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Flathead students elected as governors for Boys and Girls State

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | July 9, 2021 12:00 AM

Flathead High School students Marley Miller and Leah Span were elected by their peers to serve as governors of the 2021 American Legion Boys State and the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State, respectively.

The two educational programs share similarities in immersing high school students in the democratic process by having delegates take the reins of government operations for a week.

Other Flathead boys chosen to participate in Boys State were Aiden Christy, Robert Corbett, Colby Fetterhoff, Evan Schow, Evan Sevaly, Hayden Sharpe and Brady Yerkes.

Additional Flathead students selected to participate in Girls State included Cadence Dean, Hannah Pieri, Rylee Houser, Emily Hove, Kennedy Postovit and Ila-Pearl Stevens.

Emma Linn of Stillwater Christian School and Maile Vine of Whitefish High School also were selected.

During the programs, both held at Carroll College in June, student delegates such as Spangler and Miller were assigned to represent one of two fictional parties as they ran for office, participated in mock elections and inauguration ceremonies, wrote and passed bills and sat in the Montana State Capitol House of Representatives and Senate chambers, which Miller said was a highlight.

"You have a party platform, which I tried to advocate for in my campaign," Spangler said.

Spangler and Miller agreed there was the additional work required to also appeal to the variety of backgrounds delegates had coming into Boys and Girls State from locations across Montana.

"It was hard to appeal to all political values because there is such a range across Montana," Spangler said. "I was trying to find a balance. I think I aligned with what people wanted."

There were campaign speeches and debates, Miller said, noting at Boys State he was up against six candidates in the primary.

"I had to debate for about an hour and a half in front of the entire Boys State," Miller said.

ONCE STUDENT delegates were elected to office, the work began to draft and pass legislation.

The bills students came up with were a combination of realistic issues faced by the state and ones delegates made up. Both Spangler and Miller gave examples that address mental health.

At Girls State, Spangler said delegates were in consensus with an incentive for college graduates taking counselor positions at rural schools to apply for debt relief. Boys State delegates discussed increasing funding to address mental health in schools overall, according to Miller.

"I think it's a very valid thing in light of what's happening in the Flathead Valley," Miller said.

Miller said some of the other issues delegates wanted to address were land conservation, road problems and marijuana legalization.

Eventually, the fictional bills reached the governor's desk.

"As the governor, you have the ability to veto or sign them into law," Spangler said, adding that she recalled five bills sent to her at Girls State.

Out of roughly 50 proposed bills at Boys State, Miller said four made it to the governor.

"It was pretty challenging to come to a consensus," Miller said.

Spangler agreed.

"Especially with a broad range of political views and ideas, there was a small range of issues people agreed needed to be addressed," Spangler said, all within a week. "It was a good way to get the government rolling."

Spangler talked about her thought process before signing bills.

"My goal on that was just to make sure everyone agreed with the legislation generally," she said.

Miller said he also had to remember that, while most delegates elected him to office, and he had his own personal beliefs: "I had to represent everyone and I had to do what was best."

Outside of the Montana State Capitol chambers, both Spangler and Miller said the atmosphere was congenial and the different backgrounds of other delegates made for interesting discussions.

"It was very eye-opening to hear about different people's experiences around the state," he said.

In addition to the simulations, students met with some of their real-life counterparts such as Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Spangler, who will be a senior in the fall, said the experience has given her an interest in pursuing politics.

"I think it was eye-opening mostly just to see the Capitol — to sit in there and make legislation — that I could actually do this in real life."

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com

photo

Students from Flathead, Whitefish and Stillwater Christian high schools were nominated to attend the 2021 Montana American Legion Auxiliary Girls State, an immersive program that teaches students how government operates, from June 13-19 in Helena. Local delegates included: Cadence Dean, Hannah Pieri, Rylee Houser, Emily Hove, Kennedy Postovit Leah Spangler and Ila-Pearl Stevens, all from Flathead, Emma Linn from Stillwater and Maile Vine of Whitefish High School. Spangler was elected governor of Girls State. (Photo provided)