FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018 file photo, Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaks during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale wll meet in their second debate on Saturday, Oct. 6. AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Patagonia endorses Democrats Tester, Rosen in Senate races

October 19, 2018 - 5:25 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Outdoor clothing giant Patagonia jumped into two competitive Senate races Friday, endorsing Democrats Jon Tester of Montana and Jacky Rosen of Nevada in what the company called its first foray into elective politics.

The company described Tester and Rosen as champions of public lands and the outdoor industry. Tester is seeking a third term in the Senate while Rosen is a freshman House member who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

The move follows a lawsuit the California-based company filed last year challenging President Donald Trump's decision to drastically shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

The company also sparred with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who accused Patagonia of lying after it claimed on its website that Trump "stole" public lands by shrinking Bears Ears and another monument in Utah.

Patagonia said in a statement that it has fought for the protection of wild places since its founding and has been encouraging its customers and employees to vote "with the planet in mind" since 2004.

The company is endorsing Senate candidates for the first time "because of the urgent and unprecedented threats to our public lands and waters," said spokeswoman Corley Kenna. Nevada and Montana are two states where Patagonia has significant history and a long record of conservation accomplishments, Kenna said.

Patagonia's action is highly unusual. Many corporations, including Patagonia, have established political action committees that take donations and contribute to political campaigns, but the companies themselves usually stay out of politics.

Tester's campaign spokesman Chris Meagher said there's a stark contrast between Tester and Rosendale on public lands. "Jon Tester has worked tirelessly to defend our state's way of life and make sure our public lands stay in public hands. Matt Rosendale talks a big game, but he wanted to transfer public lands, and has voted against protecting and expanding access to land for Montana's hunters and anglers," Meagher said.

Rosen spokeswoman Molly Foley said the campaign was thrilled to have Patagonia's support, and said Rosen would fight to keep public lands in public hands.

A spokesman for Heller said simply, "Dean Heller is a Carhartt guy," referring to another company known for its work clothes and jackets.

Patagonia operates a global distribution center in Reno, Nevada, with more than 650 employees. Its retail operations in in Montana go back three decades.

Patagonia CEO and President Rose Marcario said Rosen has a strong record of defending public lands in Congress and protecting access to clean air and clean water.

"We need her leadership to protect Nevada's economy and the basic health of its people, so the business community can thrive and so Nevadans can prosper," she said.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard said Patagonia was backing Tester "because he gives a damn about protecting public lands — and like us he's committed to fight back against anyone who doesn't."

Tester is running against Republican Matt Rosendale, the state auditor. Trump campaigned for Rosendale at a raucous rally Thursday night in Missoula, Montana. Trump said Tester has been a "disaster for Montana."

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