Encouraging the next generation of leaders


March 30, 2023

At the forum discussing Montana’s state constitution earlier this month, there was a diverse group of more than 100 people. There were politicians and retired people and realtors and volunteers. There were people who had lived in Sanders County forever and some newer residents. There were women and men. There were Republicans and Democrats.

What we didn’t see was much diversity in age. I am 43 and I was the youngest person in the room except for a young family who showed up later in the presentation. It bothered me that there weren’t more people under 50 in the room, learning about the state constitution’s history and discussing its future.

I talked to Mae Nan Ellingson, one of the speakers, about this. We talked about how to engage younger generations in public service. It seems that younger families are moving to urban areas of the state. Younger generations are being elected in other areas of the state, which would support that claim.

Last week I traveled to Washington, D.C., and was inspired by some of the young people I saw working in the offices of our Montana senators and representatives. Many were from Montana. I asked how they decided to work in D.C. and one young man told me he was from Kalispell and had worked hard on several campaigns. He had been in D.C. just a few weeks but was energetic and motivated. I gathered that staffers in Congress didn’t stay in one job too long as they moved up the ranks, but I was excited to see the next generation getting involved in politics at a national level.

Working in Washington, D.C., is much different than being an intern in Plains or Thompson Falls, but everyone starts somewhere. We need to encourage our local students to get involved in public service, and in politics, and continue to teach them to speak up for what they believe in. The first step might be running for a class officer position, leading a club or working with a local political campaign, but it could eventually lead them to an internship in Congress or even a seat on the floor in D.C. They could be the next Montana young adults working in D.C. to represent the entire state.

­— Annie Wooden


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