There is much to be concerned about this session. There’s the rightward shift of legislative leadership, the return of piles of frivolous, unconstitutional bills, and the make up of the house and senate.
But there are also some bright spots. A smart new generation of Democratic legislators has appeared on the scene, of a caliber rarely seen in years past, who are setting the bar higher for what it means to represent Montanans at the legislature.
Word is already getting out about freshman state Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, who’s blowing the doors off pretty much everything that’s been done in the past to keep constituents informed and involved. (You can read even about her innovative outreach in the Billings Gazette.) Once people find out that there are legislators like this, other districts are going to start to demand the same kind of representation–which can only raise the quality of the legislature as a whole.
Rep. Curtis is a Math teacher and is a big supporter of education. She’s young, smart, and dedicated. But the first thing that really sets her apart is her work to go the extra mile to keep in touch with her constituents.
Legislators voted a few years back to have the taxpayers buy them all laptops. Curtis is using hers to create daily YouTube updates for her constituents. She’s the first legislator in Montana history to do so. Every legislator should follow her example.
The videos are more than quick, informal updates about what Rep. Curtis did that day. Curtis talks about the conversations with folks from her district whom she encounters at the legislature. She encourages her constituents to contact her about upcoming bills and how their input is making a difference. She also shares personal tidbits and stories that show she’s a real person and keep the videos fun and interesting.
“It is incredibly important for our constituents to know that I am one of them; a regular Montanan who is passionate and hopeful about the future of our great state,” she says.
Here’s an example:
With all the buzz about Rep. Curtis, I asked her to share a little about her views and background with Cowgirl readers. Here’s what she had to say:
With what’s happening right now in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and here in Montana, this may be the final battle against the last bastion of union strength in this country. Why do you believe that it’s so important hold the line on collective bargaining and preserve the rights of working people?
I could talk at length about this, but Dr. Martin Luther King said it best. In 1961, speaking about right-to work (for less) laws he said:
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”
What’s your experience working with unions?
As a young girl, I would not have had fillings in my teeth or glasses on my nose if it hadn’t been for my dad’s Laborers Insurance. My brother and I lived with my mom. She was a waitress and didn’t have enough money to pay the phone or utility bill, let alone take us to the doctor. When I couldn’t see the board at school or when I had a sore tooth, my dad would get me a green form that let me go to the doctor. I still clearly remember the Laborer’s seal at the top. It made an impression on me.
When I started teaching, I was 20 years old and had $38,000 in student loan debt. I worked for a private school and earned $17,000 a year. I had to call around to find my own substitute if I was sick. Everyone did extra duties like advise clubs, plan the prom, and help with the school play. Sometimes we were at work for twelve hours a day. I was the working poor.
I got a job in the Helena public school system and doubled my salary. If I was asked to work on my lunch hour or after school I was paid for my time. We took classes to become better teachers and were trained in school safety through programs coordinated by the district and the union. When I finally got a job at Butte High, I was invited to a meeting and social in honor of the new teachers. I haven’t missed a union meeting since.
I’ve been able to go to Women’s Leadership Training, the AFL-CIO Next-Up Conference for young leaders, and Representative Assemblies. I write our monthly newsletter and I’m a delegate to our Central Labor Council, which is a “union of unions” that works to protect workers’ rights. When our legislative seat came open in Butte, my friends and neighbors were quick to encourage me to run.
Every time I meet with workers from all trades, I am so inspired by them. These are real people with a real love for their country and real pride in what they do. They’re community organizers who feed needy kids and fight tooth and nail to protect justice and freedom. I am so proud to be a Union Legislator.
What are your goals for the session?
My main goal for the session is to focus on people. We are making and changing and nullifying laws that affect living, breathing people and we should focus every second of every day on making their lives better. They need to be able to feed, clothe, educate, and insure their kids. They need jobs and they want to be able to retire in Montana. I’m going to fight every day against the rhetoric and remember the people that are counting on us to do the right thing. I will vote to protect workers’ rights. I will vote for bills that aim to keep Montanans living, going to school, and working in Montana. I will vote against every ALEC bill.
I’m carrying bills to increase safety for emergency workers (HB 165), put the lottery money back where it belongs (in people’s hands to pay for school) (HB 166), help the Public Defender’s Office do a better job (HB 92), make government more transparent, help local governments work better (HB 164). I will also be carrying the “Hire Montanans First” Act to make sure businesses that get state contracts employ Montana residents. You can follow my bills’ progress at bit.ly/repcurtis. You can look up any bill at bit.ly/2013laws. You can contact legislators at bit.ly/tellmt.