Ellie Boldman Hill's first day in public office won't come for another three months, but the representative-elect from Missoula is in Washington, D.C., this week - where she'll be feted as one of the most notable rising stars among America's young politicos.
Hill, the recently elected state legislator for House District 94 who spends her days running Missoula's Poverello Center, has been named to Time magazine's list of "40 Under 40 Political Rising Stars." Hill will receive recognition at a banquet Thursday night on Capitol Hill, and will be profiled in a forthcoming issue of the magazine.
In an interview late last week, Hill said she wasn't just shocked to receive the honor.
She didn't believe it was true.
"Two of my best political compadres are (Forward Montana senior adviser) Matt Singer and (Missoula City Councilman) Jason Wiener, and we mess around with each other a lot," said Hill. "So my phone rang, and this guy said he was the editor of Time magazine. I was sure it was just one of those guys punking me. I was like, yeah, whatever. When I finally realized it was for real, I was so shocked that there were about a million questions I forgot to ask."
Among them: How Hill, a 35-year-old former attorney who now runs a small-town Montana homeless shelter, ended up on such a short list of up-and-coming American political leaders.
"I have no idea how they found out about me," said Hill, noting that, aside from one man from Colorado, she is the only person on the list who hails from the Rocky Mountains. "I haven't exactly been out there doing things as a politician; this election was the first time I'd ever even run for office."
That's not to say Hill has been a stranger to the world of public service. After serving as an assistant district attorney in Boise, Idaho, Hill and her husband, John, moved to Missoula in 2005. Since then, Hill has served as executive director of the Poverello Center, the downtown homeless shelter.
Two years ago, Hill received a scholarship to attend Netroots Nation, an annual conference on grassroots political organizing run by Howard Dean's Democracy for America. That same year, Hill lobbied successfully at the Montana Legislature for passage of the so-called "Good Samaritan Law for Retired Doctors," which limits liability on doctors, dentists and dental hygienists who provide medical services to community-based health programs without compensation.
Last year, Hill was invited by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to speak on Capitol Hill about the plight of homeless veterans.
Along the way, Hill has pitched in on several successful election campaigns, including those of Wiener, Mayor John Engen and City Councilman Roy Houseman.
This year, Hill decided it was time to test her own political aspirations. In June, she defeated longtime Missoula City Councilwoman and former mayoral candidate Lou Ann Crowley in the Democratic primary for House District 94. No Republican filed to run in the general election, so Hill will take the seat when the Legislature convenes in January.
Hill said she already felt considerable pressure to make good on the issues she raised during the campaign, which included the high costs of airfare into and out of Montana, the hardships and homelessness faced by state prison parolees and those released from the Montana State Hospital, and the costs of wildfire suppression.
Now that Time magazine has named her, in essence, the most notable young political figure in the northern Rockies, Hill said she feels even greater responsibility.
"Obviously I'm super humbled," said Hill. "Really I feel like there are tons of amazing political rising stars in America and Montana - I could probably name 40 that I know personally. So I guess this means I have big shoes to fill now. Much bigger than I expected."
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.