide association credits Tester with helping to ensure that the bill included big opportunities for co-ops.

Among them: $42.5 billion for broadband deployment and buildout; $5 billion in grants from the Department of Energy to mitigate risks to the grid from climate-related disasters, including wildfires; and $2.5 billion for the department’s revolving loan program that helps co-ops build new transmission lines and upgrade existing lines.

The Democratic senator has also been a strong advocate for the Bonneville Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration, successfully opposing recent efforts in Washington to sell off their publicly owned transmission assets.

In 2019, Tester helped pass the RURAL Act, which preserved the tax-exempt status of co-ops. Without the legislation, a 2018 change in the federal tax law would have stripped many co-ops of that status for accepting government grants to restore power after a natural disaster, deploy broadband service or invest in renewable energy.

“I’ll never forget the time he pulled me aside at our annual meeting in 2019 as we dealt with the 2018 federal tax law that threatened co-ops’ tax-exempt status,” Wiens says. “Having learned of our concerns through staff, he told me to call him at his farm home the next time we ever needed help, adding, ‘The number’s in the phone book.’ And, sure enough, it was. I’ve taken him up a time or two on that offer since then and he’s been quick to respond.”

Montana co-ops’ connection with Tester dates back to his time in the state Senate, where he served for eight years beginning in 1999 and was elected Montana Senate president by his colleagues. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 and has been re-elected twice, most recently in 2018.

“As a member of a rural electric co-op, I know firsthand how important they are to folks in rural Montana,” Tester says. “It was co-ops that electrified this nation under FDR, and they continue to drive down costs for rural America by powering the things that make up our way of life—homes, small businesses, schools, hospitals, farms, ranches and everything in between. Co-ops were top of mind when I fought for resources to modernize our electrical grid in my bipartisan infrastructure legislation, and I’m going to keep working every day in Washington on policies that help cooperatives grow and create more good-paying jobs across the country.”

Tester and his wife, Sharla, still farm the same land that was homesteaded by his grandparents in 1912, according to his official biography.