Max Mignot learned last week that lobbyists aren’t the “sleazy scumbags” that some make them out to be.
And Mignot thinks that if more people spent a week at the Montana Legislature, they might not be quite so ready to use that old stereotypical phrase: “good enough for government work.”
“There may be some truth in that somewhere, but I don’t think people really appreciate how much gets done in a short period of time,” said the Hamilton High senior. “I saw them passing through 15 to 18 bills in one floor session.”
“It opened my eyes,” said Mignot of his weeklong adventure as a legislative page.
Serving as a page wasn’t even on Mignot’s radar screen this time last year.
He had just been named an Eagle Scout, which was a proud moment for his mother, Nan Reyner of Hamilton. She helped guide him and others through the process.
“That was huge for me, bigger than my high school graduation,” Reyner said.
One of the long-held traditions that is supposed to come with that honor is to receive a flag that has flown over either the state or U.S. Capitol. Reyner said that doesn’t always happen without some help.
“Out of nowhere, Sen. Pat Connell stepped up and said, 'Please get this young man a flag,'” Reyner said. “We didn’t even know the man.”
Shortly afterward, Mignot received an invitation from Connell to serve as legislative page.
“He wrote to me and said, ‘Hey, why not come and be my page in about a year?’” Mignot remembered. “I took him up on his invitation. Government does interest me and I thought it would be a good way to learn more about it.”
Mignot served with five other pages from all over the state.
Mignot was up at 5 a.m. to join the four or five legislators who make up the “Breakfast Club” at Jorgenson’s. Work at the Capitol started at 8 a.m. and wrapped up sometime around 6 p.m. And then most nights, there was a reception or a dinner to go to.
“He told me he didn’t usually get in before 11,” Reyner said.
Mignot sat through a number of interesting committee meetings on issues like the Keystone Pipeline and human trafficking.
“When we were in session, we sat at attention until our names were called,” Mignot said. “Sometimes we would bring legislators information about the last vote, or sometimes someone would want a huckleberry ice cream sandwich.”
In the old days before the electronic vote counting machine, pages would pick up all the votes from the floor, Connell said.
“These days they are the legs of committees,” the Hamilton senator said. “They actually do a pretty important support job. They get paid minimum wage for their efforts.”
For Connell, it was especially gratifying to know that Mignot saw his first authentic Charlie Russell painting while he was in Helena.
“I had a convertible sofa bed at my luxurious suite at Jorgensen’s,” Connell said. “So he had a place to stay.”
“The Legislature is really, really protective of these young people,” he said. “They are our future. It doesn’t matter if you’re an R or a D or how wide your stripe is. Legislative members from all over the state sponsor these youngsters and we hope they end up being an ambassador about this entire process.
“There aren’t many people who really understand what goes on,” Connell said. “The pages to sit through committee meeting and through floor sessions. They have a chance to see for themselves how it works.”
Reyner said she and her son were thankful for the invitation.
“We had never met the man (Connell) before this happened,” she said. “I don’t think all the pages are offered a place to stay. I just think it was an extraordinary gift from a pretty special man.”