Ex-security chief criticizes Tester
By JENNIFER McKEE |Gazette State Bureau | September 28, 2006
HELENA - Tom Ridge, the former and first head of the federal Department of Homeland Security, took after Democratic Senate candidate Jon Tester on Wednesday, saying his call to repeal the federal Patriot Act is "ludicrous."
Ridge, who said he was asked by former Republican Montana Gov. Marc Racicot to share his views with Montana reporters, said Tester's recent call to repeal the Patriot Act is "unfathomable, almost inexplicable."
Tester, a Big Sandy farmer and current president of the Montana Senate, is challenging U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.
In a debate with Burns in Butte on Saturday, Tester said he wants to repeal the act, which he said puts in jeopardy the individual freedoms that make America unique. If those freedoms are sacrificed, then the terrorists will have won, he said.
Ridge, appointed by President Bush in October 2001, said he wasn't sure if the Patriot Act could have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But he said the act is essential for allowing federal law enforcement to go after terrorists in the U.S.
"This is a very, very important, essential, fundamental tool that the traditional law enforcement community needs," he said.
Matt McKenna, a Tester spokesman, said Tester thinks "we should be fighting terrorists, not invading the lives of innocent Americans."
"Jon Tester believes in freedom first," McKenna said. "He is proud to stand with the Montana sheriffs, Montana Shooting Sports Association and the Gun Owners of America in defense of personal freedom and privacy."
Last year, the Montana Legislature also passed a resolution by broad, bipartisan margins encouraging Montana's federal congressional delegation to allow the Patriot Act to expire.
The resolution, supported by 40 of the state's 50 senators and 87 of the state's 100 representatives, also instructed Montana's law enforcement agencies not to participate or begin investigations that abridge freedoms.
Burns supports the Patriot Act.
State Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, was one of the co-sponsors of the Montana legislative resolution. Shockley said Wednesday that while he supports Burns, he disagrees with him on the Patriot Act.
"As written, I would not vote for it," Shockley said, adding that some parts of the legislation are fine. But he takes issue with other aspects, including a provision that allows the FBI to search through the banking and library records of Americans.