Montana State University

studentlivin'@msu: Legislative internship is civics lesson on the run

April 11, 2007 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News


Ashley Boland, an MSU student from Helena, has had her political science major come alive during her days as an intern at the Montana Legislature. Boland says she's learned the state's political system is both accessible and dynamic. MSU photo by Jay Thane.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu
The roar of a hundred small conversations swirls around the rotunda of the Montana Capitol, mixing with the sizzle of Montana-made sausages as Ashley Boland weaves her way to the Legislative Services Office.

"(Box) number nine," she calls out to the attendant, who in the verbal shorthand so common during the meeting of the Montana Legislature, wordlessly hands Boland a thick swath of papers.

With practiced precision, Boland thumbs through the papers - bills and their current amendments - as she zips up a back Capitol stairway to make an early meeting of a House Appropriations sub-committee. The bill Boland is interested in has been bumped back until the next day, so it's out the door and on the road for Boland.

"This is a great job because it's different every day," says Boland, a senior at Montana State University majoring in political science and one of a handful of MSU students who are interning at the 2007 Montana Legislature.

Boland is at the end of a yearlong internship with Cathy Conover, the chief lobbyist for the Montana University System as well as the director of MSU's Office of Communications and Public Affairs. Boland helps Conover with everything from speaking to a legislator to researching a key issue.

Conover says Boland has invaluable in the legislative efforts of the Montana University System.

"Stepping into the legislative process is overwhelming at first, but she made an easy transition into her responsibilities," Conover said. "She was a quick study of the procedures of the legislative process, and is thoroughly conversant with the issues of interest to the Montana University System."

Just as Boland has learned the back passageways and shortcuts in the Capitol, she also knows her way around Helena. She has had two workplaces during the session that began in January - the bustling Capitol and the spartan university system offices downtown. Finding shortcuts through the capital city is easy for Boland, who grew up in Helena as well as Littleton, Colo.

"I drive this route about two or three times a day, for sure," Boland says.

As Boland reaches the MUS office, she distributes the bills she picked up in the morning and begins research on her computer to prepare for questions she will be asked by Conover and other University System staff members.

"This session has been a little different because (the MUS) committed to support the governor's budget, which includes our appropriations, so we are watching just two to five bills closely," Boland says. " In past years, we would monitor 10-15 bills."

Among the bills Boland monitors is a bill that includes improvements to MSU's Gaines Hall, which Boland says has been deemed the state building most in need of repair.

"And we're really committed to freezing (students' university) tuition," Boland says. "Tuition has been going up, up and up. So, that's really big this session."

At the MUS meeting Boland and other university interns - another from MSU and two from UM - take notes and are assigned a variety of duties to complete that day. The days are hectic and long both early and late in the session, which ends at the end of April. Chief among the meeting's topics is HB 820, which includes the funding for the university system.

"It's a big deal," Boland says. "Right now there is a pretty good possibility that it will go through intact."

As she weaves her way back to the Capitol in the afternoon, and finds that rarest of rare things in Helena, a parking place across the street from the Capitol, Boland explains that the funding of Montana higher education has become vitally interesting to her. She selected the funding of higher education in the Western states as the topic of her senior thesis, or capstone project, that she is completing for adviser Jerry Calvert, MSU political science professor. It was Calvert who first told Boland about the internship, for which paid Boland receives a monthly stipend and earns 12 credit hours.

Watching the dynamics of the law making process has been a great experience "for a news freak like me," Boland said. "I've been there to watch news as it is being made." Boland has also enjoyed working with other interns. "We really have unity here."

Many of the interns are also political science majors, and several plan to use their legislative internship as paths to law school or political careers. Those careers don't interest Boland, who will graduate from MSU in May. She does know that her future holds marriage to fellow MSU student Dan Flynn, to whom she recently became engaged upon his return from duty in Iraq. Her intern experience has, she said, taught her lessons she'll never forget and which will make her a better citizen.

"I've learned how our state government works, and how accessible our legislators are to the people of the state," Boland said. "I think there are a lot of people who really don't understand our legislative system until they see it in action."

A multimedia feature about Boland and her internship is available here: http://www.montana.edu/cpa/gallery/070410au/

Cathy Conover (406) 994-4571, cconover@montana.edu