A Havre High School senior asked local Republicans for help raising awareness on political issues — and even about the existence of politics — during the annual Blaine and Hill County GOP Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner.
Aaron Gales, who attended the dinner with his fellow Teen Age Republicans Club member Paul Jeffries, said he wants to make his fellow students aware of political issues.
“A lot of my classmates aren’t Republicans or Democrats, they’re just apathetic. … I think that really should be changed,” Gales said. “I don’t think it really matters, primarily that people are Democrats or Republicans, as long as they voice their opinions.”
Gales asked for people — not just politicians, but anyone who would like to help — to come speak to the club, which is pending approval by the Havre school board.
Several speakers applauded Gales and Jeffries for their efforts, including state Republican Party Chair Will Deschamps, who said if the local Republicans don’t snatch the young men up, he will do so and take them to Helena.
Deschamps said that, while Republicans may be disappointed in the results of the 2012 election, the party is still making gains.
The GOP has its first Montana attorney general in 20 years with Tim Fox, and holds all five seats on the Public Service Commission for the first time in at least 40 years, he said.
Deschamps said members of the party need to continue to work to raise awareness of issues and raise support for conservative candidates.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said the session, still early in its run, has not seen major controversy as yet.
“The big issues haven’t hit the frying pan yet,” she said.
One past controversial issue sailed through and was signed by Gov. Steve Bullock, she said — amending the regulation of the wolf hunting seasons.
“It’s good for hunters, good for ranchers,” she said,.
A bill of hers is close to introduction, she said, which would simplify Montana income taxes. She said it is not a tax reduction bill, but the goal is to allow people to fill out their taxes on a single sheet of paper — possibly a form as small as a postcard.
She held a question-and-answer session after her presentation that turned to a hot topic this session: charter schools.
Hansen said the intent of the bill — which would modify the existing regulations of charter schools in the state — is to allow groups to propose alternative schools. She said, for example, Montana Actors’ Theatre could propose an acting-and-dance themed school.
The bill would require approval by an existing public school or college or university or a nine-member board created in the bill.
When asked by an audience member at the fundraiser if that could negatively impact schools, and by another if it is creating a new layer of bureaucracy, she said no to both.
The new schools would approved by existing entities or the nine-member board, one-third of which would be appointed by the governor, by the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate. Most of the structure already exists, she said.
And, she said, it likely would have little impact on the existing students — only 3 percent of students in the country attend charter schools, first created 22 years ago in Minnesota.
But, Hansen said, 18 percent of Montana students are failing to graduate in four years, and the state Constitution requires offering an education to all.
Brian Barrows, a retired Havre principal and a Republican alderman on the Havre City Council, said another solution could be to raise the required minimum age for students to attend schools.
While in office, Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, now deceased, tried to do that, Barrows said. Peck, a former teacher and administrator himself, tried to raise the age at which students can drop out from 16 to 18. That bill primarily was killed by large school districts whose representatives said it often is easier to let students drop out than go through disciplinary actions, he said.
Hansen said a bill proposing that was sponsored in the Senate, but was killed in committee.
The group also heard from state Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, who said he is considering a run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Max Baucus.
Former state Sen. Corey Stapleton, R-Billings, who ran an unsuccessful bid for governor last year and lost in the primary to Rick Hill, has announced he is running against Baucus. Hill County Republican Chair Andrew Brekke read a letter from Stapleton, who said he regretted being unable to attend the Havre dinner — he had another engagement in Butte Sunday — but asked for support in his campaign.
Brekke also read a letter from U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who expressed regret that a scheduling error prevented his attending the Havre dinner.
Brekke said he had spoken to Daines, who offered to come speak to local Republicans in the next month or so.