Shadows of the Montana legislation

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Shadows of the Montana legislation

Local House representative, Laurie Bishop (second row), listens to a bill being introduced to the group. The screen in the lower left is to indicate a need for a page, like a flight attendant.

Local House representative, Laurie Bishop (second row), listens to a bill being introduced to the group. The screen in the lower left is to indicate a need for a page, like a flight attendant.

Local House representative, Laurie Bishop (second row), listens to a bill being introduced to the group. The screen in the lower left is to indicate a need for a page, like a flight attendant.

Local House representative, Laurie Bishop (second row), listens to a bill being introduced to the group. The screen in the lower left is to indicate a need for a page, like a flight attendant.


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I’ve never been one to be overlooked. I stand out; between loud clothes and even louder opinions, I don’t try to stifle myself. I’ve also always been someone to jump at opportunities that I think will help me learn more about my interests. Therefore, my week on the capitol was a special form of informative torture.  

The program was packaged as a week in Helena as a page on the house floor. The job of a page is to deliver notes and messages to the reps on the floor, as well as take out the recycling and other busy work. My aunt is our local house representative, so I was excited to spend the week seeing what she was doing.  

Before even packing, I was sent a package including job description, pay wage ($8.50 wow!), and the dreaded dress code. Now, if you’ve never interacted with a dress code, consider yourself lucky. There was one piece of this code that stood out to me much more than anything else: Nylons. Women are required to wear nylons with their skirts. I don’t even think my grandmas wear nylons!  

After spitefully packing a suitcase of pants, I set off on the drive to Helena. The benefit of staying with my aunt meant that, after hours, I got to poke around the capitol while it was empty. It was quiet and still. The building itself is amazing; between the art and stained-glass windows, it’s worth the drive to see.  

Say what you will about the state of our country, but the state of our state is strong. In that first night, I was able to listen in on a conversation between two representatives. The conversation was all about constituents, and their concerns for their people. It was refreshing to hear the people we elect so concerned about who they were representing.  

Back to a less refreshing thought, I have never felt so belittled, as I did that first day on the job. I’ve had a couple jobs, so I know what it’s like to be in training, but even then, I haven’t ever found it to be this condescending. The obscure rules go on and on, so I’ll just give you a couple of my favorites. Treat the representatives like kings and queens (that’s almost a direct quote), don’t use the pencils with erasers (those are for the reps), don’t use the main door to enter the floor, and don’t use the elevator. Needless to say, I think I have thighs of steel after all those stairs. We were on the fourth floor, and the things to deliver were on the first floor.  

The job consisted of delivering hundreds of printed notes from constituents to representative’s desks, delivering notices on committee meetings to desks, taking out the paper recycling, and distributing letters and pamphlets to mailboxes. However, scattered in these mundane tasks, we were lucky enough to meet our governor and Lt. governor, the staff of both the secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction.  

The week I was there also happened to be the week Senator Tester and Chief Justice McGrath were addressing Congress. Not that it’s important, but Senator Tester wore jeans to address the house; you can make of that what you will. 

While the federal government is having a hard time agreeing, the state government is passing bill after bill by large margins. As a matter a fact, the bills being introduced weren’t highly political, so to play a joke on their coworkers, the first bill someone introduced, many people would vote no to scare them. Between the time the voting bell signals and the speaker says “does member wish to change their vote” the board would have turned from mostly red nays to all green yays.  

The saving grace was the events outside of the normal workday, that I was lucky to be able to attend. Those were the interesting parts. The workings of lobbying and socializing; I’ve never seen so many stuffed mushrooms. Between talking with a couple of interesting people about solar energy at a conservation event to hearing different women talk about their experience in politics at a democratic women’s convention. Though we were told to be unseen and shadow like, these were the things that made the experience worth it.  

 

 

The voter board shows each representatives vote. The bill here was to establish a memorial highway for an officer who was shot on duty. The bill passed the house 100 to 0

Every door handle in the Capitol has the Montana logo on it, even the side doors.

The Capitol dome has an interior layer and an exterior layer. A select few people are allowed into the space between the domes, but if you are allowed up, it is encouraged that you sign the floor.

The inside of the dome is well painted grand. In recent years, $20 million was spent refurbishing the building top to bottom. Everything is hand painted.

Some people say our Capitol is one of the prettiest in the country as well as one of the easiest to access because of the minimal security.

Clifford showed up to lobby about cutting of PBS funding.

Tester addressing the House reps about hot topics like healthcare and gun safety during the third week of the session.