It’s not exactly a match made in heaven, but a match made by the Montana electorate.

The state’s congressional delegation, when Congress reconvenes in the new year, will consist of U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Democrats who have served in their respective posts for several years now, and newly elected Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.

Thus, the delegation will maintain its politically divided makeup. But unlike previous terms, political divisions must not preclude these duly elected representatives from working together to pass legislation that is good for the nation and meaningful to Montana.

This does not mean that Montanans expect these three men to agree on everything. It does not mean that we expect them to cave on those issues they feel most strongly about. But within the territory they have staked out and repeatedly promised to defend are overlapping areas ripe for compromise.

Where to begin? How about with a bill that embodies the very spirit of compromise: the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

Sure, Tester introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, and Tester is a Democrat, but it’s not a partisan bill. One notable Republican, former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, wrote an eloquent editorial in support of it in September 2009.

Tester introduced a version of the the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in 2009, but it was a bill long in the making — and a bill made by Montanans. In particular, the individuals and groups that formed the Three Rivers Challenge in the Yaak Valley, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership in southwest Montana and the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project in Seeley Lake deserve credit for moving past the rancor and starting negotiations.

These folks saw then what we all see now: that fighting about forest management is getting us all nowhere. In fact, it’s causing problems. In the last three years since Tester’s bill was introduced, western Montana mills have closed and every summer brings another costly wildfire season. We simply cannot allow this slide to continue.

In an editorial board meeting about a month before the election, Daines expressed concern for western Montana’s timber industry and spoke about his appreciation for wilderness. But he stopped short of offering his support for what has become Tester’s signature legislation.

Daines should spend some time between now and Jan. 3 meeting with folks in western Montana and hearing what they think about the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. He should reach out to folks like Gordy Sanders at Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake, and Sherm Anderson, who owns Sun Mountain Lumber in Deer Lodge. These people support the FJRA that is the result of compromise with conservation groups and many other Montana stakeholders.

With the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, Montana has the chance to show the rest of the nation how to get past partisan interests. With Daines’ election, Montana has a new opportunity to show Congress how compromise works.

— The Missoulian

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