Montana State University

studentlivin'@msu: Helena politics create drama, controversy for student regent

April 7, 2005 -- by Annette Trinity-Stevens, MSU News Service


Student regent Kala French, a junior at MSU, at the Capitol recently. (MSU photo by Annette Trinity-Stevens)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu
Kala French, 20, has learned that in public life, nearly anything can become news.

In the fishbowl that is Helena politics during a legislative session, French, of Kalispell, has seen the controversy surrounding her appointment as student regent play out in the telegraphic style of newspaper headlines:

"Student regent blasted, defended."
"Panel grills controversial appointment to regents."
"Sponsor kills bill on student regent's term."

Being painted with the brush of a Republican appointee in what's now a Democratic gubernatorial administration has brought ink by the proverbial barrel. The flap over former Gov. Judy Martz having appointed French for an unprecedented three-year term has died down, now that French has agreed to resign at the end of this year. In all, she will have served 18 months.

"I think it was the right thing to do for the students I serve and the university system," French wrote in an e-mail. "It was not what I wanted, and certainly not what I signed up for and arranged my life around."

She's humbled by the number of people who have written their legislators in her support.

"But I don't wish for anyone to feel bad for me," she said. "It hasn't been the horrible experience some people would think."

As to ill feelings, French said she has none. "I try to live by the philosophy of Lincoln, to 'forgive your enemies and not forget their names'."

Outside the spotlight, French said her daily life as a legislative intern in Helena goes something like this:

Up around 6 a.m. to watch the news. By 8 a.m. she's made the half-block walk from her basement apartment to the Capitol to meet with legislators or for committee hearings. Legislators seek her out on education issues--one advantage of being a minor celebrity.

"You'd be surprised at the number of bills that affect the Montana University System and how many students have a position," French said.

By 11 a.m. most meetings wrap up. French tries to get home to grab a bite and check the mail. If hearings are still going on she'll watch them on TV.

At 1 p.m. she attends a daily debriefing at the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, lasting one to two hours. She often leaves early to watch floor sessions in the House or Senate.

At 3 p.m., more committee hearings begin. Some last into the evening.

Around 5 she goes home, grabs a Coke and some chips and chills to the daily TV broadcast of the goings-on at the Capitol.

"I don't know if I'm a typical intern but I kind of have a news addiction," she said.

At 6 p.m. there may be dinners and receptions. On an ideal night, she can do homework for online classes. She's carrying a 20-credit educational load, despite being in Helena all semester.

"But that's pretty standard for me," she said. A junior, she's working on a double major in business/political science, with minors in international business and public administration.

"Then you get up the next day and do it all again."

Q&A with Kala French

Major: Business/political science, with minors in international business and public administration.

Hometown: Kalispell

Hobbies: Making scrapbooks. "That's my stress release. I'm doing one on this crazy legislative session I'm having." Also skiing, hiking, boating, water skiing on Flathead Lake.

Favorite music: Country, especially Sawyer Brown

Favorite TV show: The West Wing

Role Model: Parents, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. In politics, JFK, Ronald Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Where do you want to be in 10 years? Back in Montana, after pursuing a graduate degree, and "doing something that makes me feel like I'm making a difference."

Contact: Annette Trinity-Stevens, (406) 994-5607 or annettet@montana.edu