The Montana legislative session kicked off this month, and one group wants to make sure that young people are paying attention.
Forward Montana is a nonprofit with offices in Missoula, Billings, and Bozeman and is staffed mostly by people in their 20s. It’s aimed at involving other young Montanans in the political process.
This week, Forward Montana tried its hand at its first teleconference to get youth engaged in the legislative session.
YPR’s Kayla Desroches is part of Forward Montana’s target age group of 16 to 30-year-olds. She went over a friend’s house in Billings to listen in.
On Wednesday night, Anna Howard and her chocolate lab sat in the kitchen listening to the tele-conference muted and on speakerphone.
Medicaid expansion, higher education funding, and energy policy were on the agenda, as were some interactive breaks.
Almost 50 people listened in at different times throughout the hour-long teleconference.
That’s one approach Forward Montana is using to reach a younger crowd, in addition to posting on social media and holding events at alluring locales - like breweries.
Forward Montana deputy director Kiah Abbey said they also try to figure out what’s important to the younger Montanans they interact with. She said issues that have risen to the top include student debt, conservation, and Medicaid expansion.
“The majority of people who are enrolled in Medicaid are under the age of 40,” said Abbey. “And so we know this is a huge issue for young Montanans, and we want to make sure they’re following along as the debate happens in the legislature because it’s going to be at the forefront of what happens during this session.”
Young people do appear to have their eye on the political world.
About 31 percent of youth voted in the midterms, compared to 21 percent in 2014, according to November estimates by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Forward Montana will be one of the hosts of a moderated discussion later this month which will address the presence of young people in the legislature. That’ll be in Helena on Jan 28.